Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Dozen Ways to Play Augusta National Golf Club

My first reader poll on this site was "What is the hardest course in the United States to gain access to?" The overwhelming majority felt it was Augusta, with 63% agreeing it was the hardest. I find it instructive to see how people who have played the course got on it, as there may be clues in there for the rest of us mortals. Here is a sampling of answers from those the lucky few who managed to get on and some other less obvious ways to potentially play the course.

Mindful of the old adage about a management consultant being a man who knows 101 ways to make love but doesn’t know any women, I'm still waiting for "the call", but for what it's worth, the best ways to get on.

1. Begging and Hounding

Tom Clasby, who has played EVERY course that has ever been ranked in the top 100 courses in the world stated, "The hardest is Augusta National by far! I got on because I was lucky enough to work the Masters as a fore caddie, which is almost equally impossible to playing the course itself. Some of the nicest, most understanding people helped, but it too five long years of begging and hounding everyone I ever met to get to these people".

Odds of getting on this way: 5,000-1

2. "I played with the dishwasher"

Bernie Hiller of New York, who has also played the world's top 100, found his most difficult conquest was Augusta National as well, "I'd finally almost finished the U.S. list, getting up to No. 99, but I could never get into Augusta," Hiller recalled. "I calculated that I talked to at least 5,000 people trying to get onto Augusta. "Finally," Hiller went on, "I got to play Augusta. I played with the dishwasher. It took me 20 years, seven months and 27 days from the time I first started trying to get on it."

Unfortunately, this technique can't be copied anymore as Augusta National doesn't permit employees to substitute another person for their once-a-year round.

Odds of getting on this way: 1,000,000-1.

3. "Augusta was the first course I ever played"

One of the guys in my regular foursome invited a guest to play and we started talking about all the courses we had played in different parts of the world and I asked him if he ever played Augusta. "Augusta was the first course I ever played," was his nonchalant answer. His wife works for USA Network, which at the time covered the Masters on Thursday and Friday. The course lets the broadcasters play the Monday after the Masters. He was at a dinner on the Sunday night after the Masters had concluded and one of the golfers scheduled to play had to cancel. Although he had never swung a club before, the group convinced him it was the opportunity of a lifetime and he played. He laid some serious turf and shot over 150 but had an encouraging caddie and will forever be hated by every serious golfer who lusts to play Augusta and can't. The lesson in this is either marry well or aspire to become a senior executive of CBS and you're in good shape.

Odds of getting on this way: 2,000,000-1.

4. Win the Bobby Jones Scholarship

This gem was submitted by one of my faithful blog readers, "I have played Augusta National. My secret? Attend St. Andrews University and win the Bobby Jones Scholarship to Emory University which involves going to the Masters as a gallery guard in April, and then going back to play the course in June, with full open clubhouse and unlimited use of the Par 3 course." Oh, to be young again and an athlete!

Odds of getting on this way: 10,000-1.

5. Coincidence

Marc Brown completed playing the top 100 in the world for the first time in 1997. He has subsequently played all the courses on the bi-annually updated list between 1999 and 2009. His story, "Regarding Augusta, I got on the same way many average people do: purely by coincidence. About fifteen years ago, a 70-year-old acquaintance told me that one of his friends was going to spend several days at Augusta, and he asked me if I would be available if a spot opened up. Several days later, an Augusta member called me and said that one of his guests had to leave town a day early and offered to let me take his spot. I scrambled to use Delta frequent flyer miles since the round trip on three days' notice would have been over $2,000. I stayed overnight in a room above the golf shop, had dinner at Augusta, played one round and the par three course the next day, had lunch, and then left the premises, never to return except to watch a Masters practice round."

Except for that one chance encounter with a 75-year-old Augusta member (now deceased), I have not before or since had even the most remote opportunity to play Augusta National although I did play the Augusta CC once (it is very good). My impression is that Augusta members are gun shy about being asked to take guests that they do not know, and that they are more willing to take one stranger to fill a foursome than to take three strangers."

Odds of getting on this way: 5,000-1.

6. Volunteer at The Masters

Those who volunteer to work at the Masters get to play the course before it closes each May. Alas, I tried this route to no avail. To quote directly from my letter from Augusta National, "...we cannot offer you any encouragement because the same volunteers return year after year - most serving for many years. Therefore, we maintain no waiting list." Period, end of sentence.

Odds of getting on this way: 2,500-1.

7. Play in the US or British Amateur

Finish first or second in either the US Amateur or British Amateur and you not only get to play Augusta, you get to play in The Masters and its practice rounds and stay in the Crow's Nest. D.J. Trahan described his 2001 stay at the Crow's Nest as "indescribable." I'm sure it is.

Odds of getting on this way: 3,000,000-1.

The Crow's Nest at Augusta National

8. A Little Luck

Selwyn Herson completed the top 100 in 2004. Herson's tour of the track Bobby Jones made famous fell from the sky. While doing some advisory work for a large communications company in New York, Herson was summoned to the office of one of the top executives. He thought he was in trouble, but the guy asked Herson to do him a favor—take his place in a group that was scheduled to play Augusta. Actually, it's more than a little luck, sounds like a lot of luck.

Odds of getting on this way: 2,500-1.

9. Join Augusta Country Club

Augusta Country Club is the Donald Ross-designed course adjacent to Augusta National that is visible above the twelfth hole and thirteenth tee on Amen Corner. Since Augusta permits only foursomes to play, if for some ghastly reason there aren't four golfers, Augusta National has been known to call over to Augusta Country Club and see if there's somebody hanging around that might want to drive over and join in at the Mother Ship. Standing by.

Odds of getting on this way: 1,000-1.

10. Be Invited By A Member

Being invited by a member is tough to do since its 300 members are a who's who of America's current and former CEOs. In 2004 USA Today published a list of Augusta members. More than 80% were current or retired CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The average age of a member was 72, more than a few are in their 80s.

Odds of getting on this way: 5,000-1.

11. Cover the Masters for the media

There are 28 members of the media allowed to play Augusta after the Masters concludes. Leonard Shapiro who writes about golf for the Washington Post wrote the following about playing Augusta, "There is a media lottery every year, and it took me eight years to win a round the Monday after the Masters. By the way, for the ethicists out there, I paid the caddie $125 and spent another $200 in the pro shop, so there really is no such thing as a free round of golf for the sportswriters at Augusta National. By the way, had three pars on the card, four Xs, and had to walk off after 14 holes to make a deadline, and then a plane."

What kind of deadline could have been more important than finishing Augusta? Difficult to take in. So you miss the deadline, get fired and go to work for another paper. What did I miss?

Also, in the not fair category, Damon Hack from Golf.com won the lottery twice, in 2002 and 2019. Let's feel sorry for him since he's not eligible to win the lottery again until 2016. NOT!

Odds of getting on this way: 1,000-1.

12. Caddy

Like at almost every course in the world, caddies at Augusta National are permitted to play the course (once a year).

Odds of getting on this way: 5,000-1.

If you have a story about how you got on Augusta please share it with us.