From dawn 'til dusk at Augusta National

April, 4, 2011
04/04/11
3:13
PM ET

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There is so much to take in, so little time to do it.

That is the dilemma for a first-time visitor to Augusta National, who can easily be overwhelmed by its vast surroundings and incredible beauty.

The club opened Monday for the beginning of Masters week and the masses rushed in to see one of the most famous golf courses in the world.

There is no way to know how many people were here or how many were here for the first time.

Estimates put the practice-round crowds at 40,000 to 50,000 per day, and the lines at restrooms, concession stands and in the merchandise pavilions suggest the number is far more than come in for any of the four tournament rounds.

Because the general public cannot buy tickets to the tournament proper (a new lottery system will allow a select few to do so next year), the practice rounds become the best way to see the place.

In 1995, instead of selling practice-round tickets at the gate, the club made them available via lottery.

Remember, we're talking about practice rounds ... on a Monday.

"A dream come true," said Larry Smizer, who was taking pictures at Amen Corner on Monday afternoon. "Been on my bucket list for about 20 years. It's hard to describe.

"We got here right when they opened at 8 a.m."

Smizer is from Norman, Okla., and along with his son, Cory, decided to make the most of the trip. They headed to Atlanta on Saturday, where they played golf over the weekend before making the 2-hour drive on Sunday night.

They were on the property when the gates opened on Monday morning.

"I knew it was going to be awesome," Cory Smizer said. "But I can't even put it into words."

At this moment, they were hanging out at the area of the course farthest from the clubhouse, where the grandstands were packed at Amen Corner. So named years ago by noted golf writer Herbert Warren Wind, it is the intersection of the 11th green, par-3 12th hole and 13th tees. And it's a popular viewing spot.

"Everybody told us to go to the merchandise tent first, get what you need, send it home," Cory Smizer said. "Then we came out here and basically walked 1 through 12. We're hanging out here for a while, and then we'll continue on through."

Others stood packed along the ropes at the driving range, or around the 18th hole. Other popular viewing areas were the 13th and 15th holes, as well as the par-3 16th, where players were again getting big cheers for skipping their tee shots across the water to the green.

"It's like Disneyland," said Lance Wheeler of St. Louis, also visiting for the first time. "I just took my family there and this is like the adult version of Disneyland."

Part of the ride was getting to see some of the best players in the world. Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter played a practice round together along with Justin Rose.

Two-time Masters champion Tom Watson was on the course with Brandt Snedeker. Brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari were in another group. Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson ...

It was all part of the experience.

And yet ...

"It's more about seeing the course in all its glory," Larry Smizer said. "We plan to do the whole deal. We got it when it opened. We'll leave when it closes."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer
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