Welcome to the club
Luck just French-kissed you. You've been handed a one-day ticket to Thursday at this year's Masters. But now you're freaking. You'll never get this chance again. What should you do? Where should you go?
Well, this will be my 25th Masters. May I offer a few small suggestions?
6 a.m. ET -- Rise and shine, Augusta patron, and come out of your crappy $379 hotel room in khakis, a colorful golf shirt and a Braves baseball cap. Now you look like a local. Go already.
6:05 a.m. -- Wait! Leave your cell phone! Get caught with one on the course and you're banished for life. I know. I was standing on No. 1 once, watching Tiger Woods putt, when my phone rang in my pocket. Ring tone: "Fly Me to the Moon." Utter horror. Two Pinkerton guards took me roughly by the arms and escorted me toward the front gate. I was staring at a lifetime of standing outside the gate next to Gary McCord when I happened to see Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, whom I knew from his running of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. "Billy! Save me!" And he did. But he's not going to save you.
6:15 a.m. -- Park for free, like everybody else, in one of the 8,500 no-charge spaces that are really close. Augusta National doesn't care. It's not like they need the money.
7:30 a.m. -- Arriving so early, you should be one of the first through the main entrance when the gate opens. That's when you make like an Olympic racewalker (don't run, it's against the rules) to the 18th green and place your lightweight lawn chair (with your name Sharpied on it) next to the green. It's not easy. You'll be battling a hundred other people clenching their teeth, all pretending to look polite, too, but secretly loathing you. Once it's down, leave. Nobody will take it and nobody will sit in it. The whole deal runs on the honor system, and the Masters is nothing if not honorable.
7:35 a.m. -- Now, quickly, walk to the first tee, get a spot and box out like Charles Barkley. This is a great spot to be Thursday morning and not just because you can see Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player hit the ceremonial first shots of the tournament (three guys, 13 green jackets, what else do you want?) at 7:50 a.m. The tee box is so narrow you can hear every word the rest of the players say, too. You can watch them trying to take deep breaths to relax. How often do you get to watch multimillionaires sweat anything?
9 a.m. -- Observe, for a moment, the most well-run sporting event in the world. And observe all of the stuff you don't see. No ads. Nobody holding any signs. No port-a-potties. No cars suspended on lakes. No electronic scoreboards. No periscopes. (Sorry, Phil Mickelson Sr.) No jean shorts or "I'm With Stupid" T-shirts. No cutesy USGA first-day pairings ("They've all been divorced twice!"). Just golf played on giant fairways and M.C. Escher greens in front of a lot of Southern women in big hats. Fabulous.
9:30 a.m. -- OK, enough tee shots. Now get out to the course while the light is pretty and it's not too hot. First go to the 13th green, just to see the sheer purple-and-pink beauty of it. Get up in the trees to the right of the fairway and look at the little red flag that marks the spot where Phil Mickelson hit his incredible 6-iron on Sunday in 2010 through two trees you could hardly push a lawnmower through. Someday, there needs to be a plaque.
10:20 a.m. -- Now, as Jim Nantz would say, over to 16, where you can sit and watch players try to par the Lindsay Lohan of golf holes -- short, gorgeous and shady. When they're gone, you can watch the turtles bob. When they're gone, you can watch CBS' Verne Lundquist, who's always in the tower at 16 and is the author of the best line ever delivered at Augusta, when Tiger Woods' miracle chip toppled into the hole on its last dimple turn to help him win in 2005: "In your life!!!" (Trivia: Lundquist purposely has never used that line anywhere since.)
10:50 a.m. -- Get to the Grand Central Station of the Masters -- Amen Corner -- where the 11th green, the whole of 12, and the tee shot on 13 lay below your feet like a bright green stage play. It's the fans' favorite, but it's big with the players, too. For one thing, they're separated from the fans by 150 yards, so they can swear all they want. Certain players (cough, Tiger, cough) really like that. Also, behind the 13th tee, they can get to the pee bush, which is out of sight of both spectators and cameras. Now you know.
11:30 a.m. -- OK, climb back up the hill (steeper than you ever thought, right?) to see: a) the Founders Circle design of the U.S. made of flowers; b) the Taj Mahal of golf practice grounds; c) the pretty-enough-to-paint par-3 course; and d) the Eisenhower cabin, built in the 1950s to the exact standards of the Secret Service. I slept there once. It's not much. A sitting room and six bedrooms with twin beds. There was a rather pedestrian painting on the wall above my bed. I had a hunch. I checked the signature in the corner. Yep. Painted by Eisenhower.
