No traffic, patrons or azaleas but it’s still Augusta! The 2020 Masters might be a little different but we’re in for a memorable tournament
- The 2020 Masters tournament is set to finally begin on Thursday in Augusta
- The April tournament is being held in November for the first time this year
- There will also be no patrons in attendance, making it a truly unique edition
Monday at the Masters is usually the most manic day of all. By 7am, the lines of traffic down Washington Road leading to Augusta National are literally a mile long.
It is estimated that twice as many patrons attend the practice rounds than the tournament itself. They come from all over the world, having been drawn out of a ballot, and everyone wants to be there when the gates open at 8am.
At 7am yesterday, the cars in the vicinity of the golf club could have been counted on two hands. This was rush hour, Augusta style.
November’s autumn colours are present at 2020’s Masters tournament for the first time
Patrons are absent from this year’s Augusta too, making for a unique edition of the tournament
Down Washington Road, there were no ‘welcome patrons’ signs. No ‘tickets needed’ banners. No motorhome belonging to John Daly outside Hooters. A small Masters logo above a traffic light was the only visible sign that one of the great sporting occasions is now just a matter of hours away.
The sense of disorientation is only accentuated when wandering round the course. Nothing can prepare you for walking down the beautiful 10th hole and having it to yourself. The incredible sense of privilege is mixed with guilt for all those who have had to miss out.
At first glance, Augusta National in November is very much like it is in April. The temperature is in the mid-20s and perfect for golf. Emerald green remains the overwhelmingly predominant shade.
Usually Monday at the Masters sees bumper crowds but players had the course to themselves
But look a little closer and the colours of autumn can be seen in the trees that line some of the stately holes on the fabled back nine.
There are no azaleas or dogwoods in bloom, of course. Not even the green jackets can fool nature to that extent. There’s also a lot more grass, if that doesn’t sound too daft.
The fairways are not trimmed to within an inch of their lives. There’s proper rough on many of the holes. Is this a bit of Bryson-proofing on the club’s part? Maybe.
But there is also the fact the course is just emerging from lying dormant in summer, when the Bermuda grass is burned away and the fairways look the colour of the desert.
A rye grass overseed restores its verdant splendour but the extra layer at present might be covering areas where it hasn’t quite worked. Heavens, you can’t have bald spots at Augusta. The greens are not as immaculate as in April, with clear brown spots on some.
The course does not appear in the best shape on Monday but players are satisfied with it
Danny Willett offered some reassurance. ‘They’re rolling lovely, and they putt much better than they look,’ said the 2016 Masters champion.
One thing that’s striking, with the absence of patrons, is all the different noises you hear.
Walking down the 14th hole came the sound of birdsong. At the 18th, I heard one of those never-ending American trains sounding its continuous horn. It’s a wonder the club haven’t rearranged the railway line so they don’t have to put up with such a racket.
There are no ropes to gather behind this year, no grandstands. I took the opportunity to stand behind some tees you can never get near on a normal Monday. Walking to the left of the stunning par-three 16th was a first.
The total silence on the Augusta course creates a never-before-seen backdrop for the Masters
Here the patrons gather to watch the players do their Dambusters trick of trying to skim balls across the water hazard.
While there, I came across the most incongruous sign to be found in any sporting arena since March. ‘Quiet Please,’ it said.
Back in the press centre, the sense of a world in flux went on.
Fred Ridley, the Masters chairman, announced Lee Elder will join Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in hitting a ceremonial tee shot at the Masters next year. Imagine what some of Ridley’s predecessors would have thought of that?
It’s 45 years since Elder became the first black professional to play in the Masters and Ridley is adamant the club will atone for its past misdeeds.
‘We’ve been moved by the events of 2020 and this is our call to action,’ he said.
The 2020 tournament is set to get underway on Thursday, running through until Sunday
The club will also fund a programme for women golfers at a local black college, with Lee Elder scholarships for leading aspirants, male and female.
Asked how much it would cost, Ridley gave a very Augusta answer. ‘It’s not a consideration,’ he said. ‘We’ll fund it. We’re blessed with tremendous resources, and we are going to use them.’
As if it hasn’t been challenging enough putting on this Masters, with the change of date and the fact the pandemic continues to rage, the remnants of Hurricane Eta could swing by when the tournament gets underway. That would be too much to bear.
Right now, there’s enough here of the real Augusta to give us a memorable Masters.
As Willett said: ‘You get the impression it will be business as usual. They’ll get the mowers out and the sub-air system on and by the first round the players will be thinking to themselves, as they always do, “Where the heck was this golf course when we were trying to practise?”’
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