A Tradition Unlike Any Other

The azaleas in bloom. The perfectly manicured fairways and greens. The old southern gentlemen in their jackets of ugly, yet beautiful green. And of course, the music. Yes, my favorite week of the year is upon us, as it's time for that "tradition unlike any other"...The Masters.

I'm digging back a few years here for this story, but it's one that ever since has remained fresh in my mind. In 2005, my brother and I traveled to Augusta National to attend the Tuesday practice round for The Masters. Just 24 and 20 years old, the trip would allow us both to scratch items from near the top of our "bucket lists." It was one of the best days of my short life, and one we both won't soon forget.

We arrived very late on Monday to the small town of Waynesboro, about half an hour south of Augusta. I had booked us a room at the finest accommodations the town had to offer, a Day's Inn, and at whopping $189 a night it was a textbook example of supply and demand. When we arrived around midnight, nearly every parking space in the hotel was full, and when we departed the next morning at 6 a.m. they were all empty.

The drive to Augusta was a short one, and we soon found ourselves in what was the patron parking lot located off Washington Road. Today, this lot is the new "Tournament Practice Facility," which true to Augusta form is only used 7 days a year. We entered the grounds conveniently enough on the first fairway, just in time to catch Phil Mickelson strolling off the first tee. It was barely 7am, and the guy was already smiling...

The only player either of us cared about watching was our idol, Tiger Woods, and in typical Tiger fashion, he had teed off before day-break. We rushed to catch up to his group, and finally did so on the short par 4 third hole. One benefit of attending a practice round...they allow patrons to bring cameras.

Since it was still quite early, and Tiger would be playing for quite a while, we decided to explore much of the course before the mass of patrons took over. I was a little awestruck not only from the course, but from the serenity of it all with the morning still young. An incredible contrast was a completely empty #16, which on Sunday would have a thousands witness perhaps the greatest shot in Master's history.

We made our way around the course, following Tiger most of the day, while making sure to visit all of the landmarks along the way. From Amen Corner, to the Eisenhower Pine, to Magnolia Lane, we left no stone in Augusta National unturned. That is, if there were any stones to be found in the sea of beautiful green...

After the cheapest lunch at a sporting event I'd ever experienced, having seen the entire grounds and the completion of Tiger's round, we decided to call it a day. It was only 1pm, but we were exhausted. The early morning arrival combined with the hills of Augusta National left us worn out, with a long drive still ahead.

Without a doubt, the trip was one of the most memorable I've experienced, and yet it lasted for less than 24 hours. Having carried a mild obsession with all things Augusta National, the experience was, for lack of better description, a dream come true. Ever since that day, I've longed to return, as the mystique of Augusta National is embedded in the fiber of my being. Sure, that's a little dramatic, but true nonetheless.

Till then, my souvenir pine cone from under the Eisenhower Pine will have to do.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~