(Funny thing about the cabins. They play gin at night in them, penny a point. The story goes that some swinger guest pooh-poohed the puny stakes, not understanding the grace of it. Finally, one of the members said, "All right, sir. What is your net worth?" He told him. The member then plunked a deck on the table and said, "I'll cut you for it.")
11:45 a.m. -- Check out the single-story wing that connects to the clubhouse. There are four rooms and if you stand there long enough, some very rich men will come out of them. The room on the corner is where the club's patron saint, Clifford Roberts, always stayed during the "toonamint." I slept there once, too. In the desk drawer, there was a little white pamphlet that listed the entire membership. My eyes bulged, but my host asked me not to publish it, so I didn't. The Masters is nothing if not honorable.
12:15 p.m. -- This is the time to suck up to a member. Anybody in a green jacket will do. Tell them it was your grandfather's dying wish to eat lunch in the clubhouse and now you must fulfill it in his memory. (Try Condi Rice. She's new.) If they buy it, try to get a table on the balcony. Below you, golf's Oscars will play out -- the best golfers in the world treading the green carpet with the people who run, pay for, or profit from the game. The food you'll get is simple (how many restaurants do you know have chocolate milk on the menu?). Not that it matters. Your jaw will be dropping and it's not polite to talk with your mouth full.
12:45 p.m. -- Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and instead go straight to the door of the Champions Locker Room. When a champion comes out, take a quick snoop. It's tiny! There are only 28 lockers, so they have to share, even if it's with a dead man, because nobody is forgotten at the Masters. The first time I met Jack Nicklaus was outside this door on Wednesday in 1986 and I had to ask him if he was broke. He took me inside, sat me at one of the card tables, and told me he wasn't. I could hardly hear him over my knees shaking.
12:50 p.m. -- If you're really daring, try to sneak a peek at: a) one of America's finest wine cellars (I've seen it; first thing you notice is floor-to-ceiling Chateau Lafite Rothschild); b) the Crow's Nest, where the amateurs can't sleep, nearly head to toe, while photos of Bobby Jones stare at them; and c) the champions' club collection, where every winner has donated a club except Fred Couples, 1992. Freddy probably forgot.
1:02 p.m. -- Get back to the table! Who takes 17 minutes to go to the bathroom?
1:05 p.m. -- The waiter writes out the bill on a simple little check pad you could buy at Walgreen's for $1.99. Leap to get it, but the waiter is going to give you the stink eye if you give him anything but cash. Imagine: Augusta National hosts captains of finance and industry and yet if you're not staying on the property, they're not taking any chances with your Visa card.
1:15 p.m. -- On the off chance you couldn't weasel your way into the clubhouse, you could still go and eat one of the famous $1.50 secret recipe pimento-and-cheese sandwiches. Don't. They're awful. That's the secret. Have the BBQ sandwich: $2.50 and greasy and delicious. Yes, they'll kill you, but what do you care? You just checked off the No. 1 item on your bucket list. What's left to live for?
2:40 p.m. -- See if you can find Bubba Watson on the course. You want to see what his caddie is wearing on the front of his white overalls: The number 1. It goes to the winner's caddie each year. Who says golf doesn't have jersey numbers? If you can't find Bubba, you can at least go to the spot in the trees to the right of No. 10 where he hit the sickest left-handed 164-yard gap-wedge (yes! gap-wedge!) hellahook ever seen to win the playoff. It's the only historic shot a winner has ever hit that's still outside the ropes.
3:45 p.m. -- Tired yet? Then go sit in your chair on 18. Savor the quaint tradition of a Masters member announcing the names of the players who are about to approach the green, without a microphone. Shake your head at a tournament with no hospitality tents and yet with hospitality coming out of its ears.
5:30 p.m. -- You have about an hour before the massive and yet somehow classy souvenir shop closes, so now's the time to go. You can get all the same stuff online, of course, but what kind of story is that to tell?
6:30 p.m. or 30 minutes after the last putt drops -- Gates close. It's back out into the real world for you, where there are not pimple-faced teenagers in yellow overalls spiking the tiniest speck of trash; where every pine straw that falls is not immediately raked; where there is running and price-gouging and very little chocolate milk. Sorry. But don't despair because ...
7:00 p.m. -- Your Masters day isn't over. Drop in at TBonz, the famous Augusta steakhouse that's famous not for the food you eat but the people you meet, which is practically everybody. Grab a stool at the bar, if you can get near one. This is where the caddies come. They'll talk with you all you want about your epic day. Just keep buying. After all, you hardly touched your wallet all day, you cheapskate.
Course: Augusta National Golf Club
Where: Augusta, Ga.
Yardage, par: 7,435 yards, par-72
Past champions: Complete list