Rolex celebrates five decades of partnership with the prestigious Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in the US.

Ask any diehard golfer what is on his bucket list and more often than not, it is to attend the Masters Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia, the US. When my friends heard that I was going for this year’s event, many of them gave me some sound advice, such as: Do not ask for a selfie or an autograph from the players; do not whoop and yell when a player executes a fantastic shot; and most of all, do not answer your phone — it is best to leave it back at your accommodation or in lockers provided by the organisers. Legend has it that a sports reporter once answered his phone while watching the competition and he was escorted off the greens and has since been banned from the Masters.

With all these golfing dos and don’ts weighing on my mind, I set off last month to the place many call the Holy Grail of golf. I had my first taste of the tournament during the long drive from the airport in Atlanta to Augusta, where buntings were seen fluttering in the cool spring breeze and trucks were plastered with banners of well-known golf brands.

Two-and-half hours later, I arrived at my accommodation, a beautiful historic plantation home complete with shutters and rocking chairs on the front porch. Inside, the owners, obviously golf fans, had memorabilia and photographs of the Masters collected throughout the years. I was inundated with all things golf even before I set foot on the course.

Rolex and the Masters
This year is a very special one for Rolex, as it celebrates its 50th year of partnership with the Masters Tournament, which is into its 81st year. It all began with Rolex’s very first meeting with the late great golfer Arnold Palmer in 1967, and the partnership has grown from strength to strength. Today, the Swiss watch industry leader supports the game at every level — from elite players to legends of the game.

Palmer was Rolex’s very first golf testimonee and the long-standing relationship is based on the shared values of perfection, excellence and sportsmanship. This year, his absence was greatly felt as he had not missed a Masters Tournament since his retirement in 2006. From 2007 to his death last year, the four-time green jacket winner served as an honorary starter for the Masters. As a mark of respect this year, the tournament began with a moment of silence and later that day, badges with the words “Arnie’s Army” on them were handed out to guests.

Other Rolex testimonees include the cutting- edge of the new guard, such as Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, multiple-Major winners Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the 2015 Rolex Player of the Year in women’s golf, Lydia Ko, as well as legend Annika Sorenstam. These partnerships with exciting and innovative talent build on a golfing heritage that began with the modern game’s most influential players, known as The Big Three: Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Throughout the tournament days in Augusta, we witnessed the highs and lows of each golfer. We trudged along the well-manicured grass to find the best position to watch the likes of Day and Fowler tee off. One thing stood out — there is an unspoken gentleman’s agreement among the spectators. Everyone was well-behaved as the people in front were willing to move to make way for me, as my five foot nothing height did not give me a great view.

Foldable chairs with names on them were positioned in front and everyone respected that these seats were reserved. There was no yelling and screaming at the players as the crowd waited in silence for them to tee off and, if it was a well-lobbed ball, we applauded only after the ball had landed on the greens. Some players were kind enough to shake a few hands as they moved off with their caddies to the next hole. It was all very civilised and extremely considerate.

More than a tournament
While I left the professionals to do what they did best, I had to admit that I was bitten by the golf bug. The next step was to request for a lesson from one of the golfers at the Augusta Country Club, and I was fortunate enough to meet Gary Cressend. As a pro for the last 14 years, Cressend was the perfect person to teach a newbie such as myself. We started with getting a proper grip on the club — right hand over the left for right-handed players and the other way around for lefties. Then, it was getting the stance right with feet a comfortable shoulder-width apart and from there, it was a matter of getting the swing right — and to always follow through after taking a swing.

The first few balls were disappointing as they just rolled along the grassy patch and I embarrassingly missed a few. In what seemed like a hundred balls later, I managed a few good shots. The key here, according to Cressend, was to keep practising. Another piece of advice he offered beginners was to take up ballet to get a good balance — a key component when you want to play a good game.

Apart from learning to get a grip on golf, there are plenty of other things to do at the Masters Tournament, such as shopping and dining. I got hold of the Spectator Guide, an informative 68-page book that tells you everything you need to know from the Course Map to tournament records, the players’ profiles in detail and, of course, a list of dos and dont’s. Armed with my map, I headed for Berckmans Place, a 90,000 sq ft building at the end of Magnolia Lane that houses a number of restaurants, shops and even a place where you can learn the history of the Masters, narrated in memorabilia and old black-and-white photographs.

The shopping was amazing and I was able to get caps, golf balls, ball markers, hat clips and so on for friends and family back home. Happy with my haul, I made my way out to catch the golf buggy back to the main clubhouse and spotted former Republican secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. A crowd was beginning to form around the one of only two female members of the Augusta National Golf Club (the other is Darla Moore, a partner in a private investment firm), shaking her hand and having a quick chat with her.

In 2012, Forbes magazine ran an article by author Brent Beshore, who wrote: “In golf and in life, the difference between a great shot and a lost ball can be merely a few feet. Most people call that luck. Successful people know it’s not. Sure, bad bounces happen and, occasionally, the winds of fortune may swing in your favour, but the primary driver of consistent success is practice. You must try, fail, adjust and try again. Your margin of error decreases, the bunkers look smaller and the cup looks bigger.”

It may be an old article, but it holds true today, and perhaps in the lives of Rice and all other golfers. This sport originated in Scotland, where it was known to have been played by noblemen with a stick and a leather ball. The equipment may change, but the game of etiquette remains, as I found out at the Masters Tournament.

This article appeared in Issue 781 (May 29) of The Edge Singapore.