Several months ago, an old and dear friend of ours offered my wife and I a one day pass to the Masters. Since it was an opportunity to see an event without having to cover it, we jumped at the chance. Our friend, who will remain anonymous because he is able to secure passes each year and I’m hoping for another invite, is a golf insider. During several dinners and phone calls, he gave advice on how to get the most out of the event and he described what it would be like during our full day – which in this case turned out to be Saturday.
Our friend didn’t come close.
And after the 11 hour day – spent entirely “off the grid” because we left our BlackBerries at the hotel – our take-away from the day at the former Fruitland Nursery is that the TSA, American retailers and professional sports teams could learn great lessons in efficiency and respect that could go a long way to turning their images around.
Following the advice of our golf “sage” we pulled into the parking lot shortly after 7:AM. No fewer than 5 people guided us into our space. They all thanked us for coming – and reminded us to note where we left our car.
Did I mention … the parking was FREE?
We followed the signs to the Main Gate and started to see more signs about “cameras, no-cell phones, BlackBerries, etc” on the course. At previous events, we’ve managed to sneak those vital communication tools for our business into stadiums or even other golf events. Both of us are in the news business and feel the need to be in close touch with our offices. Our “sage” had told us not to even try.
He was right. The security was thorough beyond belief. No large pocketbooks were allowed. No back-packs. And while there weren’t pat-downs, the questioning by the security people made it very clear that the camera/cellphone/BlackBerry rule was serious. There were public phones inside the course for those feeling the need to phone home, and at one point our friend jokingly told my wife that there had been an earthquake in Los Angeles – causing her to look for the nearest phone.
Once through security, there was the opportunity to spend money at one of the retail centers. Golf pull-overs, shirts, trinkets – all with the coveted Masters logo that you can only buy at Augusta National – were on the wall. We told the very nice sales person that we’d take 2 of those .. 3 of those .. 5 of those .. and took our order to one of a what seemed like a dozen cash registers. Hundreds of dollars later – we were told we could check the items or ship them. Checking and shipping lines were right there. Needless to say, our friendly UPS driver that delivers in our neighborhood is going to get asked every day for a week about my Masters delivery.
Once the security and shopping was out of the way, it was time to look at the course. As part of our entry into the tournament, we were given a “Spectator Guide” – which gave advice on where to sit – and there was very clear language on how we “patrons” are encouraged to act.
As part of our retail purchase, we bought two small folding chairs where we put our business cards into a visible pocket on the chair’s back. As we toured the course, we checked out various locations. We chose Amen Corner. Our specific position was right behind the tee box at #12 – the hole they call Golden Bell. From there we could see the golfers putting on the 11th green – watch them stripe their tee shots to the difficult par 3 number 12. But it was going to be several hours before any golfers reached Amen Corner. There were dozens of chairs sitting there and we had been told that we could leave the chairs there and continue on our way. Guess what? They were there when we came back about 3 hours later.
All that walking – and more on how that went soon – made us hungry. Sandwich prices start at $2.50 – for the famous Pimento and Cheese on white bread. The most expensive is $1.50. Drinks start at $1.50 – Beer is $3.00. (Compare that to the $12.00 I paid at Dodger stadium last year.) Lines were relatively long, but they moved quickly – which is what happens when you have enough cash registers and people who know how to work them. Also, I stopped counting the number of times I was thanked for coming to the tournament when I spent about $6.00 for lunch.
After a quick stop at the practice tee and practice green – the first group teed off Saturday morning – 5 minutes early.
This is where the beauty of the course, the event, and the skills and attitudes of the players and “patrons” can only be appreciated in person. The elevations of the fairways and greens at Augusta National are daunting. It is very hilly.
Exhausting if you have to walk every step. These elevations don’t translate onto a television screen. One of my friends at work e-mailed me with the comment that the golfers had trouble putting on Saturday. (It was an e-mail I read back at the hotel.) Some of the greens have four different levels. They are manicured so well that they are like glass with a coating of ice. A slight tap of a putter and the ball can travel 50 feet beyond the hole. When a player is about to putt – or tee off – the place is so silent the only sound you can hear are the birds chirping.
But once the player executes his shot – or chip or putt – these very respectful “patrons” become appreciative spectators.
Walking from the green at number 11 to the tee at number 12, we sat about 50 feet behind the rope line and could see and hear much of what was said between “patron” and player. Rickey Barnes chipped the ball into the hole on 11 and turned to the crowd and pumped his fist. The love was returned. Sergio Garcia gave an 8 year old kid a golf ball that he had just 3 putted on number 11. Fred Couples was given a standing ovation as he made the short walk. He nodded and tipped his cap. Rory McElroy, Jayson Day, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel (the eventual winner) all smiled and nodded to the crowd that rose to its feet as they worked through the heat and humidity of the competition. If professional golfers can take anything away from their performances and general attitudes – they really are the future of the game. But the Masters has a way of making sure that the best comes out in people – and the worst isn’t tolerated.
And speaking of worst, we saw Mr. Woods up close and personal Saturday and can understand why his popularity might be down – as well as his skill level. After 3 putting on the 11th, the “patrons” of Augusta gave him a standing ovation and cheers of “Tiger – Tiger” as he walked from 11 to 12. He didn’t look up. Even after the fans tried again with wild cheers after his tee shot at 12 – which stuck the ball 10 feet from the pin – he kept walking. There’s a reason the fans are cheering and hoping for Rory .. Jayson .. Adam and Charl.
When all the golfers went by number 12 – we gathered our chairs and our 10 plastic cups with Masters logos that are now part of the Fair family backyard barbeque glassware set, and started the walk back to the main entrance. We stopped and watched the players on 18 and then decided to get to the parking lot to beat the final rush of traffic. After all, it had been 11 hours.
I’ve been to or covered many major sporting events. Nothing comes close. And the lessons of operating an event, treating customers like real people and getting respect in return can translate to our every day lives.
In short – the Masters is in fact – Masterful.
One final thought. That guy Mark Twain who said "golf is a good walk spoiled," obviously had never been to Augusta.
Don Fair is Coordinating Producer for Fox News Channel who has traveled the world covering major news and sports events. He’s a 16 handicap. His wife, Cheryl, is a news executive in Los Angeles and doesn’t play golf, but likes to go to nice places.