A bucket-list day at the Masters with my father

My father, normally a very gregarious man, was staying quiet and attentive. He’s always been an attentive person, too, but this was a more vigilant type of silent awareness. I suspect it was because he was trying to take in as much as possible, paying close attention to everything he saw and listening intently to everything said.

We were at Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters. So there’s that. You’re supposed to be quiet when golf is being played. But even when we were away from the golfing action, he was more taciturn than usual. I’m sure he was trying to pace himself since we were going to be out on the course all day, and, at 85 years old, this was a major bucket-list item for him.

For as long as I could remember, Dad had watched the Masters on TV every year. He said he knew the course so well he couldn’t believe he’d never been there before. It’s a hard ticket to get. Augusta National offers only a limited number of tickets to the public. The bulk of tickets go to members of this private and prestigious club and the people and companies they do business with. Many of the companies rent out “hospitality houses” for Masters Week, the first full week of each April, to host their clients and other assorted guests lucky enough to get an invite. This was how Dad and I got our tickets to the Friday round of the 2017 tournament.

It was all very last-minute. I received a phone call from a friend late Wednesday saying she had two tickets for Friday. The people who were coming couldn’t make it because of bad weather and canceled flights. Since I lived an hour away from the club, she offered the tickets to me, as well as a night in a hospitality house. The first thing I did after saying yes was call my father, who immediately canceled his weekend plans and met me the next day in Augusta.

We bedded down on Thursday night in the master bedroom of Jasmine Cottage, a private, historic home near the club that the homeowners had rented out for the week. Masters Week coincides with spring break week in Augusta so this is how many families fund their vacations, by renting out their houses and getting away from the Masters. I heard tales of others who rent out their homes and use the money to stay in town with a friend and purchase expensive VIP package deals to attend the tournament.

It was unseasonably chilly on Friday morning when we arrived at the gate at 9:00 am. The security line was akin to going through a TSA checkpoint at the airport. Unlike on an airplane, though, cellphones and cameras are forbidden at Augusta National during the tournament, so you can’t take any pictures to prove you were there or share anything on social media. At one point, as we marched from hole to hole, we discovered a bank of landline courtesy phones provided by the club so patrons could connect with the outside world. Dad stopped and called Mom to check in, and for the sheer novelty of calling from inside a famous place so disconnected from the modern world. “I’m calling from inside Augusta National!” was a common refrain I overheard from many patrons while standing next to the phone bank.

Augusta National reveres tradition above all and proudly resists such modern encroachments as digital devices (even the scores on the main leaderboard are still turned by hand), gratuitous corporate branding (you won’t find any here) and, it seems, inflation. The concessions are delightfully inexpensive — only a buck fifty for the traditional egg salad and pimento cheese sandwiches and four bucks for import beer (the most expensive item on the menu). The club could easily get away with charging triple that.

My father was amazed by these details as much as he was by watching the world’s best golfers play through only a few feet away from us. Being a retired mechanical engineer, he marveled at the efficiency of everything, from how quickly the lines for the restrooms moved to the flawlessness of the landscaping and drainage systems. He investigated the grounds for signs of weeds and improper edging and reported that he found none.

We left the tournament around 5 p.m. and kicked our feet up in a hospitality tent to rest before the drive home. My father remained quieter than usual, but I knew he was thrilled, still taking in the environment of a place he had long dreamed of visiting.

On Sunday, during the final round, I called home. Dad was watching the tournament on TV and we reminisced about our one day at Augusta National two days earlier. Mom said he had an eager audience with the after-church crowd who wanted to know all the details about his experience.

“He’s telling everyone all about it,” said my mother about my father, who was apparently now back to his old talkative self.

If you go


Create an online account at Masters.com to enter the online ticket lottery system for a chance to buy one of the limited number of daily tickets ($115 each) that are offered to the public each year. This year's tournament sold out last summer, so now is the time to start planning for 2019. Tickets are also sold to the practice rounds on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Masters Week ($75). If your goal is to see Augusta National instead of tournament play, this is a good option because your odds of getting tickets in the lottery are better. The ticketing system is an online-only process.

Masters Week housing

The Masters Housing Bureau is an Augusta National-sanctioned place to search for house rentals from families who offer up their homes for Masters Week. Rates vary widely and can be negotiable, but expect to pay in the thousands. 706-821-1300; www.mastershousing.com.