When Bubba Watson hit his tee shot into the woods right of the green on Augusta National’s 10th hole—Watson’s 20th hole of the day, the second in a sudden-death playoff between him and Louis Oosthuizen at the 2012 Masters—it didn’t take a golf fanatic to know he was in trouble.
Tension in the Air
You can imagine the tension as the fan favourite and University of Georgia alum—the devout good ol’ boy known for his faith, dressed head to toe in white, his dark brown locks flowing through his visor—found his ball and proceeded to loft a miraculous recovery shot onto the green. When it stopped within 15 feet of the hole, ensuring Bubba a place in Masters history, the world could only watch breathlessly as the gallery erupted.
But for a small group of Butterfield & Robinson travellers and guides, no imagination was necessary. There as part of B&R’s exclusive Masters excursion, they could feel it in their bones as they stood in the thick of the action, on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, swept up in the excitement of the moment.
“Even if you don’t like golf, the drama of the Masters just takes over. It’s pretty amazing,” says B&R guide Tyler Dillon, who’s twice guided B&R at the Masters, where he also serves as a local host, having grown up in historic Madison, Georgia.
Cathedral in the Pines
Unique in the sports world, the Masters exists in a vacuum of sorts, preserved through the ages and free of the modern trappings of most professional sporting spectacles—there are no corporate sponsors, no digital screens projecting the action and no cell phones allowed on the grounds.
“The experience at Augusta National is about the veneration of tradition, the purity of the game, and the immediacy of the relationship between athletes and fans,” as B&R president Norman Howe put it.
The result is a serenity that turns patrons into parishioners.
“People call it the ‘cathedral in the pines’ and it really is church-like,” Tyler says. “It’s where golfers go to die and go to heaven.”
The Eye of Tiger
It may be this divine aura that makes the Masters one of the few tournaments in which, year in and year out, drama is all but guaranteed. But for the better part of the past two decades, one man has created more Masters magic than the rest of the field—and he wears a red shirt come Sunday.
Tiger Woods has had a special affinity for Augusta since he—forgive us the pun—roared onto the scene in 1997, becoming the youngest-ever green jacket winner, finishing 12 strokes ahead of the field. Since then he’s added three more Masters victories and countless moments—will anyone ever forget that chip in on 16 in 2005 (or the exceptionally awkward high-five that followed)?
After a majors drought following his well-publicized personal meltdown, a recent win at Torrey Pines has golf’s rumour mill churning. With Woods back in winning form, could a return to Butler Cabin be on the horizon?
Magic moments aside, Woods remains a polarizing figure. And in the absence of his dominance, new stars free of his checkered past—Bubba Watson and golf’s latest wunderkind, Rory McIlroy, among them—have come to prominence.
So when pressed for his favourite Masters moment, Tyler doesn’t hesitate. It was just last year, when a man in white robes and a halo-like visor gave golf’s cathedral an angel.
“It was Bubba,” he says simply.