A really happy man in Augusta (2nd hole, right of the fairway)

                                      A really happy man in Augusta (2nd hole, right of the fairway)

As part of our blog series on sports, our VP of Business Development Frederic Raymond shares his recent experience at Augusta National.

Augusta Dreamin’

I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. In the final round of the 2003 Masters Tournament, Mike Weir was standing over a 7-footer on the 18th green to force a playoff against Len Mattiace. Only 10 years old at the time, I clearly recall how excited and inspired I felt when the putt disapeared into the cup. Now, when people talk about classic Masters, the ’03 edition isn’t necessarily what you’ll hear guys discussing with passion. They’ll chat about Jack’s ’86 victory or argue which was most amazing between Phil’s first victory in 2004 or Tiger’s win in ’97. However, I can tell you that up North, we were going nuts when Mike Weir won the playoff and the title. For the first time in history, a Canadian was about to slip on a Masters winner green jacket.

I was born in a house that revered Augusta National and every early-April since I can remember has been an opportunity for our family to spend time together while getting excited for the upcoming golf season. Over time, it has become somewhat of a sacred tradition for us to sit down in front of the TV for almost four days in a row (and even longer now…thank you ‘’Live from the Masters’’). For Northerners, it’s not only the storylines set forth by the broadcasters or the always picture-perfect course that are attracting us to the living room. The timing is incredible too, coming at a moment where spring is starting to show up and we just can’t bear cold weather anymore. The scenic beauty of Augusta National is just straight up inspiring at a time we need it most.

So when I got the news from my father André that we had the opportunity to experience the 2017 Masters on site with tickets to Wednesday’s practice round, you can imagine my excitement. For the first time, I would step on a property that I’ve grown to respect to the utmost and experience something I had always hoped of having a chance to do ‘’someday’’.

Like stepping ground at Augusta National wasn’t enough in itself, we had the unique opportunity to score Berckmans Place tickets, the VIP experience of the Masters. Prior to the week, I went online to try to find some information about those tickets and here are some of the things I read:

‘’…the most exclusive and elaborate hospitality site in all of sports.’’

‘’Imagine someone giving you Superbowl tickets. On the 50 yards line, no less. This is the closest equivalent to Berckmans Place…’’

And here was my reaction to that :

                                          Is this really happening?

                                         Is this really happening?

I’m sure you could understand that as we drove South on our way to Georgia, our expectations were quite something. After all, how many years had we watched the Masters and listened to Jim Nantz’s selling us this place as the most beautiful piece of land one could find? I’d say this is a pretty accurate graphic of André and I expectations going into the week :

                           Our expectations going into Augusta....

                          Our expectations going into Augusta....

Not surprisingly though :
We had such a blast and left everything but disappointed.

We arrived in Augusta on Tuesday afternoon. The first thing that struck us was the incredible atmosphere in town, even as one could obviously expect such a vibe during the area’s biggest week of the year. I guess we also thought the city itself was not as small as we were told. We checked-in at the house we were staying in after driving around the course and realizing how huge the parking area next to Augusta National was. We were impressed by the infrastructure surrounding the course and all the setup required to host such an event. You can easily tell ANGC is expecting a lot of people, as they obviously should. After a quick stop at the local Hooters, where John Daly was busy selling all kinds of stuff, we went back to the house and decided to grab pizza for dinner. We thought about going in town, but we were quite tired and felt like pizza, Brandel Chamblee on TV and a good night of sleep sounded like a decent plan before our big day.

