So you've won the ticket lottery and you're headed to Augusta for the Masters Tournament.
First off, congratulations! You are in for a bucket-list experience.
Now ... here's what you'll want to do to prepare for the trip, and what to do once you arrive.
Having been to the Masters 13 times (yes, I realize how insanely lucky that is), I highly recommend going in on a rental house with your buddies instead of a hotel. It just makes the experience that much more fun for this, the ultimate buddy trip. Instead of going your separate ways and retreating to a hotel room, keep the party going at the house. Maybe it's just to talk about the day. Maybe it's to watch highlights. Maybe it's to have a putting contest or shoot some hoops in the driveway.
Rental houses shouldn't be hard to find; many Augusta residents leave town the week of the Masters. And if you can score a house within walking distance? Even better.
If you're interested in renting a house, it's worth your time to check out www.mastershousing.com.
But, if you really want that Masters feel and want to keep it ridiculously close to the course, you can't go wrong hanging out around Washington Road. Must-hits include T-Bonz Steakhouse -- a hangout for many of the caddies -- and Hooters.
Hooters? Yes. John Daly always has a bus set up there for photo opportunities and autographs. Also, if you get in on Monday of Masters week, this is a great place to take in the men's basketball NCAA National Championship game.
If you've had a late night out, or you're getting an early start the next morning, hit up the Waffle House on Washington Road, where it's not uncommon to see caddies, or even players, fueling up for the day ahead.
In fact, hours after winning the 2014 Masters, Bubba Watson and his crew hit up Waffle House for a celebratory meal:
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: There's nothing worse than thinking you have everything you need for the day, sitting in all that traffic, finally making it to the front of the line and then being told you're not allowed to bring X, Y or Z through the gates. So do yourself a favor and check out this page on www.masters.com where there's a list of prohibited items. It's going to make your life much easier.
Be aware: No cellphones are allowed on the grounds. This includes practice rounds.
Cameras (not the ones on smartphones), however, are allowed Monday-Wednesday. Make sure the battery is charged and have a backup with you. You're going to want to take as many photos as possible these three days so you can savor this bucket-list experience for the rest of your life.
Spend time and snap shots at Amen Corner and in front of the clubhouse looking down Magnolia Lane. Check out the plaques and fountains. Stand in front of the huge Masters scoreboard to the right of the first fairway. Get as close as you can to "The" oak tree behind the clubhouse. Head over to the short course for Wednesday's Par-3 Contest (there's a very good chance you will see a hole in one). Watch players skip shots across the pond at the par-3 16th. You may even see a pond-skip ace, like the one Vijay Singh hit in 2009:
PLACES TO PLAY: There are loads of golf courses not far from where you'll be. Aiken, S.C., is close by. Tee times are going to be sparse because everyone wants to do what you want to do. So book way ahead if you can.
If you're willing to drive a little further -- and pay some extra money -- you can't go wrong in Greensboro, Ga., which is home to such places as Reynolds Plantation, a real treat.
BUYING MERCHANDISE: The Merchandise Building at Augusta National is Masters golf heaven for fans. Hats, shirts, putters, headcovers, watches, jackets, sweaters, golf balls, blankets, clocks -- you name it and they probably have it with Masters branding.
Pro tip: If you see something you really like, buy it as soon as you see it. The good stuff flies out of there.
You know how you usually feel regret over an impulse purchase? I don't think that has ever happened at the Masters. The only regret is not pulling the trigger right away and then returning later in the day only to see the item you desired is sold out. There's actually a pop-up shipping service right outside the building, too, so you can send it home and it'll be waiting for you at the doorstep as soon as you get back.
Also ... make sure you purchase an official Masters fold-up chair, which we'll get to in a bit.
FOOD AND DRINK AT THE COURSE: At a premium event like the Masters, you'd probably expect to pay a premium for food and drink on the grounds.
You'll be pleasantly surprised at Augusta National.
Sandwiches from the famous "pimento cheese" (try it at least once) to the "classic chicken" range in price from -- are you ready for this? -- $1.50-$3. You're looking at $2 or less for water, coffee, soft drinks and iced tea.
Beer? Domestics are just $4 while imports are only $5.
Makes that extra $100 you dropped in the merchandise building feel a little better.
THURSDAY-SUNDAY: OK. Now we're into the tournament.
First thing's first ... Be at the gates as soon as they open Thursday and walk quickly (there's no running allowed at Augusta National) to get a spot at or near the first tee box.
This is where Chairman Fred Ridley will officially kick off the festivities and the honorary starters -- Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, most recently -- will hit the ceremonial opening tee shots. It's just a cool, cool moment.
Remember that official Masters chair I encouraged you to purchase? Hopefully during your first three days of this trip the players and caddies weren't the only ones scouting out the course. If you were scouting out a favorite spot -- maybe behind the green at a par 3; somewhere on Amen Corner; behind 18 green -- go there and set up your chair with your name written clearly on the back with a Sharpie.
Now go ahead and walk the course. Your chair isn't going anywhere and, whenever you return, you can literally walk right back to it and take a load off. This includes when the leader is playing his final hole on Sunday.
It's like reserving a seat on a plane. Once the chair is there, the spot is yours. Roam around.
On at least one of the tournament days, I would encourage you to walk the entire course. Watch a couple of groups play through each of the holes. Get a feel for the kinds of shots they're hitting.
If you have a grouping you really want to see, maybe follow them for all 18 holes.
On Sunday, be at the course as soon as the gates open. Go drop your chair off behind 18 green and then roam around.
Nos. 13 and 15 are great opportunities to see eagles. You need to be at those par 5s.
MONDAY AFTER THE MASTERS: Chances are this is the day you're traveling. On your way to the airport, stop at a gas station and grab a copy of the local paper, the Augusta Chronicle. They put together an awesome Masters section. It's a great souvenir to remember the week.
WHEN YOU GET HOME: Brag endlessly to your golf buddies.
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