AUGUSTA, Georgia – For many patrons roaming the grounds at Augusta National Golf Course on any given day of Masters week, the experience is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. With no route of direct sale for practice or tournament rounds, most people without ties to perennially renewing badges are only able to gain access by winning a lottery or through the generosity of someone willing to give up their badge for a day.
It’s not uncommon for golf fans on the other side of the country – and from even farther – to put their lives on hold and arrange expensive travel and accommodations when the opportunity to get inside Augusta National presents itself.
So when days like Tuesday roll around, it can be a scary proposition for first-timers who don’t know when or if they’ll ever get back.
When the sun rose on Augusta Tuesday, it did so behind a thick wall of clouds. Heavy rains began Monday night and carried into the morning. The course opened its gates on schedule at 8:30 a.m., but many patrons chose to wait out the lingering rain. At 10:02 a.m., sirens blared throughout the grounds, urging everyone off the premises due to lightning. Many hadn’t even entered through the gates and suddenly faced the threat of the course closing for the remainder of the day.
And while your local course might be happy to issue a rain check, there is no such safety net at Augusta for those who are foiled by Mother Nature.
For more than two hours, patrons traversed nearby Washington Avenue, some filling up restaurants and bars to wait things out, while others were more concerned with tracking radar projections and audibly worrying that they’d miss out on the chance to see the course.
Finally, the skies cleared and all practice round activities resumed – complete with a course full of relived patrons – just before 1 p.m.
“I was a little worried early on that I was going to be there for an hour and that would be it,” said Jim Thoenen, who had traveled from Chesterfield, Missouri to see the course for the first time after a lifetime of following golf. “Luckily, we got to take it all in.”
Despite some players choosing not to venture farther than the driving range or putting green due to the abbreviated day, Thoenen shared the sentiment of many “I was a little worried early on that I was going to be there for an hour and that would be it,” said Jim Thoenen, who had traveled from Chesterfield, Missouri to see the course for the first time after a lifetime of following golf. “Luckily we got to take it all in.”
Despite some players choosing not to venture farther than the driving range or putting green due to the abbreviated day, Thoenen shared the sentiment of many – it’s nice to see the big names of the sport, but the real superstar is the course itself.
“It’s cool to see the holes in person,” Thoenen said. “You experience the elevation change and really see the shots that everyone has to make. I waited my whole life to get here and a friend had some tickets he couldn’t use, so he gave them to me. I owe him quite a few favors.”
As upsetting as a squandered trip from the Midwest could have been, the weather threatened to make an even bigger mess for Neil Biscoe.
Hailing from St. Albans, England, A first-time trip to Augusta following a life of loving golf was set to be the highlight of Biscoe’s trans-Atlantic vacation.
“It was a little frustrating when we had to leave the course,” Biscoe said. “We had just gotten down to No. 16. We hadn’t visited the gift shop yet and then we had to pack up and leave. I’m certainly glad the weather came around. And I have to compliment the way everything is run. Everything is so efficient and we were able to get right back in as soon as things cleared up.”
By the middle afternoon, the sun had made its first appearance in over 24 hours and everyone who was willing to wait out the weather delay was able to get the full experience of a Masters Tuesday.
So many people wait for so long to visit a special course for what might be a singular experience. It only adds to the magic of Augusta when – despite bad weather all around – the skies are able to clear and the course can come through for its fans.
Mike Anthony is sports editor for the Statesboro Herald, a Morris Multimedia property in Statesboro, Ga.