The US Masters is like the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon all rolled into one: blooming azaleas framing billiard table-smooth greens and the greatest players in the world. But there’s one thing the cameras won’t show you at the Augusta National Golf Club, and that’s what lies just beyond the gates.
“The only thing you see on approach is a huge six-lane carriageway called Washington Road,” says Radio 5 Live golf correspondent Iain Carter. “You see every fast food outlet imaginable, tyre warehouses, shopping malls.” Hooters, Krispy Kreme, Five Guys burgers – there’s no getting around it, America’s finest golf course is a little rough around the edges. All of which makes the Azalea Drive all the more surprising.
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“It’s a splash of colour, but the overriding impression is how green everything is,” Carter says. “The nearest thing I would compare it to is the Wimbledon tennis championships.”
The similarity is no accident: “The All England Club and the Augusta National Golf Club consult on a lot of strategy,” says Carter. “There’s an absence of corporate logos, elec- tronic scoreboards, much of the paraphernalia that would go with any other tournament.”
This “Special Relationship” comes through a shared sense of heritage and a fierce regard for exclusivity. Augusta National only opened its doors to women members in 2012.
“If you want to be a member there, don’t ask,” says Carter. “You would never be proposed if you express that desire. It’s the preserve of captains of industry, the American elite – a very private members’ club.”
Before the tournament begins players are allowed to practise, and for debutants this experience is crucial. Come competition week, the pin positions will change, and every feature will be trickier to navigate.
“The greens will be that much quicker, and the fairways are usually mown back towards the tee, which means the drives won’t have that much run on them,” explains Carter. “It’s said the tournament committee can set up the course to get the exact winning score that they want, whether that’s eight under or eight over par. They can tweak it that precisely.”
Even the elements don’t throw them: “They can’t control the weather, but if it gets very wet they have something called the ‘SubAir System’ underneath the greens, which can suck the moisture out very quickly.”
And while the gentility of Wimbledon might occasionally be interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone, the Masters has even managed to banish this modern irritant.
“They’re banned – you can’t even have your phone in your pocket, switched off,” Carter says. “It’s very set in its ways, and people like it.”
The US Masters will be broadcast from Thursday 6 April, 7pm on Sky Sports, BBC2 and 5 Live Sports Extra