Starting with practice round and the Par 3 tournament early in the week, patrons stream through the gates hoping to catch a glimpse of their golfing idols and hopefully witness something miraculous. (Did I mention I was greenside when Louis Oosthuizen holed out from 253 yards away for the only double eagle in the history of the Masters on hole No. 2? Don't be a hater.)
Other than the thousands of folks cramming the golf shop to happily part with their money in return for Masters insignia-embroidered swag, the concession stands at Augusta National are probably the site of most of the commerce that happens in the city during the week. And usually in transactions of $5 at a time.
Lines are long, but they move quickly and efficiently thanks to the incredibly friendly well-oiled machine that is the Masters brand of customer service. Young ladies in green shirts smile as they wave people from the line into available registers and quickly total their sandwich wrappers and beer cups. All products are available via self-service, so the counters are covered with beer cups, racks of sandwiches and tubs of chips and fruit for patrons to select as they proceed down the cafeteria-style line.
As an aside, this sort of customer service and polite obedience by the patrons also makes the restrooms at the Masters the most efficient in all of sports. In one of the few places where the lines for the men's rooms are at least twice as long as for the distaff set, the queue fairly flies around the serpentine ropes, exactly not like any amusement park line you've ever been stuck in.
Each restroom has a team of Maître D's (Maître pees?) who greet each patron and get them to focus on the task as hand as they efficiently direct the process. “We got a 10-second rule around here, folks! I need two standers and a sitter on the back nine! I got two shakers on the left, step up boys!” You'll never see a more convivial communal experience at a sporting event unless your team wins the Stanley Cup at home.
But back to the food. Brand names are not emphasized or even allowed for most products sold at the Masters. If you try to enter the grounds with a bottle of water, you'll be told to strip the label off of it, lest Dasani receive any free airtime. In the one place where beer companies don't display their logo absolutely everywhere in a NASCAR fashion, the brands of brew are completely obscured. Your choices are “regular beer,” “light beer” or “import beer,” and are only discernible from each other by the fact that the imports come in a green cup instead of a translucent one so that the cashiers know to charge you $3.75 instead of $3. Intrepid journalists could find out the truth though by simply taking a look the mountain of empty kegs stacked out behind the concession buildings. (It's Coors, Miller Lite and Amstel. Shhh!)
Non-alcoholic beverages are even more generic with options of “classic cola,” “diet cola,” “lemon-lime” and my personal favorite “sport drink.” Now me, I drink beer when I watch sports, but was unable to use that logic to save two bucks on my fourth round of the day.
Just about everyone who has heard anything about the Masters knows about the famous $1.50 pimiento cheese sandwich. For Southerners, pimento cheese has always been a staple food and is a regular sight on the church supper buffet table or in a brown bag lunch. But to Yankee interlopers visiting for their yearly pilgrimage to watch the greatest players on spikes and the hottest women in sundresses, pimento cheese is a wondrous thing.
Nestled in a green wax paper wrapper and either ice-cold or luke-hot depending on how long it spent in the back of a pickup truck between wherever they are manufactured en masse and their arrival on the hallowed grounds, the pimento sandwich is wonderfully creamy with crunchy chunks of pimento. The fact that it is served on the whitest of white bread might make it less appealing if it hadn't already slid down your gullet in three bites before you noticed.
For diners in the know, the goal for an afternoon of golf watching is to get through the Masters trifecta as soon as possible. This triple threat consists of the pimento cheese, an egg salad sandwich that is fairly bland but which responds nicely to the packets of mustard at the condiment stand and the (in)famous Masters BBQ sammich. The whole deal will only set you back $6, less than the cost of a Subway sub at the airport.
The barbecue sandwich is also a subject of nostalgia and controversy. Only in the past couple of years has the organizing committee chosen to serve them hot. Previously, the prospect of a cold, curiously orange sandwich was a choice that stalwart tourney-goers had to make. It was just one of those things you did, and you dealt with the feelings of regret and self-loathing afterward. Over another pimento cheese.
Now the sandwiches are served under a heat lamp, but are still mysterious. They promise to be “Genuine smoked pork,” but one can imagine them being stewed in crock pots the size of iron forges before being distributed onto millions of buns on a conveyor belt by a line of Oompa Loompas with 3-ounce ice cream scoops. At least that's how I imagined it after my third one on Friday.
Badges to get into the Masters are almost impossible to come by. Single-round attendance can cost as much as a thousand bucks from a Sunday morning scalper. But once you enter those gates onto the magical grounds (and skitter past the souvenir stands), the gouging is over. Bring a couple of 20s and you can eat and drink until you're full as a tick and then walk off those calories as you trudge like a billy goat up and down the fairways, whose elevation changes you'll never believe until you see them in person. You'll never look at a golf course or a sandwich bag the same way again.