Is This Heaven? No, It’s The Masters

WEBSTER CITY – For the average golf fan – this includes everyone from the weekend duffers to the 1-handicappers who spend a small fortune on their on-course wardrobe – attending the Masters is akin to snaking in back-to-back holes-in-one.

It would be exhilarating and perhaps even life-altering. But what are the chances of it actually happening? Slim to none … and slim just jumped out of the golf cart.

It’s true. There is simply no tougher get in sports than a golden ticket – they call them badges at Augusta National Golf Club, located in August, Ga. – to the Masters.

Want proof? The majority of tickets to the actual tournament are sold only to members of a patron’s list, which has been closed for decades. A limited supply of tickets were put in play in 2012; fans are allowed to apply for tickets and a select few – lottery winners – are selected at random. Your chances of winning the actual lottery may be greater.

OK, golfers are patient people, so try the waiting list. That first opened in 1972 and was subsequently closed in 1978. It finally reopened in 2000 and was quickly closed again.

Yes, that’s right. Fans cannot even get on a waiting list anymore.

Tickets are available every year from outside vendors, but those will run in the thousand dollar range and that’s just for a one-day pass during the practice rounds. Want an actual badge from Thursday through Sunday? Go ahead and head to the bank for a loan.

George Rasmussen, the owner and operator of the Webster City Links since 2006, already knows all of this, and it’s precisely why he counts himself among the select few fortunate golf fans from around the world. He gets to attend the Masters every year … and it doesn’t cost him a cent.

“It’s one of the biggest perks of my position,” Rasmussen said. “If you keep your status as a Class A superintendent, you get admitted for free. I could also go to things like the Ryder Cup or the U.S. Open.”

As a Class A superintendent, Rasmussen is given the select privilege of attending the spectacle during the first full week of April every spring. In fact, he’s taken an up close and personal look at 16 of the past 18 tournaments.

The history and beauty of the course, not to mention the drama that takes place on a yearly basis, make it impossible for him to even think about cashing in on his badge.

“There isn’t a day that goes by when I walk out where someone doesn’t ask to buy my ticket,” Rasmussen said. “I couldn’t sell mine because it’s a superintendent’s ticket, but even if I could I never would. Every year when I walk in the gates the hair on my arm goes up. It’s like golf heaven.”

The Course

Founded by golf legend Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, Augusta National first opened in 1933 and it has hosted the Masters since 1934. It has long been respected as one of the finest – if not the finest – golf courses in the United States.

“It’s just an amazing place,” Rasmussen said. “There isn’t a blade of grass out of place anywhere on the course.”

Landmarks such as Magnolia Lane, Rae’s Creek, Hogan Bridge and Butler Cabin only add to the mystique. There simply isn’t a more beautiful golf course in the world and Rasmussen says that’s because the members at Augusta National take great pride in having the best of everything.

“They have the resources to do pretty much anything they want and it’s amazing how different people are on those grounds,” he said. “You will see guys smoking cigarettes or cigars, but when they’re done they’ll put them out on the ground and then bend over and pick them up. You won’t find a cigarette butt anywhere on that course.”

It truly is going back to a time when everything moved slower and was a bit more civilized.

Proper golf attire is considered a must, even for those just watching, and running is strictly prohibited. Also, get caught with a cell phone and security is most likely going to take you directly to the front gate and send you along your way.

“They have phone banks all over the course and you can call anywhere in the country for free,” Rasmussen said. “It’s very affordable too … they don’t gouge you like other places do and they’re very patron friendly.

“They’ve got the most knowledgeable golf fans too, probably more so than any other place besides maybe Scotland or England.”

Fans flock to their favorite places on the hilly stretch of land. Amen Corner – the pocket of the course that includes the 11th, 12th and 13th holes – brings fans out in droves. So does the prickly par-3 16th, and the climb up to the 18th green is always a must see.

Rasmussen has covered the miles of real estate time and time again and he says it never gets old.

“There are vantage points all over the course,” he said. “We used to sit behind the seventh green because you see different areas. You have to go to 11, 12 and 13 just because of the history of it … sometimes we’ll follow five or six groups through and then go somewhere else.

“Everything, to me, is historic. I’ve been to the par-3 tournament (on Wednesday of tournament week) about very year. I’ve stood on the first tee and watched Gene Sarazen hit a ball. I’ve seen Byron Nelson do it. One time I even stood there and talked to Sam Snead for 45 minutes through a friend of mind that knew him. That was pretty cool.”

The Tournament

Rasmussen’s first trip to the Masters just happened to coincide with Tiger Woods’ historic win in 1997 that elevated him to rockstar status. He also walked the ropes in 2007 when Iowa’s own Zach Johnson shocked the golfing world by winning the green jacket.

Choosing his favorite wasn’t easy, but after really thinking about it Rasmussen came to a conclusion.

“Watching Zach win was really great, but if I had to pick my favorite year it would have to be Arnold Palmer’s last year in 2004,” Rasmussen said. “He played with (Jack) Nicklaus and (Gary) Player that year and Arnie’s always been my idol. I’ve followed him a lot wherever he’s played.”

The 2004 Masters also happened to be the year fan favorite Fred Couples made a charge at his second title, only to be pushed aside by fellow fan attraction Phil Mickelson, who went drain-o on an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to win his first major championship.

“I like both Freddie and Phil so it was like a no-lose year for me,” Rasmussen said. “Freddie is probably the biggest draw down there and he should have won that tournament about three or four times in the last 10 years.”

Augusta National Golf Club. The Masters. They truly are golf royalty – the No. 1 item on the bucket list of thousands.

Rasmussen considers himself lucky.

He’s right.