Tuesday, April 08, 2008

First three days of Masters a treat for fans

The first three days of Masters week are so much different than the four days when the tournament is actually being played.

Even the players are different.

There’s a practice-round tradition that has developed over the years where the players try to skip shots across the pond on the par-3 16th hole. It’s the ultimate hit-and-giggle moment with fans counting the skips and cheering the shots that reach dry land.

Though there’s serious work being done by the players while they’re playing practice rounds, the edge is gone. They’ll stop for photos – cameras are allowed Monday through Wednesday – and occasionally a player will pull someone from the gallery to do something with them.

Though there are no official numbers, there are more people on the property early in the week than during tournament rounds. Somehow, almost all of them manage to squeeze onto the par-3 course on Wednesday afternoon.

One of the great treats if you’re at Augusta National on Wednesday is the freedom to walk around the course in the afternoon. Players must be off the course by early afternoon, which means most of the patrons have gone to the par-3 event, leaving the course open for a stroll that allows you to stop and look at the place without trying to see over the heads of four people in front of you.

Then there’s the merchandise building. Most tournaments have a tent. The Masters has a big permanent building selling everything from shirts to caps to baby clothes. The tournament could make millions more if it sold its merchandise online, but officials have said for years they want the patrons to have access to something others can’t get.

Especially early in the week, the lines can be extremely long getting into the merchandise building. There are even signs outside telling the shoppers how long the wait from various points in the line.

But it’s like a Disney store for golfers. It’s not unusual to see someone walking out with eight or 10 hats, half a dozen shirts and several golf towels. Christmas is still eight months away but a lot of gifts are bought here this week.

And why not?

It’s the Masters, and like Christmas, it only happens once a year.