AUGUSTA, Ga. — Green is the dominant color of the Masters. The souvenir shop has all kinds of different colored shirts and hats, but by far the biggest seller is the green versions. The course is an immaculate green from its trees to the fairways, even though many of the yards aren't quite as picturesque. The members of Augusta National all wear green blazers and, of course, the winner gets the most famous green jacket around.
But outside the gates of Augusta National, green has a little different meaning. It means cash and there is a lot of it.
The first indication that this is a gigantic event is the parking at the local businesses along Washington Road. After exiting off Interstate 20, Washington is the main road to the golf course. During Masters week, most of the businesses turn their parking lots into parking for the tournament — at a hefty price. As you get closer to the main gates, the price grows from $10 at about two miles away. A little closer, $20. Closer, $30. Closer, $40. If you are wondering, Augusta National has free parking with a proper permit. We have a proper permit and get plenty of dirty looks as we cruise right up to the main gate.
But parking is only the beginning. There isn't much you can't buy along the way.
On the corner of Washington and Berckmans Road and just down along Azalea Drive, vendors were selling everything from food, to art work, to cigars to Jesus Christ (we'll get to the latter in a moment).
At Nathan's the three college kids were selling drinks and snacks according to Kim Rathbun, who normally is at school this time a year, but is on spring break and decided to work for a couple of days.
"We sold more drinks yesterday (Friday) because it was a warmer day," she said. "It's fun working here. We get to see a lot of different people from a lot of different countries."
Probably the best display, however, was the Bridgestone Golf van. They were custom fitting players to the new line of golf balls as well as other general equipment.
"We are real excited to be at Augusta this year," Mark Barber, from Covington, Ga., said. "This is the start of the season and Bridgestone is located in Georgia so we want to have a presence here.
"This is obviously the biggest time in golf."
Barber said the general knowledge of a golf-crazy Augusta crowd makes his job a little easier.
"There is an overall knowledge of the fans here and it just makes everything easier — for the most part," he said. "The challenging thing is — with our Bridgestone Challenge where we are custom fitting our golf balls to players — is to make a distinction between people's normal swing and mis-hits."
That general knowledge also branches off to one more vendor, Top Shelf Cigar and Tobacco Shoppe. According to Sharon Wilder, who owns the shop, many of the fans are cigar aficionados.
"Most of them know what they want," she said. "But you also find some that don't normally smoke and are looking for something just for this weekend."
Wilder said they have had a tent at the same location for three years and, "we will be here as long as they don't outlaw smoking."
One group I didn't talk to were the ones selling religion. There were at least three different sets yelling at cars and walkers passing by and they seemed pretty fired up. I didn't get an interview, however, because one of their signs said that "sports nuts" are going to hell. But then again, they said about 25 other groups were damned as well, so I think I'm going to be all right.
Oh, by the way, Jason Feldman and I had a brush with greatness Saturday, almost literally. While roaming around the clubhouse, checking out all the history in the building, I walked around the corner and ran face-to-face with a very hurried Tiger Woods. About a half step more and it might have made SportsCenter.
(Michael Linnell is the sports editor for The Minot Daily News. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)