There are points in the year that have special meaning- The Masters is. It marks the end of the winter and the promise of the joys of spring and the start of the golfing season. Sitting up late on a cold dark Scottish night the impact of that heavenly vision of a golf course that has become seared in my heart.
Augusta National is more than just a golf club, it is the equivalent a great religious shrine. Across all the great religions there are holy places that call out to the faithful; Mecca; The Wailing Wall; Lourdes. Pilgrims commit to a journey of moral or spiritual significance and psychologists recognise this phenomenon as an example of a Jungian Archetype- behaviour driven by deep-rooted subconscious drive to achieve meaning in life. The pilgrimage to Augusta is a special event in the life of the golfing devotee. It is something that cannot be forgotten and will always be regarded with awe and reverence by other devotees – bragging rights in the 19th cannot be underestimated.
So did the event live up to the billing? Yes, and more. As a psychologist, I have worked with leading organisations to look at the design of buildings, equipment and the culture to give visitors an incredible experience. I have a model for the golf experience that has been used across the world from local municipals to prestigious venues such as Royal Blackheath. I assessed Augusta against this model as I went around:
• Brand – this is where most golf clubs do not recognise that they must be clear on what they stand for and what they will deliver as an experience. Imagine golf clubs were cars some are Bentleys some are Fords, both are great cars but deliver different experiences. The Masters is very clear on what it stands for and what it will give as an experience- it does not try to be all things for all people.
• First Impressions- guess what? Your granny was right, first impressions count and are very hard to shake off when they have been made. The Masters understands that first impressions start long before the ‘Patron’ arrives. From the outset, the communication via the website and in the packs that come with your tickets is second to none. Every possible question has been thought of and clear guidance given. From what to bring (and what not) to the frequency of the radio station for traffic in the area the visitor feels really cared for.
• Culture- This has to be the most incredible thing that I noticed – from the people guiding you into the car parks, the security guards and everyone involved. The genuine care that they show you lays the foundation for the moment that you see the hallowed turf. They have created a culture where the most important thing is to make the visitor feel they are part of something special and it is an honour to have them as a ‘Patron’. This warm feeling is the perfect way to remove any psychological barriers that might reduce the spend in the merchandise shop. Even with my psychologist head on (and I could see what was happening) I still got drawn in and my credit card took a hammering.
The Masters is very traditional- that is one of the strongest aspects of its brand – but it understands the importance of modernisation and updating all the time. No mobile phones are allowed so the opportunity to get that ‘Selfie’ for social media cannot happen. However, just wander around to the front of the clubhouse and there are photographers set up to get you a ‘Once in a lifetime’ photo that comes with a credit card that enables you to download it. You can then put it across every aspect of your social media to demonstrate your devotion to the rest of the golfing world. The added cost of this service? Nothing, like the merchandise and the food the prices are all very reasonable. So you don’t feel you are being ripped off as can happen with other sporting events – anyone paid for a beer at Wembley recently? The result of this approach is that the visitor just relaxes and spends even more.
Of course, no religious experience is complete without a miracle and even the good members of Augusta cannot organise that. In 2019, however the stars aligned to create the biggest comeback since Lazarus. It was not just the recovery from career threatening injuries but the ‘Saul on the road to Damascus’ change in his behaviour and demeanour. He is back, and if Tiger can return from the golfing wilderness it gives hope to all us weekend hackers. The Masters has happened, the season is begun, let the magic commence.