By Frank Pingue
AUGUSTA Ga. (Reuters) – Augusta National patrons have proven for decades to be a different breed from fans at any other sporting event, providing a sort of golfing oasis for the world’s best players each year during the Masters.
At Augusta National, where the Masters began on Thursday after three heavily-attended practise days, one might have better luck booking a tee time at the exclusive course than finding anyone doing things like shouting out of line or using a cell phone.
Augusta National has essentially managed to maintain a remarkable sense of civility and respect among those attending the Masters, despite operating in a time where sporting events often produce excessive fan behaviour.
“It’s quite refreshing to have everything in control,” said twice major champion Martin Kaymer of Germany. “You know what you are going to get here. It’s a very peaceful place.
“Everybody behaves perfectly fine, it’s very respectful and I think sometimes we miss that in sport. So that’s why it’s a good week to come to.”
Augusta National prides itself on tradition and while the club’s strictly-enforced rules may not make sense to everyone who attends the year’s biggest golfing event the list of no-nos are, for the most part, followed to a tee.
And so it is no surprise that the first page of the Masters Spectator Guide begins with a passage written by club co-founder Robert Jones in 1967 that addresses conduct, customs and etiquette.
“In golf, customs of etiquette and decorum are just as important as rules governing play,” Jones wrote, going on to add that “most distressing to those who love the game of golf is the applauding or cheering of misplays or misfortunes of a player.”
In many ways, Augusta National operates in a world of its own and has created an aura about itself that has appeared to permeate almost anyone who walks through its gates.
As such, you are unlikely to see people sprawled out on the course’s luscious grass, and if you do it will not be for long as they will quickly be asked to sit up properly. Running is also considered unacceptable.
“There’s something about Augusta National when someone walks through the gates, they know that it’s a place of respect, of beauty, and honouring traditions and values of the game,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.
“It’s something … I certainly hope never changes.”
One member of the media at this year’s Masters was asked to remove his New York Mets baseball cap while eating breakfast in the Press Building’s dining room.
Even 2018 Masters runner-up Rickie Fowler fell foul of the hat rule when, as a 22-year-old Masters rookie, he showed up to a 2011 news conference at Augusta National wearing his cap backwards until a club member asked him to turn it around.
When it comes to cell phones, they are prohibited on the course and violation of that rule will subject the ticket holder to removal from the grounds and the ticket purchaser to the permanent loss of credentials.
And gone are the random shouts of “mashed potato” directed at golfers the moment after hitting their tee shots during other PGA Tour events.
At Augusta National, such behaviour is mostly absent among a cast of spectators that competitors say are well-informed of the intricacies of the game, respective and reserved.
“If every week (on the PGA Tour) was like this week it would be awesome,” world number 10 Xander Schauffele told Reuters.
Those lucky enough to get tickets to the Masters do so not as a “fan” but as a “patron”, and while the difference in the two is mostly semantic it is one Augusta National is adamant about as it considers each attendee a valued customer.
So polite are the patrons that many arrive early to set up chairs at their preferred viewing areas and return hours later knowing their seat will still be there waiting for them.
“It’s a good thing,” former FedExCup champion Billy Horschel said when asked about what it is like knowing there will be little to no outside distraction while playing the Masters.
“Fans need to have fun but they need to understand that we are still trying to make a living for ourselves out here.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Toby Davis)