A dream come true for any weekend golfer

Every April I am excited to watch on TV the world’s best golfers compete in the prestigious Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga. Every player who tees off in Sunday’s final round is hoping to adorn the prestigious Green Jacket at the end of the day. Happily, I learned a few months back that I had won the Augusta National Golf Club’s lottery and got four tickets to attend the premiere golf Major — a bucket list experience every weekend golfer dreams about.

In my youth when the final round aired, my dad and I would plant ourselves on the couch and watch the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player battle for a green jacket. During commercials, I would practice my putting on a makeshift golf course in the front room, complete with pillows and flower vases as obstacles.

One of my kids and two golf buddies jumped at the chance to join me at this year’s Masters. We traveled to Augusta after flying into Atlanta to view a practice day at the tournament. The pros map out the course and devise their strategy to play the manicured fairways while navigating past threatening water hazards, 44 sand traps that have been referred to as bowls of sugar, and undulating greens. Tuesday was the perfect time to visit since crowds were spaced out, giving us the opportunity to get a little closer to our golf heroes.

Personal highlights included – seeing the world’s No. 1 player Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka test their putting skills on the tricky three-tier green on hole 6; watching Rory McIlroy blister a drive off 10; viewing Jordan Spieth target a soft draw into the water-protected green on 13, and witnessing Jon Rahm make an impressive up and down from 180-yards out on 18. On the other end of the course, two buddies were lucky enough to follow Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Pacific Northwest legend Fred Couples for a few holes.

Another advantage of going on a practice day involves taking pictures. Photos are mandatory when bragging to golf buddies back home about the most exciting golf experience of your life. But cameras are verboten on tournament days Thursday through Sunday. At no point during tournament week are cell phones allowed.

Walking along Augusta National’s fairways is an almost spiritual experience. Seeing Amen Corner — a stretch of three of the course’s toughest holes on the back nine — was mind-blowing.

The centerpiece of Amen Corner is the par-3, 12th hole, one of the most- storied holes in the sport. The 155-yard hole featuring a backdrop of azaleas, sand traps front and back, and Rae’s Creek, located just short of the green is always a source of drama. Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly wrote, “More green jackets have been lost at the 12th than at the Augusta City Dry Cleaners.” It’s the hole where Spieth in 2016 had a one-shot lead teeing off but then proceeded to splash two balls into the water and one into a sand trap. A quadruple bogey caused his lead to evaporate and him to finish tied for fourth.

The course is much different than it looks on TV, where it seems almost flat, but it is actually filled with elevation changes. The fairways are so perfectly maintained the grass looks like carpet. A putt rolls forever on Augusta’s greens – misjudging the pace punishes the offender. Meanwhile, areas around the greens are unforgiving. Approach shots that fall short frequently hit false fronts that rejects balls, sending them down slopes.

Official tournament products are not available anywhere but the Augusta pro shop. As you might imagine, the merch is not cheap. A polo shirt sporting the Masters logo runs $125, a golf bag tag is $18, a pack of Masters ball markers runs $40, and four Masters coasters cost $85. I spent $624, buying items for myself and seven golf buds.

While your wallet takes a hit buying memorabilia, you do get a break at the concession stands. Creamy pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches ($1.50, each) are iconic staples at the course, much like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon and mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby. Masters champ Dustin Johnson once quipped, “My favorite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches … all of them.” A sweet tooth can be satisfied with a mini-Moon Pie ($1) or a rich George Peach ice cream sandwich ($3). Beer in a commemorative cup is only $6.

Getting to visit Augusta National is a privilege but does come at a cost. When tickets are mailed, they are accompanied by pages of rules. No. 1 is the cell phone ban. If caught using a cellphone, expect to be escorted away and permanently lose your credentials. Autograph-seeking is prohibited during play. Broadcasters are not to refer to spectators as “fans.” Instead, they are “patrons” — a tradition started by a co-founder of the club who wanted spectators to have a distinguished experience.

If you’d like a similar experience, applications for the 2025 ticket lottery can be made June 1-20 through www.masters.com.