Inside Comments: Steve Turcotte

My first-time visit to Augusta National

Just for fun a while back someone sent me the link to the Masters ticket lottery and I decided to fill out the form and throw my name into the hat. I didn’t think anything about it, figuring I had no shot, just like most of my friends who have done that through the years.

But one morning checking my email I saw a return address from the Masters. I was ready to hit the delete button without ever reading thinking that it was one of those thanks for sending us an entry but better luck next time.

Glad I opened the e-mail. It said congratulations, you have been selected for two Monday practice round tickets to Augusta National and the Masters Golf Tournament. I read it a couple of times to make sure that it was real, and not some phony e-mail coming from overseas.

It was real, but I didn’t much about it figuring that thousands of people probably got the same kind of note and it was nothing special. Wrong, wrong, wrong. That night I was up at my Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club telling some guys about the tickets. One guy went off.

“I’ve been trying this f-ing lottery for years and never get picked and you get it the first time – ridiculous,” he said.

“Man, those are valuable tickets,” another guy said. “I saw someone selling practice round tickets for $500 on the street a couple of years ago.”

I called my buddy Joe and said pack your bags, I just got some Golden Tickets to the Masters.

It was my first trip to Augusta National. I have seen it for years on TV like every other golf nut in the world. But this is a place that must be seen to be believed. Walking in to the front gates is like getting into the Super Bowl as you get scanned, wanded and stared down by security. But everyone is really nice saying “Welcome to the Masters” as you walk through the massive entrance.

And when you first see the course, you almost can’t believe your eyes. It’s like watching a live-screen television. The hills, the signs, the flowers, the fast greens, the guys in green jackets, the thousands of patrons (yes I said patrons), the tall pines, the pinestraw … everything you see on TV is just like it looks on TV.

Only hillier. Much hillier. TV does not do justice to Augusta National. This is a hilly place. There is not flat hole on the course. The 10th hole looks like an elevator drops you straight down. The 18th hole is straight up the hill. Amen Corner sits at the bottom of it. Our goal was to walk from the first tee box to the 18th green. Mission accomplished, but these 57-year-old knees were feeling the hills, especially that walk up 18 where it seemed like a mountain climb at the end of a long journey.

And along the way, plenty of memories:

• The concession stands are all over the place. And yes it’s true a Pimento Sandwich is $1.50 and a beer is just $4. Nothing is expensive on the Masters menu, that is why the lines are so long.

• The bathrooms are first-class and there is someone directing traffic inside telling you where to go if you need to go No. 1 or No. 2.

• Practice rounds are great to watch. On the 15th hole, we watched Dustin Johnson miss the green with his second shot, throw another ball down in the par-5 fairway and proceed to dunk the shot from long range – a mulligan albatross.

• The security guards are tough, but usually friendly. When Johnson and Rory McIlroy were practice putting on the 15th green, my buddy Joe and I got up to head to the 16th tee. A security guard barked at us to sit down until they were done. Dude, they were practice putting. Come one.

• The 16th hole during practice rounds is awesome. It’s a tough par-3 but the fans all chant for the players to skip the ball across the ponds. Almost all take part. Tiger Woods skipped one across the pond and onto the middle of the green. With the roar of the crowd you thought he had just dunked it for an ace.

• The merchandise center … big crowds, big prices and abuse of credit cards.