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Masters Time

Apr 12

In Stories at 6:27am

Some years back, I was stumbling around at dawn in the other worldliness of Augusta National golf course when I encountered an ebullient, utterly happy gentleman. I wished him a good morning. He beamed back. In one of the most delicious Southern accents I’ve ever heard, he exclaimed, “It’s April in Augusta! What could evah be wrong?!”

I could have offered up a couple of notions, such as the lack of good coffee at that hour around the golf course, but I didn’t want to blunt his enthusiasm for the sheer joy of smelling azalea bushes, and watching the dew glisten on greens that were as manicured and brushed as a show pony. I also didn’t want to attract attention to myself and my genuine mystification at the sheer, boundless passion this swatch of greensward, located in a town in Georgia that you might only be prompted to get off the interstate and investigate if you really needed gas, prompts in the golf crowd.

That mystification actually fueled some decent pictures during my one and only visit to Augusta National. Everything was new, and exceedingly strange to me. And, not in a bad way. I was genuinely curious about this annual ritual, and eagerly observed the proceedings. The first thing you become aware of at Augusta is the rules. There are so many of them! No cell phones is a biggie. Don’t run afoul of that one, or you’ll be shown the door. There are many others, of course. Like, photographers aren’t allowed on the course to shoot until something like 9am, or so, which exactly corresponds to the disappearance of good light. I got around this by showing up ridiculously early and going through the service entrance with other folks who were actually doing something useful, like bringing in boxes of keychains, umbrellas, wallets, hats, sunglasses, pencil sketches, all emblazoned with the Masters logo. To my recollection, you can’t order this stuff. You actually have to be at the course during Masters week to buy it. And buy it they do. The tent where all the merch is sold generally looks like the Times Square subway platform at rush hour, only more polite.

I screwed up on the rules, big time. I had seen one of Augusta’s more prominent members of their security detail at the end of a lane that was lined with trees and quite picturesque. He had a face like a basset hound, a state trooper’s hat, and was bigger than Ceelo Green. I thought, well, I’ll just go down there and ask him if I can make his picture!

He started frowning at me from about 100 yards away, and when I reached him he had his arms outstretched, palms facing me. They said stop. He looked at me. Actually, he eyeballed me. There’s a difference. “Who told you that you could walk down Magnolia Lane?” “Uh, no one, sir.”

“Do you know that no one can use Magnolia Lane except members, their guests, and past champions? And I suspect you’re not any of those things, are you?”

“Uh, no sir, I’m not.”

I love southern accents, but there’s something about being addressed this way, in a drawl, that makes you feel particularly stupid. During his line of questioning, he left unspoken, no doubt for reasons of decorum, that which he truly wished to say, which might have been along the lines of “You big city, shit for brains, dumb ass. What do you think you’re doing on my beloved Magnolia Lane?” Indeed. I had chosen to try and photograph the Lee Ermey of Augusta National.

Given the splendid start to our relationship, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I came away without a photograph. I’t didn’t help that I had trundled a four wheel cart filled with strobes and c-stands down there with me, and therefore looked for all the world like an itinerant vendor calling out “Clothes, rags, bottles!” All I was missing was a broke down nag and a wagon, a roughly painted sign and a gypsy dancing girl. 

In short, I didn’t fit in at Augusta real well. Which is okay. As a photog, you are often an interloper,  a stranger at least occasionally eyed with suspicion or dismay, the guy at the bar with no one to talk to.  I was there courtesy of Golf Digest, and had the benefit of course of being coached by their wonderfully experienced set of staff photographers. I still screwed up, but less than I would have. But, truth be told, they actually brought me in there because golf is not my world, and the newness of it can really fuel some odd or different pictures. 

I did have a good time down there, to be sure. I was fascinated by the decorum which prevails, and the fan rituals, such as rushing to locate your vantage point near one of the prime greens. Every morning of the tournament, Augusta stages its own version of the Oklahoma Land Rush. You secure your spot by placing your chair down, and that placement is respected throughout the rest of the day. To get this prime seating,  you rush. You fast walk. But you do not run. Those are the rules. It’s probably a good thing, ’cause people are so keyed up for the morning opening of the course that the lords of Augusta could probably borrow the mechanism of start off from another time honored American sports classic, the Kentucky Derby, and just put these folks in chutes and ring a bell. Best they don’t do that, as most of the Augusta watchers are not exactly in thoroughbred race horse shape, and someone could get hurt, or worse,  just keel over from the sheer excitement of it. The imagination I have of that happening brings me to an old golf joke about George and Harry, best friends who played a round together every Saturday morning for thirty or forty years. Upon his return home, Harry’s wife asked, “How was the golf today, dear?” He replied, “Horrible. On the third tee George had a heart attack and died!” “Oh goodness,” she exclaimed, “That’s terrible!”

