MASTERING THE MASTERS:
An Insider's Guide to Making the Most of the Premier Waterski and Wakeboard Competition
Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the start of summer and some serious time on, in, or near the water. Given this, there may be no better place for boaters to be than at the 48th Annual Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament at Pine Mountains Callaway Gardens in Georgia. Better yet, take your boat and make a vacation out of it, because there's no shortage of lakes or things to see and do in the greater Atlanta area.
Once you attend your first Masters, youre hooked. Steeped in rich history, its like no other boat-oriented event anywhere, with a setting that's incredibly fan- friendly. The competitors enjoy it, too.
I have been at the Masters for over 10 years and it still ranks as the most prestigious and professionally run tournament, says four-time World Champion Shaun Murray, who is also well-known thanks to Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of Wakeboarding Unleashed, featuring Shaun Murray. Of course I don't mind playing golf at Callaway Gardens, Murray adds.
This years event -- which also includes the 15th Junior Masters -- will be held May 25-27 and features dozens of the worlds best waterski and wakeboard athletes representing more than 10 countries. Its by invitation-only, based on strict criteria established each year by a Masters Committee comprised of athletes and officials. The best of the best compete for more than $135,000 in cash and prizes in categories such as slalom, tricks and jump.
The competition takes place on Robin Lake at Callaway Gardens, which is located about a 90-minute drive south of Atlanta. Tournament admission offers access to the array of facilities within Callaway Gardens. Sunday's action, heralded by an on-water Parade of Flags, in which finalists wave their home country colors, includes free admission for military personnel and their immediate families.
Offerings on Robin Lake Beach throughout the weekend include beachfront exhibitions, concessionaires, autograph sessions, and a host of festivities for spectators to enjoy. This is in addition to swimming, paddle boats, shuffleboard, table tennis, and miniature train rides. Iceberg Island, a floating water playground, will also be available to tournament attendees at just $5 per hour (reservations recommended!). The location is beloved by fans, competitors, and exhibitors alike.
Longtime Masters spectators know the inside scoop when it comes to making the Masters weekend even more enjoyable. Though it's hard to find a bad seat to watch the competition, the absolute best place to sit is the Pavilion (and the advance three-day pass is the best bargain). Those in the know also plan to arrive early--at least by Saturday. When not watching the Masters, "Vendor Row" is always a great place for research and shopping--as many of the exhibitors offer Masters-only specials.
Callaway's Friday night seafood buffet at The Plant Room is another popular option (be sure to make reservations). Spectators can also buy tickets to the Sunday night awards banquet, giving them the chance to rub elbows with on-water royalty.
The tradition of the invitation-only tournament started in 1959 with the Ida Callaway Invitation--and the first-time crowd was estimated at an incredible 13,000 spectators. The name was changed to the Masters Water Ski Tournament in 1960 (with permission from Augusta National) and, again in 2000 to the Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament. With the exception of 1991, the Masters has been held annually; in fact, its the longest-running waterskiing competition in the world.
The governing bodies of USA Water Ski and USA Wakeboard sanction the tournament, and the hillside location of Robin Lake has been the spectacular setting for several world record performances. The tournament originally started with athletes competing in the slalom, tricks and jump categories, as well as the coveted overall title. Wakeboarding was added in 1994 and ski fly followed in 1998. Masters competitors no longer vie for the overall title, but rather for the championship of their individual disciplines.
The popular Parade of Flags, an instant tradition following its debut in 1974, recognizes the countries that have athletes competing. The first prize money was awarded in 1985. Prizes for juniors competitors--who vie in slalom, tricks, jump, overall, and wakeboard--consist of trophies (or scholarship funds, when available).
Be sure to make time before, during, or after the Masters to do Callaway Gardens, which has been a premier outdoors destination for more than 50 years. The possibilities at this sprawling 13,000-acre resort run the gamut from luxury accommodations and spas to tennis, bicycle trails and golf--including the top-rated Mountain View course. You'll also want to check out the waterski program, which features Nautique towboats.
And if you've brought along your own boat, be sure to take advantage of the Peach State's abundance of waterways. Those in the know (and with their boats in tow) have made an annual vacation out of attending the Masters. With this year's tournament shaping up as one of the best ever, what better way to kick off summer?
