Mike Fritz knows he has one of the best views in sports.
On the 10th tee of Augusta National Golf Club, he has seen the world’s top golfers at their best and worst up close and personal.
He’s not an Augusta National member, but an unpaid volunteer given one of the best privileges in golf.
“I’ve played minor league baseball, won state championships, and this is as big of a highlight as those are in my life,” Fritz said.
Hundreds of volunteers work every year as gallery guards at the Masters Tournament, holding ropes and monitoring scoreboards and information boards for patrons. The positions can often be held for decades by the same volunteers and are hard to come by.
“I got this through a close business associate,” said Fritz, 69, in his fourth year.
They are spotted by their yellow hats and green Masters shirts and are often teachers, retirees, doctors and other professionals.
Fritz has come to memorize all the details of his hole and tries to share the knowledge with curious patrons. One of the more interesting aspects he shares is that he has never seen a squirrel on the course.
“About the squirrels, we know they don’t shoot them, but no one tells me how they keep them away,” he said.
Joe Shiver, who monitored the Par-3 leaderboard Wednesday, says getting to see the Masters from behind the scenes is the best perk.
“If you’re a golf enthusiast, this is the pinnacle, the mecca, the zenith,” he said.
Shiver tends to the needs of all patrons. In less than five minutes Wednesday, he was asked for a bandage, where the closest beer tent was, where the bathrooms were, how to find Arnold Palmer and which spot had the best view for the Par-3 Contest.
Shiver, from Tampa, Fla., lived in Augusta during his time in the Air Force, which he said gave him perspective on the tournament, which some locally might take for granted.
“How many people drive past the Augusta National every day who live here and actually say, ‘Oh, that’s the National?’ Some people drive past the Grand Canyon every day or the Niagara Falls. It’s the same thing,” he said.
Ted Duzensk said he’s made lifelong friends of patrons and colleagues during his 22 years as a gallery guard at the ninth hole crosswalk. He has escorted actor Bill Murray across the fairway and felt the sadness of the first year without Payne Stewart when the golfer died in a 1999 plane accident.
“It’s the people, it’s the event, it’s the whole experience,” he said.