“You’re tellin’ me! After that third tee, all day long, it was hit the ball and drag George! Hit the ball and drag George!”

The folks at Augusta are super nice, so I’m sure they’d drag along whoever fell down or had a heart attack racing for a good spot on the course. As long as it didn’t slow them down too much.

Passion prevails across the undulating, lushly green sweep of Augusta National. Passion and tradition. Two powerful things to photograph, even when, not being a golf fan, I didn’t completely understand them. I was more comfortable amidst the messy, stark differences the rough edged town of Augusta offers, relative to the manicured, meticulous nature of what goes on inside the gates of Augusta National. James Brown was  Augusta’s most famous son, so I photographed him in a downtown building lobby.


And I wandered into some neighborhoods, and quite wonderfully stumbled into a church, where I was welcomed by the minister.

Pastor Grier might have thought it strange that I wanted to photograph him in the context of shooting for a golf magazine, but he was amenable, and stood before my camera, holding the cross as powerfully as the golfers teeing off down the block might hold a three wood. He, too, represented passion and tradition.

In all their forms and expressions, those are quite amazing things to witness with a camera in hand.

More tk…..






Joseph W. Nienstedt says:

on April 12, 2013 at 7:03 am

I visited so many cities in this great country of ours back when I toured with a punk rock band, and Augusta always stood out as the most terrifying place I’ve ever visited. I remember getting rocks thrown at our van (and we hadn’t even played yet!), and dead dog carcasses on the sidewalks that looked like they had been there for days. It was like driving through a scene from the Walking Dead. For all of the effort they put into looking perfect for the masters, they do nothing for the less fortunate parts of town. It’s kind of like the old saying, “You can tell a man’s true character by how he treats those who can do nothing for him”, you can tell the tue character of a town by how far they let their lower income areas slide.

Your post today perfectly captures the outsiders point of view from inside the pearly gates. I love the photo that captures the exit from the highway. Fantastic!

Elisabeth Murray says:

on April 12, 2013 at 7:12 am

Really great article for somebody who is not into golf……My family is a golfing family and I am a photographer…..I know your feelings!!! Keep on writing and posting your really great pictures! They have so much to say……

Mark Suban says:

on April 12, 2013 at 7:41 am

Joe, Nice set of images. Brien Aho and I are working the Masters this year helping out photographers covering the event. You are right, people here are very friendly and accommodating. There is also a high degree of passion for golf in the air here at Augusta National golf course. I’ve meet people who have been coming to the Masters for several generations. They basically have family “spots” on the course. They place their umbrella chairs in the same place every year. Thanks for sharing.

Ben says:

on April 12, 2013 at 8:58 am

Great post Joe! I can see that security officer in my head…

I’ve been reading your site for years, and you close every post with “More tk…” I’ve never figured out what that means. Would you share?

Lyle says:

on April 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

Very nice! Excellent post.

John L says:

on April 12, 2013 at 10:51 am

Great story Joe. When I was younger I always wanted to go their. Now that I am older really doesn’t mean as much as your story did that for me. Thank You!

Joe McNally says:

on April 12, 2013 at 11:00 am

Hi Ben…it’s an old journalistic convention meaning to come. In other words, if you were writing on deadline about the perpetrator, but didn’t have the spelling of his name, in your text you would simply type, Mr. Tk…..announcement to the copy editors you were still working on the piece even as the paper was closing. Best, Joe

Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on April 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm


Wonderful images and perspectives. Loved the shot of the scoreboard. I played a fair amount of tournament golf, and at some pretty lofty places (Pine Valley G.C. is still my favorite). That place is in NJ, behind an old amusement park. Go figure. ANGC is a different place. If you get to play there, you have to be within a short distance of your host member. It is almost like the kids with the leash to the parents. You go to the bathroom, your host goes with you.