We woke up early on Wednesday morning with the clear intention to enjoy every second we would get at Augusta National. We knew bad weather was expected and there was no way we would waste any time. Our shuttle actually arrived first at the Berckmans Place gate, 15 minutes before the doors were set to open. Entering BP was quite the experience. First, this place is immense. Home to five different restaurants, a beautiful shop, and incredible memorabilia’s, it honestly feels like perfection. After grabbing a quick breakfast and a few items in the gift shop, we set foot on the golf course as soon as it opened to patrons. From where we entered the property, we arrived next to the 13th green and started walking the course from there. As much as we were hearing about bad weather coming in, the early morning temperature was actually great. We walked from 14th to 18th, stopping pretty much everywhere to take pictures and enjoy different perspectives of each holes (which you’re only allowed to do during practice rounds). While we did that, we obviously had a few flashbacks of different great moments in the history of the Masters. I tried to visualize Tiger’s unreal chip as we were standing next to the 16th green while my father talked about Jack’s legendary putt in 1986 as we got to 17th. Walking around, it’s easier to understand why Augusta National has not historically been a place for first-time winners. Although the course is wide for the most part and you’d have to work hard to find a bad lie anywhere, the complexity of the greens is highly evident. Many different plateaus set the stage for extremely difficult pin placements that definitely required some course knowledge and tournament experience. We’ve all heard it before and still I was stunned by the severity of some of the surfaces.

After walking up 18th, we stopped for a while and watched a couple guys practice on the putting green next to the 10th tee. Among others, Brandt Snedeker, James Hahn and Scott Piercy were getting dialed-in with the flat stick before their practice round. This whole area around the clubhouse is truly inspiring and we were especially intrigued by the famous cabins next to the 10th hole that host members and their guests when they play Augusta National. From there, we walked the remainder of the course, from the 1st hole to the 13th green. We followed Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, and Stewart Hagestad and caught glimpses of Justin Rose, Toto Gana, and a few others. Quite honestly, as much as it is a special privilege to watch PGA Tour pros hit the ball and play golf, our real thrill was to explore the property and the golf course.

On that, here are some personal takeaways from a first-timer:

  • Number 1 is not an easy hole to start with. You don’t want to mess with the right side (hello, bogey +) and the landing area requires accuracy.
  • It’s in perfect shape (but you already knew that). Even on a rainy week.
  • The 6th hole is absolutely beautiful and in my opinion highly underrated. There are giant trees behind the green that make for a stunning view off the tee.
  • The 10th is most likely my favorite hole on the course. The second shot downhill into the green provides for a superb scene.
  • Amen corner is definitely special, but we barely had time to stay for five minutes before the horn was blown, so I’ll have to come back to appreciate it in details.
  • 13th is a real curler and probably one of the coolest hole to play for the risk & reward aspect of it.
  • The second shot of 15th is far from overrated. It’s a beautifully tempting approach to a green that’s not very deep.
  • 18th does look pretty tight off the tee. It’s definitely one shot to think about under pressure.

As we were just finishing walking the course, the horn was blown and we were asked to evacuate the golf course. At that point, we were lucky to be able to go back to Berckmans Place to enjoy lunch and explore the building a little bit. Inside, on one of the walls, I discovered that ‘’Fruitland Nurseries’’, which occupied the land before Augusta National, was owned by Belgian immigrants with french-sounding names (Louis and Prosper Jules Alphonse Berckmans). As a French Canadian, it kind of caught my attention and I thought it was interesting.

We were not able to return on the course after it got officially closed for the day not long after lunch. I guess we could have been a bit disapointed, but we were able to walk the entire golf in the morning and frankly it was hard to feel any sort of disapointment in the middle of such a unique day.

We left Berckmans Place and Augusta National with a feeling that was hard to describe. We had literally just fulfilled a dream and I think thankful would probably be the most precise way to describe how we felt.

Back home in Quebec just in time for the weekend, it was a thrill watching the final rounds on TV while being able to relate to the broadcast like never before. In itself, the ability to watch the Masters this way for the rest of our lives might be one the coolest thing about this whole experience.

When Sergio Garcia sank his birdie putt in the first playoff hole, our living room literally exploded. The strong pride people around the world all felt for the Spaniard proved again how sports events and impressive accomplishments have this incredible capability of uniting us all. Just like Mike Weir did for Canadians in 2003, I’m sure Spain went wild that night.

We can all be thankful to Augusta National for moments like that. 
I sure am.

Fred

P.S. A heartfelt thank you to the people that made this experience possible.

                                                                  André and I behind the 18th green.

                                                                 André and I behind the 18th green.