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The entrance was barely visible from our spot at the back of the line, but we moved at a brisk shuffle, shepherded along by smiling ushers. We reached the end of the queue in short time, where we found the doorway was not quite an entrance but the start of a wandering corral into which we filed without complaint. Special effects danced across the walls to take our minds off how long we’d been here, and how far we’d walked to travel not very far at all. In my mind I saw flashes of the previous week’s spring break, winding through stalls with my family as we pushed our way onto Splash Mountain. Then someone handed me a green bag and beckoned me forth to come fill it, and it was as if we had not been in line at all—rather, we’d been given time to prepare our hearts for the gifts that would fall into our bags like fruit from the tree of golf.
If it sounds like a spell had been cast upon us, it certainly felt that way. Now that I’m a few hundred miles removed from my week in Augusta, it’s fair to wonder if the magic I’d felt was real, or if I was just another easy mark. To the cynics, the Masters experience might feel like a careful and calculated façade, as orchestrated and synthetic as my Disney vacation. But cynics are hard to come by on the grounds of Augusta National—trust me, I looked.
I searched like Diogenes with his lamp, interviewing 30-plus strangers in search of a non-believer. From a chance meeting with the best man in Jack Nicklaus’s wedding, to the grandmother of the week’s low amateur, to a pair of friends from Miami who worked for the largest soccer association in the world, to seven buddies who came to honor the friend who got their tickets but was home recovering from a massive heart attack—the words were the same: Impressive. Classy. Friendly. Joyful. Elite. From the team of bathroom attendants who moved the line with military efficiency, to the head golf pro from Chicago who volunteered every year to serve as litter cop patrolling the famed lawn tables, Augusta did all the details. From employees to volunteers to ticket-holders, it’s one big old buy-in, and as I encountered convert after convert, they converted me in turn. Mystique is no longer mystique when we all decide to believe in it, and at the Masters, we drink it down like sweet tea for which we hardly had to wait at all.
As I surveyed every acre and building to which my credential gave me access, it was clear that we were already nostalgic about this week before a competitive shot had been struck. It wasn’t that the golf was an afterthought—far from it—it’s just that the event was somehow result-proof. Sunday could be a sleeper or a donnybrook; the enchantment that comes with every Masters badge is that it doesn’t really matter. Much like a Magic Kingdom vacation, even if your 6-year-old cried through half of it, you’ll still recall it as the time of your life, because that particular place occupies that particular territory in our collective imagination. And that’s what walking into Augusta National feels like—you are physically there, but you’re also drifting through daydreams. If you’ve got a clientele who’ve spent much of their lives waiting for the chance to consume your product, it’s a safe bet that they’re going to recall that day fondly, even before they’ve lived it. That’s the magic in the Happiest Place on Earth, and it turns out there’s more than one.
The only shred of disappointment I heard from an attendee—and they shall remain nameless, as they hope to attend again—is that going to the Masters isn’t the best way to actually watch the Masters. It’s a fair point that probably extends to most golf tournaments—your couch remains the best vantage point, and with phones barred at Augusta, you can feel awkwardly adrift from our real-time culture. It’s a small price, really. Strangers turn to confidantes along the ropes as you collectively try to discern the meaning of a roar based on its volume, attempting to triangulate its source. And while no texting makes it near impossible to find the friends you swore you’d meet at the 16th green at 3 p.m. (how the hell did we ever find one another before smartphones?), sometimes it’s nice to have an excuse to stay in that spot you’ve staked by the 12th. Besides, your visit won’t be short on reunions. If for some reason you are in search of the two women you got paired with at Bethpage in 2006, or the guy who you sat next to at your cousin’s wedding, or your high school track coach, there is one place where you can expect to find them: standing in line for a hat or a $3 sandwich. Somewhere deep in Augusta National’s bag of charms, there exists a sorcery that pulls both friends and long-ago acquaintances into your orbit—or maybe they’ve been hanging around us all along and we just didn’t notice until someone took away our screens (which the guards by the gates are happy to do).
I have some more experienced friends who miss their erstwhile Masters, an event they recall as more intimate, more accessible, more affordable (it wasn’t that long ago that the Augusta Chamber of Commerce would give tickets away, imploring folks to come support the local tournament). I’d suggest that doling out pieces of something that everybody wants is an unenviable task, and however more people can get their slice of something that is actually more grand and more inspiring than what we see on TV, I’m for it. Such gifts are the rarest kind, and we should all keep entering the lottery until it lands in our inbox. If this all sounds like the patronizing voice of a brain-washed attendee fresh from a Masters retreat, I’d suggest that, in 2022, our brains could probably use a little washing, scrubbing loose some of our cynicism, our sarcasm, our fear.
A golf tournament alone doesn’t have the power to engender such joy or inspire such hyperbole. Nor does a new car or set of clubs or handbag. Things foster joy when we place our own joy upon them, and that, to me, seems the Masters’ true secret sauce—more than any place I’ve visited, we arrive there willing to be happy. Nowhere else looks or sounds or feels like Augusta National, no doubt, but the same can be said for your dinner table or your backyard. As we leave the Masters this week, whether it be by the exits on Washington Road or by turning off our televisions, may we carry some of that wonder with us into the other places in our lives. It’s just a matter of buying in and deciding whether we want to live our lives as a spectator, or as a patron.
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