Good thing you chose to encounter the security guard, and not try to snap an image of Tiger Woods when Stevie Williams was his caddie. He was known to smash cameras when he considered it offending his man. As to cell phones, one the most memorable times was at Bethpage for the 2012 Open. Security was high after 9/11 on Long Island, and they bused you to the course. They ahd Bo Dietl doing security, and you had to go through metal detectors to get on the bus. Everywhere there were signs, including the ticket, stating no cellphones. New Yorkers don’t read, and brought their phones. I should have shot the picture of the cell phones in the bush next to the checkpoint. I wondered how they would find the right phone. In true NY fashion, they just picked up a phone, dialed their number, and grabbed the one that rang. Only in NY.

The Masters is a true sign that spring is here. Thanks for the memories.


Ashley says:

on April 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I don’t know why, but that 6th photo of the man peeking out from the sign makes me smile 😀 Great work! You gotta love the South – y’all come back now.

Anthony Jay says:

on April 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Excellent work as always. I hate golf, but your pictures show the passion this sport creates. Just one question. Isn’t James Brown Dead? Or have I missed something? I am from the UK after all!

Joe McNally says:

on April 12, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Yep, James passed on not too long after I made that photo…..Joe

Alicia says:

on April 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm

In the south we are much less concerned about good coffee as we are deeply focused on a properly brewed pitcher of iced tea. :)

I hope you enjoyed your visit down south and was not too confused by all the Yes, sirs and No, sirs, and y’alls. I assure you southerners are equally confused when we head north to the big city.

Marty Ginter says:

on April 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I just love your stories. Great job at the masters.


Bill Harvey says:

on April 14, 2013 at 2:00 am

Eloquently written and refreshing to see images that focus on something other than the celebrity nature of professional sport.

Simon says:

on April 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Another great read Joe – helped to put a smile on face on a dreary Monday morning.

Brought back memories of my one & only time shooting at a golf tournament here in Adelaide. I was really young & inexperienced, and knew less than nothing about any of ‘the rules’. I was handed a heap of loan gear from Nikon Pro Services at the event and all but got beaten up in the first 20 minutes by a notoriously cranky golfer who was having having a bad day. I pointed the loaner 600mm at him during tee off without his permission and all hell broke loose…

Alex Sablan says:

on April 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

Being a golfer and a photographer, I love the way you write from a place deep inside. I have seen you speak in Cincinnati and on the web, and you are truly an inspiration to all of us. Thanks.

wilfried feder says:

on April 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Joe, great read as always! Needed this google toolbar translation for quite a few words, though. Oh and i loove southern accents. As a german, mind you =). Like in Oh Brother where art thou…
so anyways, why’s that k for “come”? kome on, tell us =)

Pam Knight says:

on April 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Joe, I’m a newbie photographer and found you through a story about ten of the most influential photographers on The Augusta story is the first of yours I’ve read and it was great. (Ironically, I just got interested in golf too.)
Loved the photos, and especially how you said photographers are often times interlopers. I knew that, have done that, and now I feel like I have permission to be that.
Thanks for the inspiration. Pam K

Luis Figuer says:

on April 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Joe, I am always excited when I arrive in the morning at work, open my Google Reader and see you have posted something new cause I know it is going to be a wonderful story. I enjoy each one of them and wish you continue sharing with us for years to come. For some reason when I am reading them I always picture you sitting with a bunch of young photographers at a bar, and you at the center telling us those stories while sharing a good beer. You are a great guy, without knowing you personally I can tell you are great, not to mention an admirable photographer.

Per Pettersson says:

on April 28, 2013 at 7:45 am

Amazing portrait of Pastor Grier. Thanks for keeping an amateur inspired.

robert quiet photographer says:

on May 6, 2013 at 12:42 pm

What a story! I like the way you describes your experience. And I like your pictures, specially the use of color in pic ( (the green one!):

David says:

on June 26, 2013 at 11:09 am

I just discoverd yor blog yesterday (6/25/2013) and have read all post since then to this one. I am enjoying them very much.

I really like your portrait of Pastor Grier. Am I correct in assuming the chandelier halo was not accident?
Best wishes,

Joe McNally says:

on July 1, 2013 at 10:39 am

Def. not an accident:-)

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