Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: Why I turned down a chance to play Augusta National

One look at Augusta National convinced Tom Sorensen that he should leave the place to people such as Phil Mickelson, one of the world’s best golfers.
One look at Augusta National convinced Tom Sorensen that he should leave the place to people such as Phil Mickelson, one of the world’s best golfers. TNS

Editor’s note: This column originally published on April 7, 2010.

I don’t fit Augusta National Golf Club.

I don’t play golf, rarely watch golf on TV and don’t wear pink, yellow or green clothes. I don’t own pleated shorts, don’t want to own pleated shorts and refuse to own pleated shorts. I have never been a member of a fraternity or sorority. Most of the others have that look, you know?

Until Tuesday I had never heard of Louis Oosthuizen or Charl Schwartzel. Schwartzel is pretty good, though. Based on the hole I followed him, he can win the 2010 Masters.

So what am I doing here, walking more than 30 holes on a Tuesday in 92-degree heat, sweating like a fool in blue jeans down to my Nikes?

Enjoying myself.

I love this place.

I love the way the club refuses to gouge fans. A four-day tournament badge is $200. (All the badges have long been sold, of course.)

A ticket to a practice round Monday or Tuesday is $36, a ticket to today’s practice round $41. Practice-round tickets are sold via international lottery.

I tell the man who answers my questions about ticket prices that the club probably could charge more. He agrees.

So do the scalpers. A practice round ticket today will go for about $500, a Thursday ticket (leave a credit card and borrow the badge for a day) about $650, a tournament badge $2,200-$2,900. But Tiger Woods’ comeback could jack up prices.

Along with charging more for tickets, the tournament could sell more tickets. There will be noticeably fewer fans here than at, say, the U.S. Open.

Fans park free and concession prices have an EVERYTHING MUST GO feel.

An imported beer is $3.50, a domestic beer $2.75. A club, chicken breast or BBQ sandwich is $2.50. Egg salad, pimento cheese, ham and cheese on rye, tuna salad and turkey sandwiches are $1.50. Coffee and candy and blueberry muffins and fruit are $1.

Cell phones are beautifully banned. So instead of hearing a golf fan say into a phone, “I’m walking toward the 10th green!” the fan walks toward the 10th green.

Scoreboards have no electricity. At the scoreboard near the ninth hole, employees climb up an eight-rung ladder to a platform. To reach the top they then climb a six-rung ladder. They post the numbers by hand.

Makes you wonder if the club trims the grass with a lawn mower pushed by hand.

The scoreboard attests to a rare and admirable quality. The rest of the world might feel compelled to jump and shout and keep up with the popular and the new. The Masters knows how fast to go.

So there’s time to appreciate the beauty, which is staggering. You know about the azaleas at Amen Corner. Next to a paved path near the ninth hole is a hidden creek and an array of shocking colors, the flowers purple and red and pink. Up on the 10th fairway, purple flowers hang like pine cones.

What kind of flowers are they? What am I, a botanist? They’re cool flowers, OK? I can tell you that some of the trees are pines. The others are non-pines.

The tournament must have landscapers like no other. The fairways and greens are impossibly smooth. You’d be thrilled if your lawn were as pristine, or your carpet.

Voices here are less harsh, words less plentiful. Even the people who talk as if they are paid by the word pause to appreciate.

Authority is absolute. Tiger Woods wore red the final day of the 2009 tournament, and a fan repeatedly yelled, “You the man, Red!” A marshal quickly admonished him, perhaps for the volume, perhaps for using a cliché. Marshal Law prevails.

Even without them, people understand. I walked more than 50 holes Monday and Tuesday and saw only two pieces of trash.

One was cellophane from a $7.49 package of Masters sunscreen and lip balm. The other was a half-smoked cigarette. I picked up the cellophane and threw it in a cardboard trash can.

I ran into Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates at the Masters one year, and he invited me to play the course the Monday after the tournament. He had an opening.

Me? Here? Amazing.

I hadn’t played golf in 25 years but figured I could fake it.

Anywhere else, I would have.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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