Augusta, United States (April 10): It’s true what they say. Nothing quite prepares you for your first visit to the Augusta National Golf Club.
No matter how many times you may have watched the Masters Tournament on television, it’s only once you step foot on the hallowed grounds that you truly appreciate why there’s simply nothing to compare with actually being here in person.
Whether you’re a hardened professional golfer, a wide-eyed teenage amateur or an expectant spectator (or patron as they’re referred to in these parts), making your debut at golf’s first Major championship of the year is an overwhelming experience.
The majesty of the venue and the grandeur of the occasion simply take the breath away.
The colours of blooming flowers and the fresh smell of the pines are a powerful concoction.
You notice that there is no ugly signage or distasteful branding to scar this picture-perfect landscape.
You’re taken aback by the elevation changes, the generous width of many of the fairways, the conspicuous lack of rough, the undulations on the immaculate putting surfaces and, above all, the compactness of the course.
The first and 10th tees and ninth and 18th greens are all within astonishingly close proximity. And there are no huge stands to obscure the views.
Also you can’t fail to be impressed by the warm southern hospitality. ‘Good morning, sir!’ is the standard greeting, even from menacing looking security guards.
“So where’s a good spot to watch from,” one first-time visitor asked a marshal. “There’s isn’t a bad spot out there,” was the response. And there truly isn’t.
Indeed, after just a couple of hours of soaking up the very unique atmosphere of the final practice round, the pain of the 36-hour trek from Southeast Asia magically drains away.
It should have been a mere 30 hours but a technical fault to the plane at Narita meant a frustrating 90-minute wait on the ground.
The unfortunate knock-on effect was that by the time we finally landed in Atlanta some 12½ hours later the shuttle bus to Augusta on which I was booked had long departed.
One factor I had inadvertently overlooked was getting into America, otherwise known as immigration ‘formalities’.
For the many hundreds of passengers queuing with commendable patience in the foreign passport line that snaked around hundreds of yards were a grand total of four lanes. A dozen booths, meanwhile, remained unattended.
When I finally reached the front after some 75 minutes, I was confronted by a stern-looking, grey-haired immigration officer. His name badge, I kid you not, read ‘Mr Grim’. At that very moment, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Less than 12 hours later as I strode down the first fairway at Augusta National, it was a distant memory. I’m here – and I’m going to savour every single second of the magic of the Masters.