AUGUSTA, Ga.—Sixty-five years ago, Herb Waterhouse walked up to a wooden ticket booth outside the Augusta National Golf Club and bought a ticket to the 1953 Masters. He fell so hard for the place that he hasn’t missed a Masters since.
“This is number 66,” says Waterhouse, now 88, pointing at a mockup license plate on the front of his scooter that, sure enough, reads “66TH MASTERS.” “Wasn’t sure I would make it, but I’m glad I’m here.”
That one-day ticket Waterhouse once bought for “two dollars, two dollars and fifty cents, something like that,” the equivalent of about $23.00 in today’s money, will cost you $115 through official channels, and well into the four figures if you go through a ticket broker. Unlike most of the rest of the American sports world, finding tickets to the Masters is a problem Waterhouse hasn’t had for two-thirds of a century.
Waterhouse, who lives in Johns Creek, Ga., first attended the Masters in 1953 as a young salesman. And he picked a good one: that year, Ben Hogan shattered the Masters scoring record and made a lifelong fan out of a young Herb Waterhouse. He’s made his way to Augusta in the first week of every April ever since. Tiger’s win in 1997, Jack’s miracle in 1986, Arnie’s triumph in 1960, Greg Norman’s collapse in 1996 – Herb was here for all of them and so many more.
The highlight? “Bringing someone who’s never been here, and watching their face,” Waterhouse says. “They’re always—” and he makes the universal eyes-and-mouth-wide-open, fluttering-hands expression of someone stunned into silence by what they’ve seen. By conservative estimate, Waterhouse has had the chance to bring well over a thousand people to either a practice or a tournament round at Augusta; he’s clearly spread plenty of joy amongst his family and friends.
And since it’s the Masters we’re talking about here, there are always memories-in-the-making. Back in 1972, Waterhouse brought along a client who’d never been to Augusta. They walked in through the south gate, right near the sixth hole, and happened to walk up right as Charlie Coody sank a 190-yard ace on the sixth hole.
“Does that happen a lot here?” the astonished client asked. (For the record, it doesn’t; only 28 aces have ever been recorded in Masters history, though Waterhouse was on the premises for 23 of them.)
Smitten with golf right from that Hogan victory, Waterhouse and his former business partner became patrons of Augusta, each securing four badges every year. Waterhouse lost a couple of those badges when Augusta National decided to start opening up the tournament to more attendees, but he’s held on tight to the remaining two.
“I was very close to not coming this year,” he said Thursday outside Augusta National’s gargantuan new merchandise hall. “I thought, 65 is a good number to go out on. But then all my grandkids got on me, and I had to come.” He turns 89 in November. “Now I’ll stick around to at least 90,” he winks.
Waterhouse has seen Augusta National transform from a quiet, private club with a single ticket booth to the white-hot center of the sports universe, and he’s enjoyed the transformation. The biggest difference between the 1950s-era Masters and today? “It might be because of my own age, but I see a lot more young people here now than I ever did before,” he says. “That’s good for the Masters, and it’s good for the game of golf.”
After 66 years of escorting clients, friends, and family around the premises at Augusta National, you’d expect that Waterhouse would know his way around this place, and he does. He follows the same routine, year after year: head to a point midway up the fairway on No. 2, where you can watch both the second and third holes, as well as the par-3 fourth. From there, he’ll head to a spot between 7 and 8, where he can catch players coming up 17, and then he’ll head down to the crowded little nook around the greens of 13 and 15, where the par-3 16th is visible.
Waterhouse has also seen enough golf in his day to qualify as an expert. His pick for this year? Bubba Watson, who – like Waterhouse – claims the University of Georgia as an alma mater.
These days, Herb doesn’t scale the hills of Augusta National with quite the same gusto as he once did. He only attends one day a week – this year, it was Thursday – and he uses a bright red scooter emblazoned with a UGA “G” to get around. The rest of the week, he divides the tickets between his four kids, 12 grandkids, and 10 great-grandkids.
“They all want to come down,” Waterhouse smiles. “I’m a very popular guy this time of year.”
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