Athletics: Frolicking through the azaleas with Chris Foley
For 23 years, Chris Foley has made golf's version of a pilgrimage to Augusta National for The Masters.
The PGA golf professional, located at Cragun's Legacy Courses, spends a good amount of time interacting with the professionals he knows, but more so with his fellow golf teachers.
Foley and his wife, Amy, have passed on the golf passion to their sons Michael, who is now a golf professional himself, and Joe, who is playing golf at Gustavus, and to their daughter Kaite, a freshman playing on the Warriors girls golf team.
Here's hoping his insight into the sacred ground Bobby Jones built inspires you.
Q: While The Masters starts Thursday, April 11, and runs through Sunday, what's the best day to go to Augusta National as a fan and why?
Chris Foley: I used to be a big fan of practice rounds, but over the years have come to love the tournament rounds. Thursday is my No. 1 day. I love being there Sunday morning until the leaders tee off and then going back to the house we rent and watching it on TV.
If you have never been to the tournament, Wednesday is a very fun and exciting day with the Par 3 tournament. The electricity of Thursday is hard to beat. There are no bad days at The Masters.
Q: First, I'll have you describe Augusta National and the golf course itself?
CF: It is magical. The course is not a huge property. TV does not show any of the elevation change or slope of the greens. The elevation change from the club house to the 12th green is 175 feet. The course is relatively wide, although not as wide as it was when Bobby Jones and Alastair McKenzie designed it. Hitting to the right angles and the right side of the hole is a huge advantage. The combination of the slope of the greens and the speed makes putting extremely challenging. It is one of the best spectating courses in golf.
Q: Everyone talks about Amen Corner, which is holes 11, 12 and 13, but what are some of the other good spots on that course?
CF: Like I said, it is one of the best spectating courses. There are so many good spots. Amen Corner is great because you can see 11 green, 12 tee and green and 13 tee is in the far distance. I like watching golf from "down the line" so I tend to stand behind tee boxes and like to get right at the ropes. Seven tee box is great because not many people walk back there. Number 11 and 15 tee boxes are also great spots. You can see the whole landing area and where the ball lands. All of the par 3s are great viewing.
The other great spot is next to 3 green. You can see the approach shots and putt and then see the tee shots on 4.
I tend to walk and follow groups more than sitting in one place. You get a much better feel for the play and the course.
Q: Is it really that well manicured or does television do a good job of hiding the not-so-well maintained spots of the property?
CF: There is no such thing as a spot not well manicured. It is the most over-maintained course in the world.
Q: Everyone I know who has gone said they can't believe how hilly it is. What are some other things about the property television viewers might not be able to tell about the course?
CF: The undulations of the greens. The respect and golf IQ of the patrons. The incredible flowers. How clean the restrooms are. There is no sporting event in the world that is managed better.
Q: Are there really that many birds chirping during the tournament?
CF: No. I think that is piped in for TV.
Q: Let's talk about the tournament now, and how much electricity is running through the patrons compared to other PGA events you've been to?
CF: All of the majors are a totally different level than a regular tour event. There is nothing like the Ryder Cup, but The Masters is just a notch below. The roars on Sunday are incredible.
Q: I understand the food and beverages are pretty inexpensive there. Is that true and just talk about the hospitality of the event?
CF: Concessions are ridiculously inexpensive. Sodas are $1.50, beer $2.50, sandwiches $2. Plus, everything tastes better at The Masters.
Q: Pimento cheese sandwiches are the local tradition for this event. Have you had one and are they any good?
CF: If I have been to the Masters 22 years, I probably have had 250-plus pimento cheese sandwiches. They are very good. Pimento cheese is big in the south.
Q: There's so many memories and special moments that have happened at that event and they do a great job of preserving those memories. Is it like walking in a history book there?
CF: If you know golf history and Masters' history, it is definitely like walking in a history book. They have done an incredible job the last few years of having more pictures and memorabilia in some of the new buildings like the Pro Shop. Part of the great history is that the tournament is played there every year, so it is easy to remember great shots and great tournaments.
Q: What's your fondest memory about being at Augusta National and why?
CF: There are so many incredible memories that I have from The Masters. Getting to take my boys Michael and Joe to a practice round is a great one. Having breakfast with my son Michael in the clubhouse last year and spending time with him walking around the clubhouse ranks right up there. Getting to follow one of my great friends and students, 2013 United States Mid-Amateur Champion Mike McCoy, at the 2014 tournament was an incredible experience.
Q: How about a favorite memory of the tournament whether you were there or not and why?
CF: When Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters I was a freshman in college. I remember watching it with all of my college teammates and the drama was incredible. When Tiger won in 2001, it was the first time I had been at the tournament on Sunday. The energy level that day was unmatched. In 1996 I wasn't at the tournament, but seeing Greg Norman implode on Sunday with Nick Faldo winning was like watching a train wreck. It was absolutely the most painful sporting event I have ever seen.
Q: While you're a PGA member you get special privileges, but for someone interested in going to The Masters what would be some tips you would have for them? Where and what to eat? Where to stay? The must sees and the don't waste your time sort of things?
CF: The Masters is one of the hardest tickets in all of sports. I would recommend registering in the lottery every year following the tournament. Tickets are available, they are just hard to come by and expensive. Many residents of Augusta rent their houses out Masters week. That is a great way to go. You have to really plan and make dinner reservations a long time in advance, but there are a lot of great restaurants. Aiken, S.C., and Columbia, S.C., are also great places to stay Masters week and out of the hustle and bustle. Everything around the Masters is done so well that the only downside is you can't do it all.
Q: The PGA Tour is finally coming to Minnesota on a regular basis with the 3M Open July 4-7 at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, how do think that tournament will go?
CF: To have the PGA Tour back in Minnesota on an annual basis is going to be fantastic. The players love playing in Minnesota and Hollis Cavner, whose company manages some of the best events on the Champions Tour and PGA Tour, will make it extremely fan friendly and entertaining.
My only apprehension is the dates. There aren't many places in the U.S. better than Brainerd Fourth of July week.
Q: And this summer will be the second big event for a group trying to land a Web.com Tour Event in the lakes area. What are your thoughts about this endeavor and if it happens, how well do you think it will be received?
CF: Last summer's event was a huge success. The plans for this year's are very ambitious and we have a great team in place to make it happen. The PGA Tour has taken notice and will be watching closely to see how this summer goes. Since there has never been any event like the Web in the lakes area, it will be very well received. The level of play on the Web is incredibly high. Any given week on the Web, the winner could be winning on the PGA Tour.
Q: Last year's inaugural event was a big success. Your home course, Cragun's Legacy Courses, did a great job of hosting it. Are the courses in the lakes good enough to host a big event like that?
CF: The quality of courses in the lakes area are as good as anywhere in the U.S. The Legacy is on the short side compared to many of the venues that are played on the Web, but it doesn't have the width of a lot of courses. Creating a resistance to scoring, if that is a goal, can easily be achieved with green speed and high rough.