No means no – as patrons soon discover on Augusta’s hallowed ground
A long list of rules lie in wait to keep spectators on their toes at the US Masters
Gary Player shakes hands with fellow former Masters champion Jack Nicklaus as Arnold Palmer looks on at the start of the US Masters at Augusta. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters
No tipping. No lying down. No flags. No signs. No cameras. No phones. No chairs with arms. No coolers. No going barefoot. No radios. No sitting in standing areas. No standing in sitting areas. No autographs. No outsized hats, bags or fanny packs. No food or drink from the outside.
There are almost as many rules for the patrons at Augusta as there are for the players. If you have to ask, the answer is almost certainly “no”. First and foremost among the many: no running.
This last one poses particular problems. Yesterday morning, long before the sun was up, the pastel-clad masses were gathering by the gates on Berckman’s Road, waiting for the clock to tick to 7am, when the course would be opened up to the public and the great race walk could begin.
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At a single second past the hour, the seemly scramble for prime positions starts, as the patrons rush to stake out a small patch of turf at their favourite green-side spot. Anyone breaking into anything more than a brisk canter is bound to earn a swift rebuke, so everyone waddles away, elbows out, hips swinging, legs stretching ahead.
Some make for the 18th, Holly. Others the ninth, Carolina Cherry. Those who like to rubberneck on others’ misfortune head down to Amen Corner, and a spot in the bleachers by Rae’s Creek.
By 7.05am, the seated enclosure is full. By 7.30am, a crowd six thick is stretching away down the fairway, all the way to the start of the dogleg approach to the green.
By the time Palmer made it to the tee, 59 years after his first appearance here, the sun was just starting to peep up from behind the clubhouse. The fortunate few who had seats popped up to join in the standing ovation to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his fourth, and final, Masters victory. The King, as they call him, is 84 now and says he will keep coming back here to take the opening tee shot even if “I have to crawl”.
He hit his drive low and flat down the centre. Player, 78, hit his shot higher, and longer but Nicklaus, 74, pipped him by a yard or so. That done, the crowd began to disperse around the course, and the three grand old men of golf toddled off to talk to the press.
As Nicklaus stood on the tee, he said: “I wish I could do this again.” What he meant he explained later was: “It was such a great thrill every time we teed it up to play for real, and I think we’d all love to wind the clock back a few years and play, because it’s such a great tournament, a great thrill to stand on the first tee, have the butterflies and get that first tee shot over with and get going.”
There had been “no butterflies today”, Nicklaus said. “I don’t think any of us look at it the same way as we used to . . .”
The 97 players who followed on behind him know exactly what he means. The first hole tends to play as one of the hardest – last year it was ranked second most difficult of the 18. Partly that is because the players have just come off the slower practice greens.
Mainly, though, it’s because so many of them are suffering from a touch of stage fright. In the first three hours of play only two players, Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson, managed to post birdies there.
But this is a course that rewards patience – for the players if not the patrons who want to watch them.