Making the Trip to Augusta

This story, written for the National Post, is a couple of years old — written following my weekend trip to see Phil Mickelson win the Masters in 2004. Seems like a sensible time to pull out some of the back catalogue of material that I’ve written about the Masters — expect more to come in following days.

For the record I was standing half way up the right side of the 18th when Phil made the putt. I didn’t see it go in, but I did see Phil make his now famous half jump. Getting out of the course was impossible following the putt, with 30,000 people standing around one hole. Eventually a huge throng of fans busted across the 10th fairway ropes in an attempt to escape, followed by plenty of security. At least we got away….

Master plan: For the golf fanatic who has everything? A trip
to the Masters tournament

[photopress:masters.jpg,full,alignleft]By Robert Thompson

What do you give to the golfer who has everything and has
seemingly played everywhere? What do you give when a dozen Titleist Pro-V 1 golf balls won’t cut it?

Give the toughest ticket in sports — a decadent one-day trip to
the Masters, golf’s highest-profile event.

For years, the only way to get your hands on a ticket was to take
your chances with scalpers. After all, tickets for the Masters can
be handed down among family members and are limited by Augusta
National Golf, the club that controls the tournament. Though badges
that allow entry to each day of the tournament have an official
price of only US$175, tickets are known to trade for thousands of
dollars on eBay and through ticket brokers.

If you’re not keen on going through an online auction, Canada’s JTB
Enterprises offers an assortment of one- and two-day packages to
*Augusta* to see the likes of Tiger Woods, Mike Weir and Phil
Mickelson battle it out. JTB and its owner, John Barr, are well
known in the golf travel business, running the Canadian branch of
the high-end European travel service Perry Golf.

Everything about the trip, including the golf, is first class. JTB
offers a charter directly to *Augusta*, where fans are bused to a tent
directly outside the golf club’s gates. There fans can get drinks,
food and the opportunity to escape the crowds and weather for a
short period.

But most Masters fans won’t spend long hanging out in a tent —
they’ll head straight for the course.

The excitement of watching the game’s greatest players is eclipsed
only by the thrill of seeing Augusta National, the fabled golf
course itself.

Surely one of the best-known golf courses in the world, the
experience of seeing Augusta regularly exceeds the excitement many
garner from watching the golf. After all, wandering up and down the
hills at Augusta is close to a religious experience for many
recreational golfers.

True to form, Augusta is what many expect: impressive, impeccably
groomed, dastardly difficult in spots and one of the most exciting
venues in sports. It is also different from what many expect, with
dramatic elevation changes throughout the course, especially on the
opening holes, which rarely receive much TV coverage.

Second, during this year’s dramatic shootout between Phil Mickelson
and Ernie Els, Augusta National turned into a dramatic amphitheatre, with the crowd’s cheers ringing through the golf course. The only issue with watching live golf is that most times, a spectator can see only a solitary hole.

That is true, for the most part, even at Augusta. However, on the
three-hole stretch from the 11th hole to the 13th, known as “Amen
Corner,” several thousand fans camp out to be able to catch a
glimpse of golfers as they play the most exciting triumvirate in the

On my trip to Augusta, I got lucky in choosing a strong group to
follow, watching former U.S. Open champion Els and Korean star K.J. Choi for all 18 holes during the final round. The players would make three eagles between them, offering the opportunity to see two of the world’s best players in top form.

While Augusta is crowded on every day of the tournament, the course allows spectators — or “patrons,” as the club calls them — to see much of the action. In fact, it is quite easy to get near many of
the fairways and greens, close enough to see Tiger Woods grimace at
a missed putt, or John Daly swig from a Diet Coke.

All of this comes with a lofty price. John Barr, the proprietor of
JTB Enterprises, charges $4,000 for the one-day package and $5,000
for the two-day ticket, which includes golf and accommodation at the
world-class Ritz-Carlton at Reynolds Plantation.

Expensive? Certainly. But the real question is how much are you
willing to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime sports experience?

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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