At first, Steve Goldberg thought he had walked through a different gate at Augusta National Golf Club than the one he enters every year.
He was used to gravel and dirt at Gate 9. What he saw Tuesday was an entryway of green iron gates, landscaped flowers and a curving concrete path to the entrance.
"If this is the gate we always come in through, then they radically changed it," Goldberg said.
Augusta National introduced the newly renovated Gate 9 to Masters Tournament patrons this week. What used to serve as a parking lot is now a manicured pathway decorated with a pro shop and a checkpoint for bags.
"That's right, this is Gate 9," Goldberg said as he looked around. "It looks more like it's always been here."
Patrons now have to pass through a turnstile with their badge at the front of the gate before they can walk up the pathway to the main entrance, which has scanners and security checks.
They are also greeted by a blinking digital sign which welcomes patrons to the course and flashes any instructions or changes for the day.
With its place across Berckmans Road from the largest free parking lot around the course, Gate 9 has also become a meeting place for friends and a spot to swap tickets.
"I think it's smarter, and it's more convenient," said Chip Barbee, of Augusta, as he waited outside the gate for a friend.
Barbee said he was used to seeing a lot of cars and recreational vehicles crammed in at the gate. It sometimes slowed down people who were trying to move through to the entrance, he said.
"To tell you the truth, it was bad on tournament days," Barbee said.
The changes also mean more convenience for guests using the hospitality house off Heath Drive across from the renovated gate.
VIP Hospitality partner Alex Pramenko said his patrons now have a more aesthetic entrance to the course.
"As far as first impressions, people have said, 'Wow, it's so pretty,' " Pramenko said.
This week will also serve as a test to see how the new entrance affects traffic now that there is no parking past the new gate.
"As far as traffic patterns, I don't really know yet," Pramenko said. "We'll see."
Reach Tracey McManus at (706) 823-3424 email@example.com.