The Masters is a different kind of major than the rest, taking place at the same place and the same time each year. With Augusta National Golf Club as the backdrop, the finest golfers in the world battle it out over four days on the first full weekend of April, vying for the green jacket and the fame that comes with it.
The jacket itself is among the many Masters traditions, making it a unique event on the major circuit. There's nods to the past, fun side events and some serious hardware to separate the event from every other on the golf circuit.
The Green Jacket
The uniform of Augusta National Golf Club doubles as an added bonus for Masters winners. Following the final round, the winner is presented with a green jacket in the clubhouse, in front of the Augusta members. The ceremony then moves out to the 18th green, where the previous year's winner presents the new champion with a green jacket.
Champions keep their jackets for a year, then return them to the club, where they're stored -- to be worn only on the Augusta National grounds.
The Champions Locker Room
There are different locker rooms within the Augusta National Clubhouse -- one that the majority of this year's Masters field will use, and the other, more exclusive, Champions Locker Room. The latter is reserved for past Masters champions. The room is filled with history -- lockers bearing the nameplates of golf legends, from Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods, and memorabilia from past tournaments.
The two separate locker rooms provide somewhat of a divide, from those who have proved themselves at Augusta and those looking to earn their way into the exclusive club.
The Champions Dinner
Each year, on the Tuesday before the start of the tournament, past champions gather in the Augusta National Clubhouse to share memories and enjoy each others company during The Champions Dinner. It's a time to honor the past and celebrate the present, with the previous year's champion serving as the host. The reigning champion gets to pick the menu, and many a unique dish has been served.
There was the controversy surrounding Tiger Woods' first Champions Dinner -- Fuzzy Zoeller suggested fried chicken and collared greens would be out of line -- and a warm moment in 2011, when Phil Mickelson picked out a few Spanish favorites in a nod to Seve Ballesteros, whose health was fading at the time.
At The Masters, even a simple dinner is a large event.
Crystal is a big thing at The Masters, and plenty of players will head home with different trinkets and dining ware. An ace nets a player a crystal bowl, the low round of the day earns a crystal vase and an eagle is worth two crystal goblets. Not a bad haul for some of golf's more difficult feats.
Amateurs are a big part of The Masters, even if you'll rarely find them near the top of the leaderboard. Five amateurs earn an invitation to The Masters each year -- the winner and runner-up of the US Amateur, the winner of the US Mid-Am, the Asian Amateur champion, the US Public Links champion and the British Amateur champion. The amateurs stay in the Crow's Nest atop the clubhouse, and the low amateur who makes the cut receives a Silver Cup.
The nod to amateurs stems from the tournament founder, Bobby Jones. The most famous amateur to play the game, Jones helped design Augusta National and bring The Masters to life. Amateurs have always, and will always, be a big part of The Masters.
The Honorary Tee Shot
One of the cool moments comes before the tournament begins, with the unofficial first tee shot(s) on Thursday morning. Legends of the sport gather at the first tee, launching drives at dawn to ring in the start of the year's first major. Gene Sarazen, of double eagle fame (among other things), Sam Snead and Byron Nelson have all done the honors previously.
This year, Arnold Palmer, who's healthy once again, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will do the honors to begin the 2012 Masters.
Players use their own caddies, and have for some time now, but The Masters makes those on the bag even more noticeable. The uniform never changes: White jumpsuit, Masters hat, white shoes. It's a recognizable feature of Augusta National, one that emphasizes Augusta National Golf Club's strict adherence to tradition
Skipping No. 16
You won't see players try this during the tournament, of course, but on Monday and Tuesday crowds gather at No. 16 to watch golfers skip the pond. The par-three 16th, known best for Tiger Woods' chip-in from off the green, is protected by a long pond running from just in front of the tee boxes to the green. It also makes for a perfect skipping location -- like one would do as a kid, except with golf balls instead of rocks, and a golf club instead of a throwing motion.
And every once in a while, this happens:
That's Vijay Singh skipping the pond for an ace in 2009. It happened again on Monday as Martin Kaymer did the same.
Over the next few days, you'll hear "A Tradition Unlike Any Other" countless times. In many ways, the statement rings true. The Masters is all about traditions -- another reason it's the year's finest major tournament.