Masters: ‘As long as I keep my phone off course, I can die a happy man’

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AHEAD of my first visit here – a journey I’d dreamt of making for the past 30 years – I’d been assured by an Augusta veteran that I wouldn’t be disappointed. “In fact, it’s one of those rare places that your expectations will be exceeded,” he predicted.

He certainly wasn’t kidding. From the moment I arrived here on Monday morning, it’s as though I’ve been in a golfing paradise. And I’m definitely not alone. “How pretty is this place?” is something you hear almost every five minutes. The first thing that strikes you when you come through the gates is that this event is different to the other majors in terms of the structures around there course. Whereas the Open Championship, for example, can almost seem like a sea of tarpaulin, nothing here is temporary.

It’s the beauty of knowing that you are going to stage one of the biggest events on the global sporting calendar every year. Guaranteed annual income allows significant investment and, boy, have those men in Green Jackets splashed the cash here.

A new driving range, for example, was built at a massive cost three years ago and is a jaw-dropping facility. As is the purpose-built Media Centre, a lecture-type auditorium that is home of golf writers from all corners of the globe this week.

What has made this event famous more than anything else, though, is the golf course and it simply has the ‘wow factor’ written all over it.

“It took me a while to get comfortable taking a divot,” admitted Roy McIlroy in his pre-event press conference. Heck, the grounds are so well manicured that you almost feel guilty stepping on the grass.

When you’ve watched an event on TV with unerring regularity, as I and many others have when it comes to this one, you arrive here feeling as though you know the holes. They certainly look familiar but one thing that takes you by surprise is how undulating some of them are.

Take the tenth. It almost has a cliff-like drop down to the green while the 18th, with its tunnel-like tee-shot, rises a lot steeper than you imagine from sitting at home.

Even in the practice rounds, huge roars have echoed around the course, the majority of them coming from Amen Corner, where lots of the patrons flocking in here spend the whole day – and no wonder – as well as the 16th green.

While the rules are strict – it’s the gallows for anyone who dares to take a mobile phone on the course, running is frowned upon and you can only sit on the grass in designated areas – that doesn’t mean to say it’s not a fun occasion.

In practice, for example, the crowd encourage every player to skip a second ball across the water at the 16th from in front of the tee and there should be more things like that in every event.

Renton Laidlaw, who started his career as a copy boy in Edinburgh and is now one of the game’s most respected broadcasters with the Golf Channel, is covering his 40th Masters this week.

Hopefully I’ll be back for a second visit and many more after that. If not, though, I’ll still die a happy man.