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Snow was still on the ground in Newton, New Jersey, on Monday, but the weather for James Fox and his traveling party was a balmy 75 degrees.

Fox, with his father (Tom Fox), brother (Jim Fox) and friend (Bryce Abrams), made the 800-mile trek south to experience what can only be aptly described as “a tradition unlike any other.”

Fox, a University of South Carolina graduate, found out in the fall he was a winner in the online lottery for practice round tickets for the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. His name coming up gave him the right to purchase four badges for Monday’s practice round at $65 each.

The badges are long known as the toughest ticket in sports, so Fox could have turned his good fortune into even better fortune on the secondary market, where the coveted tickets often reach 8-10 times face value.

But the lure of the Georgia pines, the greenest grass in the world and $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches proved too much to resist for Fox and his traveling companions.

"This is just unbelievable," Fox said.

“We’ve been to lots of golf tournaments,” Abrams said outside of Augusta National’s main golf shop, the merchandise emporium that moves millions of dollars a day in logoed apparel available just seven days a year. “But nothing like this one. This is the best.”

There is perhaps no other event in golf where a practice round commands such a following or means so much to so many. Sure, the ticket carries with it the opportunity to watch the best players in the game hit actual golf shots, but make no mistake, the venue is the star. Augusta National appears on television for a four-day stretch only once a year, but 361 days of absence only makes the heart grow fonder.

“This is unbelievable,” Tom Fox said. “There must be 50,000 people here, and it’s a practice round.”

Shrouded behind nondescript fences and under the shade of those aforementioned pines, Augusta National sits as a symbol of what is perhaps America’s best and most unique sporting event.

Indeed, to step onto the grounds of Augusta National for just one day is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for many of the first-time or one-time patrons. For one glorious day, the possession of a practice-round badge means you are one of the beautiful people, the chosen few who are allowed the chance to walk those hallowed grounds, its hills, valleys and all.

Inside, it’s as if the place is frozen in time, concession prices and manners included. It’s where people look you in the eye, say things like “please” and “thank you” and rows of green chairs go unattended and untouched for hours on end.

“Good morning, sir,” a different green-shirted employee might tell you at least a dozen times before noon. “Enjoy the Masters.”

That’s not even a necessary statement. There’s nothing not to love about a day at Augusta, and when television coverage of the opening round begins today, James Fox and company can always say they were one of the few.

A tradition unlike any other? Certainly.

Worth the drive? You better believe it.

Brantley Strickland is sports editor of The Times and Democrat. Contact him at bstrickland@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5553. Follow him on Twitter at @TandDsports.

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