Two Masters ago, I think it was. Eamon, my friend from Ireland, had spent the morning wandering around the National, marveling at the practice-round crowds and getting the lay of the land. "I walked the front nine," he told me outside the door of the press building, "and I spent an hour in Amen Corner. Spectacular! But now maybe you could show me your favorite spot to view the action."
Always happy to oblige a County Mayo man, I led Eamon back up the hill past the fabled oak tree and the ranks of the entitled seated under green-and-white umbrellas. "Here it is," I said, stepping up behind a two-deep line of suntanned spectators standing on the grassy bank behind the 10th tee. "You're so close that you can read the time off the caddies' Rolexes. And believe me, there's no more beautiful sight in golf than a perfectly hit four-wood tracing a draw across the sky before plunging down this hill between the pines."
Beaming, I turned to him. "Isn't it great?"
That's when I noticed that Eamon's nose and spectacles were about four inches from the left shoulder blade of a beefy fan wearing the red and black of the Georgia Bulldogs.
"Of course," I said, "It helps to be six-foot-seven."
I tell that story whenever a Masters virgin solicits my opinion on the best places to go once that precious badge has been secured. For while it's true that I'm well into my third decade covering golf's most exclusive major, my point of view—both literally and figuratively—may not be universal. Do you really want to know, for instance, that I usually take my third-round power lunch par moi-même at the Chick-fil-A on Washington Road?
You do? In that case, I'm happy to give you a virtual guided tour of my Augusta National. Let's start with the two-year-old, Tom Fazio--designed driving range that runs parallel to Washington Road. I spend roughly 20 minutes every morning watching the pros warm up, and I do most of that watching from the patrons' sidewalk that parallels the target field. I do this for two reasons. One, as a reformed range rat, I fairly drool over this glorious practice ground, which marries the functionality of a lesson tee to the aesthetics of London's Kew Gardens. Two, I can't get enough of the short-game practice area, which challenges players with the same slippery slopes and Colgate-white sand they'll encounter on the course. This is where you'll see Tiger practicing one-handed chips and Phil performing his 360-degree putting drill.
When I've had enough preamble, I cut through the Pinkerton-guarded lobby of the press building and emerge in the pines on the right side of the 1st fairway. I never, I repeat, never join the throng at the 1st tee, where spectators are packed so tightly that they have to alternate breaths. Nor do I carry one of those canvas-backed aluminum chairs for greenside viewing. I count on my height, my wiles and my experience to afford me the best sight lines.
I walk up the tree line, pausing only to watch pertinent approach shots and putts, and I don't stop until I reach the fairway bunker on the right side of the par-5 2nd hole. I linger there. It's fun to watch players hit their fairway metals and long irons down to an amphitheater green surrounded by deep bunkers and vocal spectators. If I'm lucky, I get to watch some wretch self-destruct in the flowered ditch across the fairway, a spot the pros call the Delta Ticket Office. ("Because if you drive it there, you'll be flying home on Friday.")
I linger again, but just briefly, beside the 5th hole. Playing uphill with a fairway that tilts left, Magnolia, as it's called, is probably the worst spectator hole on the course. What's appealing is its relative solitude and the fact that you can one-up other badge holders by talking about it the way adventure travelers brag about their trips to Ladakh. "I saw both of Nicklaus's 5th-hole eagles," is the golf equivalent of, "I hooked the Loch Ness monster," and you get extra points for knowing that Jack holed both of his mid-iron approaches during the 1995 Masters, when he was 55.