AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If you're like most golfers and have never been to the Masters, here's some good news: There's always next year. Now the bad news: Tickets aren't so easy to get, but they're not impossible.
As many know, there are a limited number of tickets available, and those have been sold out for years. There's a waiting list you can't currently get on, and the number of tickets sold is a guarded secret by the good folks at Augusta National.
But there are other avenues, just like there are in other sports.
Getting past Magnolia Lane
This may come as a surprise to non-golf fans, but the Masters might be the second-most difficult ticket in all of sports behind the Super Bowl.
It's not just the competition but the venue as well. It's the only one of the four majors that's played on the same golf course every year; and oh, what a golf course. For golfers, it's hallowed ground.
And for first-timers, it's always more impressive than what they could have imagined.
But back to the tickets dilemma. Nothing is impossible.
Just like the Super Bowl, if you're willing to pay the price, you can get tickets. A single badge may cost $1,500 or more, but for many; it's worth it. The interesting part about this is that Augusta National and the Masters are very strict about the resale of tickets. Those caught doing this can have their ticket privileges permanently revoked (it says so on the ticket), but the policy doesn't seem to hinder ticket brokers from getting their hands on them. So if you're willing to pay the price, there are always the ticket brokers.
You can also just show up during Masters week and try to buy some from scalpers. That's the same deal, but you might be able to get them cheaper in person, especially if the weather is threatening. The Masters has a no refund or rain check policy on rainouts.
Of course, one of the best ways to see the Masters is through the major sponsors, who are not only allocated tickets but a hospitality cabin as well and other special privileges.
I was fortunate enough in 2014 to take part in the Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience. Needless to say, we were taken care of from the airport back to the airport. Meals, entertainment, drinks and access to areas where the general patrons weren't allowed were all part of the package.
There's even a replica of the 18th green (No. 11) with green speeds to match -- that we were allowed to putt on. And there were first-rate accommodations at River Island.
Practice makes perfect
Also, you're more likely to score tickets -- and at a cheaper rate -- during practice rounds, which is actually what I recommend for first-timers.
I like the practice rounds because you can take cameras, and on Wednesday, there's the par-3 contest. (During the tournament proper, you're not even supposed to bring a cell phone on the premises.) While parts of the par 3 are now televised, it's still a part of Augusta National most golfers don't get to see. And during the par 3, you get to see players such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and other legendary Masters champions who no longer opt to the play in the championship event. Again, this is a time when the players let their hair down, often employing family members -- even young children -- to caddie for them.
Practice tickets are more available through brokers and scalpers, and you might even be able to get them from Masters.com through its online application. There's a random allocation of a few tickets each year, so if you're lucky, you could score them legitimately. Just go to the website and to the ticket page to register.
What to expect at the Masters
The Masters is unlike any other golf tournament in a number of ways. They're so caught up in tradition that they've kept concessions to 1970s prices. Patrons can get a couple of Masters Moon Pies for a dollar, a pimento cheese sandwich for $1.50 and a beer for $3. All they ask is that you deposit your waste in the green trash bags. (Yep, everything's green at the Masters.)
If you're like most, you'll want to buy some merchandise, and boy do they have a golf shop. The line going in is like the ones you see at Disney World, but they move quickly. The challenging part is that throughout the large shop, it's sort of like a buffet. You have to keep moving and make decisions on the fly. There's no room for true browsing. And, unfortunately, the prices on merchandise aren't like they are on sandwiches.
On the grounds, those who have chairs or are willing to sit can get closer to the action. On most holes, there are designated sitting areas.
There are lots of great spots for viewing. One of my favorite spots is between the 15th green and 16th tee. If you can find the right spot, you can watch them come in on 15 and see all the action on 16.
But the best place to watch? That's got to be Amen Corner -- holes 11, 12 and 13. Find the top of the bleachers behind the 12th tee, and you can see the approaches, chips and putts on the 11th green, Hogan's Bridge and all the action on the 12th. And watch the tee shots come out of the chute on the par-5 13th; there may not be a better vantage point in all of golf.