Check out everything Callaway Gardens has to offer at TrailerBoats.com.
I qualified for my first Masters in 1993 and won my first overall title there in 1994 (I was a senior in high school). Since 1993, I have been invited to every Masters, although I missed the 2005 competition due to injury. I still attended, but worked with the television coverage--which provided me a different perspective on the tournament.
The Masters has the toughest invitation criteria in the world, and has been held at the same venue on the same weekend every year--and has been for nearly 50 years. A tournament with that kind of history brings out the best and most educated fans. No athlete shows up thinking s will be easy.
For me, there are two things that make the Masters the Masters. As an athlete, I pull into the parking lot on a hill that overlooks the lake. As I begin my walk down the hill, I see the entire lake--but the one thing that stands out is the Pavilion. There is no other tournament in the world where fans sit out over the water on the same dock where I prepare to compete. The announcers are on the pavilion, the judges are on the Pavilion, the judges are on the Pavilion, and the fans are on the Pavilion. There is so much energy, excitement and chaos that I know I am at the Masters. I can see, hear, and feel exactly what my competition is doing.
At most tournaments, by comparison, there is a small starting dock at the far end of the lake. The competitors are removed from the fans and the action; typically we will all be in our own world under different little trees preparing to compete. At the Masters, were signing autographs, doing interviews, talking to fans--and all the while trying to get ready to ski. And the action takes place right in front of our eyes. The nerves, anxiousness and emotions hit all time highs because of the Pavilion.
The second thing that makes the Masters is the even'ts song, Stars on the Water. Trust me, if I wasnt nervous on my walk down the hill, as soon as the announcer cranks on the song my stomach goes into knots. Im on the Pavilion, the fans are loud, excited and educated and Im there with the absolute best of the best in my events.
Im at the Masters and I realize there is no other tournament that creates this type of atmosphere. And there's no other tournament in the world Id rather win.
Rhoni Barton Bischoff is a two-time Masters Overall Champion, five-time U.S. Open Overall Champion, two-time Pan Am Games gold medalist, and a former world record holder. This year's competition will be her 15th Masters.
Correct Craft is the longtime lead sponsor of the Masters, and Trailer Boats is the event's official magazine. Correct Craft builds the popular Ski Nautique and Air Nautique lines, which are the only tow boats used in the Masters. Other sponsors include: Callaway Gardens; Pleasure Craft Marine engines; Ashland; Clarion; Polk Audio; Acme Propellers; HO Sports; Overton's; Speedo; and Perfect Pass speed control. For additional information about the 2007 Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament, visit masterswaterski.com or call 888/806-2783
Located 80 miles north of Callaway Gardens, Georgias capital of Atlanta is well worth a visit. Big city highlights of a May visit might include: an early-season Braves game at beautiful Turner Field; Centennial Olympic Park; the Georgia Dome; CNN Studios tours; the great Georgia Aquarium; Underground Atlanta; Six Flags Over Georgia; Six Flags White Water Atlanta; nearby Stone Mountain Park; or maybe even more boating fun 40 miles north of Atlanta at 14,000-acre Lake Lanier Islands. For more information about the Atlanta area, visit www.atlanta.net or call (800) ATLANTA.
Peach State Boating
The Peach State offers a wealth of boating opportunities before or after the Masters, including numerous public ramps to get you on the water quickly ; for information, log onto goboatgeorgia.com.
Located 20 miles from Callaway Gardens, Lake Harding (lakeharding.com) provides the perfectly peachy introduction. On the Georgia/Alabama border, the 5,850-acre lake is a haven for skiers and boarders. Its actually part of a 13-mile section of the Chattahoochee River, and offers more than 150 miles of shoreline. Services are readily available, including launch ramps, marinas, accommodations, dining, and more.
Also fewer than 30 miles from Callaway Gardens, West Point Lake (lagrangechamber.com) is a 26,000-acre lake with more than 500 miles of shoreline. The popular lake has boater-friendly accommodations, dining, several public ramps, and full services at two marinas (the largest is the bustling Highland Marina Resort--visit highlandmarinaresort.com).