The aura surrounding Augusta National Golf Club, long revered as one of the finest golf courses in the world and the site of the Masters, is palpable.

Tim Bowen, a 53-year-old Farmington resident, can feel it every time he returns there. Bowen is one of three Mainers who are at the course this week as volunteers for the Masters, joined by Boothbay’s Tom Blake and Ron Moody, a Wells native now living in Georgia.

“It never gets old,” said Bowen, who is volunteering for the 10th year. “And my favorite part is when we get there on Monday morning (for the volunteers’ meeting where they get their assignments). It’s early, no one’s been on the course, birds are chirping, azaleas are blooming, no one has touched the sand. … I get a cup of coffee and just look out and appreciate the history.”

The Masters is the first of professional golf’s four major annual tournaments. Unlike the others, it is always held at the same course, and it is steeped in tradition and lore that rivals any of the sporting world’s biggest events. Since 1934, golf’s transcendent stars – from Ben Hogan and Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – have woven their names into the nation’s cultural consciousness by seizing victories against the backdrop of Augusta National’s verdant greens.

Bowen, Blake and Moody are among the 350-or-so gallery guards who are part of the show for the Masters at Augusta National. You can see them in their yellow baseball caps and khakis, standing close to the ropes that keep the fans back. Their job is to control the crowds, direct fans along the walking paths and answer any questions that might arise.

LONG HOURS, NO PAY, GREAT TIME

Moody is stationed on the first hole, Bowen on the second and Blake on the 11th, which is the start of Amen Corner, the most challenging part of the course. The volunteers are shuffled between assignments at the tee area, the fairway and the green on their respective holes.

“It’s busy,” said Moody, a former Maine state trooper and Carrabassett Valley police chief in his 17th year as a gallery guard. “But you meet a lot of nice people from all over. I see people kneel and kiss the ground, they’re so happy to be there.”

The hours are long – usually from 6 a.m. until the sun goes down – and they don’t get paid. The practice rounds are the most difficult because the gallery guards have to be on the course until the last golfer leaves. Once the Masters starts Thursday, the days are still long, but they have a set schedule.

Being a volunteer comes with a couple of big perks: They’re among the few people allowed to walk on the course during the Masters, and they get to play the course for one day before Augusta National closes for the summer in late May.

“It really is an amazing experience to be there,” Moody said.

It’s not an easy gig to get. Usually you have to know someone who is already volunteering. You can apply to be a volunteer, but it often takes years to get a slot – once accepted, volunteers are allowed to return every year as long as they are healthy.

Moody, who moved to Lake Oconee, Georgia, eight years ago and now lives in Eatonton, recalled how fortunate he was to get his assignment. He had been traveling to Augusta, Georgia, for a couple of years to attend the practice rounds with a couple of friends, Brunswick’s Danny Snow and the late Clayton “Tiger” Bragdon of Portland and Carrabasset Valley. They were both volunteers on the practice range.

After another volunteer fell and broke her wrist, “Someone from the club went up to Danny and Tiger and asked them if they knew of anyone who could step in. They said they had a friend here,” Moody said.

“So there I was, sitting on the sixth hole, drinking beer and watching golf, and they came up to me and asked me if I wanted to volunteer. That year I was stationed at the practice range. The next year I got my assignment to 1.”

Blake, a 67-year-old semi-retired craftsman, also has been going to Augusta National for 17 years and got his position the same way – through friends. “I had some friends who were there,” he said. “I started going down and next thing you knew, I was a volunteer.”

Bowen, 53 and self-employed, said he wrote letters for six years before his application was accepted. The three share a rented house in Augusta during Masters week.

“We look forward to this,” Blake said. “We call each other once a week during the winter. We can’t wait to get here.”

TAME CROWDS, FAMOUS GOLFERS

Blake remembers the first time he stepped inside the ropes separating the fans from the course. “It was so plush,” he said of the course. “It’s quite the experience. It still is today.”

Moody said the course is as close to perfection as you can find. “You walk on it and it’s hard to believe it’s real,” he said. “There’s no a flaw in the fairway, or the rough, for that matter.”

For the most part, they find the fans highly respectful of the golfers and the game. They have had very few instances in which they’ve had to tell a fan to be quiet or, worse, leave.

“There’s an old-fashioned respect for the game,” Moody said.

They each have had special experiences on the course.

For Bowen, it came in his first year, when he was assigned to Augusta National’s nine-hole par-3 course. He was working the ninth hole and had a rather famous threesome come through: Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player.

“I loaded all their bags onto their cart and then they drove off,” he said.

Did they talk to him?

“They thanked me, that was it,” he said. “I didn’t have to be talked to. That’s a lot of history there.”

Blake had a close encounter with Woods a couple of years ago, captured on television. “One of Tiger’s shots went into the woods,” he said. “After he hit it, I had to lead him back to the fairway, through the fans who wanted to talk to him. And we were on TV.”

Moody remembers the respect that Palmer commands, and spending a rain delay “shooting the breeze” with John Daly.

“There are many amazing experiences,” he said. “I feel fortunate.”

They also know how lucky they are to play at Augusta National, where you have to be invited to join and there are only about 350 members.

The volunteers get to walk in the footsteps of the game’s great players when they are allowed to play a round, and are treated to a nice banquet just before the club closes for the summer.

“They’re pretty good to us, treat us like members,” Moody said. “There aren’t many people who can say they’ve played this course.”

NO THOUGHTS OF STOPPING

As immaculate as the course is, it’s also very difficult to play. Moody has never missed a chance to take on the challenge and said, “I’ve shot under 100 only once. These are the fastest greens I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Bowen, who has a 16-handicap, said his best score has been a 98. But more important is the way the club treats the volunteers. “They treat us very nice that day,” he said. “It’s good to get things right with the people who work the course.”

Blake has played the course only four times, and said his best score is a 79. Other times he’s been in the high 80s.

But whether they play Augusta National or not, they will keep returning for the Masters as long as they can.

“It’s his dream, it’s his passion,” said Jill Bowen, Tim’s wife and the CEO at Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, Vermont. “It’s the time of his life.”

It’s also a chance to be part of one of the great competitions in sports. As Tim Bowen said, “It’s my Super Bowl.”


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