My Trip To The Masters

From his early memories of watching the tournament on television to his persistent efforts to secure tickets through the annual ballot, Matthew Mollica takes us on a journey through his unforgettable experience at the 2024 Wednesday practice round.
Written & Photographed by Matthew Mollica


Like many Australians who love golf, my earliest memories of The US Masters were formed on early Monday mornings. Before sunrise and over breakfast, I watched the CBS telecast of those impossibly verdant fairways. As a schoolboy on Masters morning, I would shower quickly during an ad break, and put my school uniform on in front of the TV, so as to not miss the action unfolding at Augusta.

I distinctly remember the day in the late 1990s that I naively phoned Augusta National Golf Club. I don’t recall how I’d found the number back in the days of rudimentary dial-up internet, or what I expected to hear on the other end of the phone line. I was well aware that tickets were scarce.

The Augusta National staff member with the lovely southern accent politely informed me that the waiting list for tournament badges had closed several decades prior, and would not open in the foreseeable future. They went on to tell me about the practice round ballot. I learned that it was possible to apply (along with hundreds of thousands of others) for a ticket to attend on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and watch the players prepare for the tournament. They said that cameras were permitted on practice days, and assured me that pimento cheese sandwiches would be available. The chance to set foot on the course early in the week seemed like a wonderful opportunity, different but in some ways better than attending a tournament day.

Back then, paper ballot forms arrived via the post, to be completed by the applicant in black pen, and mailed back to Augusta. Some time in the last few years, the process moved online. Irrespective, my results were always the same – unfortunately no luck.  Year after year. From before the Sydney Olympics, through the years where my girlfriend became my wife, and we became parents. We moved, built a house, and celebrated landmark birthdays. Our children neared the age I was when I first watched The Masters. Every annual ballot entry was unsuccessful. A tradition unlike any other.


But all that changed in 2023. After decades of entering, I was finally successful in obtaining a single ticket for the Wednesday practice round. I was going to Augusta! I immediately contacted a few friends in the USA, informing them I was headed their way next April. One of the first was Tim – we had been introduced by a mutual friend years earlier, when Tim was planning a golf trip to Australia. We’ve shared a few games over the years and stayed in regular contact. And as luck would have it, he too had won tickets to the Wednesday practice round via the ballot. Golf and luck had brought us together, and we were fortuitously heading to The Masters together.

Augusta National is one of few places on earth where a visitor’s unrealistically high expectations are somehow exceeded. The professionalism with which the Club conducts the event is astounding. The enormous canvas on which the course is laid out is truly impressive, moreso when witnessed in person. The gradient of the slope on which much of the property sits is hard to convey to people who have not been there. I marvelled at the sense of space and the abundance of short grass. The vast fairways, tall pines, sprawling greens, and large hazards – all in an impossibly green, manicured setting, with azaleas, magnolias and camellias dotted throughout.  It’s quite a place. There’s a sense of spaciousness despite tens of thousands of people in attendance.  There’s also attention to every element of the landscape. Uniform circles of pine needles at the base of each tree trunk. Homogenous green fairways stretch on for miles, without the sign of a single weed.  It’s not a universally loved aesthetic, but one which many golf courses throughout the world emulate. This sort of maintenance eschews the natural in favour of the pristine.  It is laborious, and expensive, and some view it as synthetic rather than beautiful.  It’s certainly not realistic for any golf course 365 days of the year, yet this is what many TV viewers and recreational golfers have come to expect. Augusta National will always be the original and the best exponent of this mode of course presentation.  Whether it is realistic, let alone a financially and environmentally responsible approach is a topic for another time.

The vast fairways, tall pines, sprawling greens, and large hazards – all in an impossibly green, manicured setting, with azaleas, magnolias and camellias dotted throughout.

Matthew Mollica

The Masters is blessed in that it is staged not only over a wonderful and visually striking course, but over the same course year after year. No other golf major returns to the same venue every twelve months. Pebble Beach, Oakmont, The Old Course and Pinehurst host majors all too infrequently. But the Masters is staged at Augusta each April. This enriches the tournament with a great sense of familiarity, and also imbues each Masters with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Approach shots, putts and other key moments of a round are all played on a very familiar stage. We compare these shots to similar strokes from Masters of previous years. We know how brave and risky some shots are, and how many key putts will break. There’s an added element to viewing the tournament because of that comfortable sense of familiarity with the course, built over years of viewing. 

Golfers the world over also celebrate the anniversaries of famous victories during each edition of The Masters, and recognise champions who have since passed. The tournament allows us to mark time in our own lives too. We remember where we were, and what life was like when Jack made his famous back nine charge in 1986. When Norman fell short of claiming a green jacket. When Tiger hugged his dad after claiming his first Masters as a 21 year old in 1997, and when he hugged his son after winning his fifth in 2019.

Seasoned travellers relish the wonder they experience when laying eyes on a famous landmark for the first time. And sometimes, a sense of gravitas when following the footsteps of those who have walked notable paths in prior years. Visits to Augusta allow all this and more. The tumbling, descending path of the tenth fairway, that leads past the MacKenzie bunker to Amen Corner is a sight to behold. So too the majesty of the 12th hole. Standing in the crosswalk spanning the fifteenth fairway gives an appreciation of the difficult long second shot onto that narrow green. It’s a real treat to be able to see at eye-level the rollercoaster greens throughout the course, like the fifth, sixth, ninth and fourteenth. It gives an understanding of why some putts seem so difficult, especially in the crucible of the final round of a major. A sense of wonder remains long after visiting the course and enriches the experience when tuning into future broadcasts of The Masters. 

Everyone walking about the grounds of Augusta National during The Masters is happy, unhurried, without their phones, and grateful for the experience. Sipping a beer, or nibbling a Georgia Peach ice cream sandwich. Sharing the sights and sounds with friends. If only the world beyond Magnolia Lane was a little more like that…

Late in the afternoon of my visit, my friend Tim and I spent the last part of our day walking the back nine. We saw countless clusters of friends doing the same – sharing a special and unique day. Making memories they would share the rest of their lives. This trip allowed me and Tim the chance to experience things we might never witness in person again. Walking the fairways together and marvelling at it all as the sun began to set, we realised we were blessed. The years of waiting for a ticket in the ballot were worth it. It is a gift I will remember every April, as The Masters is staged once more.


Matthew Mollica is one half of The Australian Golf Passport and also co-founded The Rollback Alliance

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