It doesn't matter how many times Mike Sakich attends the Masters, how often he drives down Magnolia Lane.
The feeling will never change.
"For the average person, the first thing that hits you is it's so beautiful, colorful, manicured, pristine, " Sakich said of Augusta National. "It looks good on TV or in a magazine, but seeing it in real life, it's something that HDTV can't capture. Even after 10 years, that's how cool it is down there. It's one of the few bucket list things where the last time is more powerful than the time before."
A Sand Creek resident, Sakich is in Georgia for his 10th Masters this week. The first year, he saw just one round, paying $650 to a season- ticket holder. In the years since, he has enjoyed inside-the-ropes access courtesy of friend Steve Kemph, whose uncle Fred Gluck is a club member.
"Of the one percent who get to go, it's the one percent of that one percent," Sakich said. "I love the game. I've been blessed enough to have been to all the (American) majors, the Ryder Cup, and there's still nothing like the Masters. It's the only major played in the same place. There's an 80-year history, (co-founders) Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, the Eisenhower tree. There's a million stories like this."
Over the years, Sakich has met Nick Faldo, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson and golf course architect Tom Fazio. He's had breakfast with Johnny Miller. Among a couple dozen celebrities, the most recent he met was Wayne Gretzky, whose daughter Paulina is engaged to golfer Dustin Johnson. The absence of Tiger Woods may kill the buzz for some fans, but not Sakich, who considers the event Tiger-proof.
"It only lessens it in a sense," he said. "It's the world's best golfer and arguably the world's best tournament. There's so much about the lore, the history of the Masters, it doesn't (break) that tournament like the others."
While in Augusta, Sakich will stay at a home that a large group is renting. Rooms at the local Motel 6 go for $450 a night. Others make the trek from wherever they can find a bed.
"Augusta is like Valpo 351 weeks a year," Sakich said. "This week, it explodes."
Spectators on hand Wednesday for the par-3 tournament and final practice round could take pictures or seek autographs. Once play began this morning, the gauntlet was laid down. No phones. No cameras. No tolerance. Sakich recalls a few years ago when a guest was ejected for making fun of Ian Poulter's attire. Fans who get in trouble can also endanger a member's privileges.
"Something so precious, there's strict rules, but people respect them," Sakich said. "It creates a church-like setting. If you bump into somebody, it's 'Oh, excuse me, I'm sorry.' It's all class. There's nothing bad about the Masters."
During the course of a round, Sakich makes his way to every hole. Most people are familiar with Augusta National's iconic azaleas, but few know that the descent from the clubhouse to the 12th green is the same height as the Statue of Liberty, about 300 feet.
Sakich brought along Sand Creek friends Ross McLennan and Wally Hanas, who are attending the tournament for the first time. Knowing what it means to him, Sakich is trying to share the experience with as many golf buddies as possible.
"There are certain things you want to catch, this hole or that hole," he said. "It's like having a private guide and I try to share it. I want to maximize it for them."