O’Laughlin’s Office: Alexandra meets Augusta National for the first time

Editor’s note: Golf Channel’s Alex O’Laughlin offers a first-hand account of her maiden trip to Augusta National.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – With the tees moved back and now playing 495 yards, much has been said about the par-4 fifth hole at Augusta National Golf Club.  So much so, it led Justin Rose to say “I hit driver, 4-iron today and hit a good drive.”

Tucked off that fairway, however, is a clandestine heaven for golf fans: Berckmans Place. 

I announced on my Instagram account Sunday that I had secured a Berckmans Place pass for my first trip to the Masters. Like many others, my Masters tradition had been watching with family and seeing the manicured fairways from the comfort of my couch.

Only open during Masters Week, Berckmans Place is 90,000-square-feet of elegance, costing thousands of dollars per ticket.

Before making the trip, I took to Instagram to ask followers what they knew about the hallowed ground that is shrouded in secrecy. The rumors ranged from Condoleezza Rice greeting you at the door to “the best food in the world.”

As you enter, you are met with an immediate sense of exclusivity. The sign reads: Berckmans Place, By Invitation Only.

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Upon arrival and after shaking the former Secretary of State’s hand (yes, the rumor was true) you are presented with a selection of restaurants. I opted for the seafood restaurant, eventually deciding on shrimp cocktail, oysters and a Shirley Temple.

The second rumor also was true…the food was impeccable.

As I walked to the Berckmans Pro Shop, I ran into a who’s who of the golf world.

The shop itself feels like you’ve popped into a boutique on Rodeo Drive. A fashionable assortment of crystal glassware, high-end wallets, accessories, and merchandise that is sold in the member shop. Not to mention, the nostalgic clothing and caps that sport the original 1934 Masters logo.

Now that you’re swagged out and full of the best oysters in Georgia, there’s one more stop before making the direct walk to Amen Corner; A practice area with replica putting greens accurately resembling the speed and undulation of Augusta National.

Professional caddies from Augusta National are there to provide assistance. And no, they won’t tell you the speed on the Stimpmeter. It’s a brilliant experience to have before looking at the real thing.

After a full day of soaking in everything the golf course has to offer, you stop back at Berckmans to the valet claim check to pick up all the merchandise you bought earlier. And as you return to the preferred Berckmans parking lot, you realize you’re a little different now than before you entered. But if the last 82 years have taught us anything, nothing can ever compete with the story of Augusta National, Clifford Roberts, Bobby Jones and the Masters – no matter what gate you enter through.

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