The magic, mysteries and minutiae of Augusta National that you’ll never see on TV

It is the most storied and fabled place in all of golf – Augusta National’s Cathedral in the Pines. But there are plenty of random facts you won’t see on this weekend’s wall-to-wall TV coverage,  writes Michael Blucher

Apr 06, 2023, updated Apr 06, 2023
Tiger Woods after winning the 2019 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club.  (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)

Tiger Woods after winning the 2019 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)

Riddle me this golf enthusiasts … could the timing have been any more perfect? Four days of US Masters viewing, co-inciding with a four day long weekend. Two religious experiences overlapping so meticulously, there simply must have been divine intervention.

Across the city, you can almost picture – hear – the fluffing of pillows on couches, as the ever growing tribe of Masters disciples prepare for the annual four day TV-watching pilgrimage.

I don’t want to dwell on the usual staples – Rory’s scar tissue, Cam Smith’s wedge play and the like. I’d prefer to dive deep into the Cathedral of Pines, and explore some darker, more devilish Augusta detail, the lies you won’t find in the middle of the lush green fairways, prepped and preened and primed to blade grass perfection.

For a wild opening tee shot deep into the pine straw, let’s start with Augusta National membership, the pinnacle for any golfer who’s not a Tiger or a Rory or a Rahm.

Let’s be clear, there’s no simply paying the $40K joining fee, and the yearly subs. Members have to be invited and even then, getting in – and staying in – is a minefield.

A bit about how it works. If South Carolina bonds trader Montague Curlington-Borthwick III , for instance, proposes his very good friend in business, the equally erudite and well heeled Truett Jenkins Jnr as a member of Augusta National, Monty better hope that Truett meets the approval of at least 80 per cent of the rumoured 300-strong membership, because if he falls short, he’s out.

Better still, guess what happens to Montague? Out he goes, too. Yes the riff raff is to be kept away from Augusta National at all times. There’s money, and then there’s the right sort of money, owned by the right sort of people.

Spilling out of that, the secrecy of the club’s financial model. Nobody except a very small handful of people know how it works. The only thing that’s clear when it comes to Augusta and money – there’s lots of it. Obscene amounts. But as for detail, forget it. There’s a famous story a few years ago of one nosey Parker member requesting to see the club’s annual financial statements. Out of bounds, Sir. Re-tee. That bloke wasn’t a member of the club the following year.

There’s also caution among the membership about suggesting improvements to the course, particularly in and around Masters week. There’s the fabled account of one eagle eyed member identifying a place on the course were there was no leaderboard visible for five successive holes. “Well spotted, Montague, excellent point.” A few months later, poor old Monty received a bill for $90K – the erection of said leaderboard.

Let’s talk about the course itself and the maintenance program – another facet of Augusta closely linked to money. (Who are we kidding? Everything at Augusta National is linked to money).

Six years ago, a business friend, a golf industry heavyweight in Australia, was taken on a “behind the scenes” tour of the course facilities. He saw a lot of faces, and met a lot of people. No surprise – Augusta has 40 full time green keepers and 40 full time horticulturalists keeping the property pristine.

Precisely 300mm under every green, there are high compression pipes, feeding the grass hot or cold water or air – whatever’s required. They can make the grass grow faster, slow the process down, or dry the greens out all together. Even when the course is drenched from rain, the greens can be lightning fast. It just depends what the Chairman of the Greens Committee requires from his 80 or so direct reports.

Equally bewildering, the ancillary facilities headlined by the current (remodelled) driving range and the car park, two developments that are at some level interconnected.

When John Daly and others started launching practice balls 20 yards beyond the boundary fence, into the car park in the early 90s, Augusta National officials decided they needed a longer range and new area for the patrons’ cars.

So over the course of 10 years or more, they spent some $50 million reclaiming houses, for the purposes of building a free car park, to be used just seven days of the year. Try presenting that business case to your in-house CFO, and see what they say. The chances are they’d want you to go though the numbers one or two more times.

The new car park is genuinely spacious, save of course for the one weatherboard cottage that still stands proudly and defiantly in the middle of the verdant expanse. Herman and Elizabeth Thacker built the house in 1959, and despite her husband passing away in 2019, his wife still refuses to sell up. She’s happy living in the middle of a car park, one week a year. Money buys a lot around Augusta, but not everything. Not Elizabeth Thatcher’s memories.

In amongst all the club’s wonderful traditions and ceremonial undertakings, one of the best, specifically relating to the game itself is the fearsome reputation of Augusta National’s most accomplished club golfer, Jefferson B.A.Bond.

Over many years, Jeff has been the one who tournament officials have dispatched to the first tee, to play alongside any professional who on account of the uneven number in the weekend draw, has been left stranded as a “single”.

More than a few, including Rory have had their butt handed to them by Jeff, who folklore has it, holds the course record around Augusta, having posted 61 several times off the members’ tees.

One year, JBAB explained to his playing partner, English professional Paul Casey, that on the short par three 6th hole, he often played away from the pin, on account of so often hitting the flagstick and ricochetting back into the bunker, leaving a near impossible up and down. Of course. Good strategy…. Bond then proceeded to hit his tee shot to one foot.

You’d think, given the grandeur and the opulence and prestige of Augusta National, the overall mood of the place would be very snooty, or at least austere, but it’s exactly the opposite.

Augusta is like a giant playground filled with deliriously happy children. It’s perhaps the only place in the western world where you have 50,000 people clustered together, and there’s not a mobile phone among them. Phones are not allowed on the course.

So instead of looking at screens and sending texts and being permanently distracted, for six to eight hours, people are in “the now”. They converse with one another. What’s he got here? Did you see what happened to Jordan at 12? What was Sergio thinking? No pushing, no shoving, and certainly no running. At Augusta, everybody must take their time.

For those attending for the first – perhaps only time in their life – arguably the biggest prize outside witnessing the sheer beauty of the golf mecca, is gaining access to the extraordinary array of Masters merchandise.

Over the course of the week, the club will sell in excess of $50 million worth of polo shirts, chairs, glasses, rain jackets, balls, hats – anything adorned with the famous yellow logo just disappears out the door at the pace of $850,000 an hour.

Augusta must be the only retail outlet in the world where the women are waiting outside for the men. It’s pure entertainment, standing in the corralling area with a beer and listening to blokes muttering to themselves and arguing with the partners, as they rejoin the queue, again and again. “Gard-Damn – I forgot the water bottles. I gotta get me some more of those ball markers. What size are you, honey? You want sky blue?”

When I was there in 2016 the average spend “per merchandise hunter” was US$750 – proud to say, I busted that figure easily. It’s not like you can buy it online – at least not knowing it’s authentic.

Ah yes it’s going to go be special. Four uninterrupted mornings of Masters’ golf.

For a growing number, it’s going to be pure heaven.

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