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Masters 2013, Here We Come

Augusta’s 12th hole

Augusta National Golf Club is in the news this week because of its announcement Monday that it has admitted its first female members. (I just wrote about the announcement, expressing my disgust regarding one of the two new members.) But that’s not the only news.

The club runs The Masters, one of men’s golf’s four major tournaments, and for many players and observers, the best. I have had the good fortune of attending the three other majors: The Open Championship (familiarly known in the US as the British Open) at St. Andrews in 1990 and Troon in 2004, the US Open at Bethpage on Long Island in 2002, and the PGA Championship here at nearby Sahalee in 1998. But I have never gone to the Masters.

There’s a reason. It’s just about the hardest US sports ticket to get hold of. Tickets for the other three majors are made publicly available, but the Masters is like season tickets for team sports: ticket holders can renew their subscriptions, receiving tickets for life. Since the club isn’t interested in making a ton of money through ticket sales, a modest number of tickets is sold compared to other golf tournaments, and ticket prices remain low. Thus, ticket turnover is low too.

Ticket holders are barred by Augusta’s rules from re-selling their tickets, but of course many do, and the resulting prices are high. Once you get on the course, food prices are low. Indeed, the food is flat out cheap. Not cheap just by the standards of a sporting event, but cheap like turning the clock back a few decades.

There used to be a waiting list for available tickets, but the club abandoned that recently. Intead, it makes a small number of tickets available by lottery. You have to set up an account, log in, give them some information, and apply separately for tickets on tournament days (Thursday through Sunday) and on practice days (Monday through Wednesday). There’s a limit, 2 tickets per day on tournament days, 4 per day on practice days. I applied for both a year ago for this year’s Masters and struck out. I applied again a few months ago for next year’s tournament, learning a month ago that I would not be getting tournament tickets.

Now for the big news: Last night, I got an email informing me that I had won the practice round lottery. I was asked to log in for details. On doing so, I learned that I’ve won 4 tickets for Tuesday, the second practice day. Only Tuesday. I need to pay by September 15 or release them.

Not exactly what I was hoping for. Imagine flying all the way to Georgia, finding a hotel, and staying just for one day. It hardly seems worth the trouble.

Then again, the Masters! I can go! I can see the 12th hole at last. And the 13th. And the 14th. All of them! The holes any golf fan has memorized from years of watching the coverage on TV. (I failed to make this point — the other three majors rotate among courses. The Masters is always in one place. Players and fans come to know the course intimately.)

What to do? I have no idea. My cousin John has told me for years that however hard it is to get tournament tickets, or however expensive, obtaining practice round tickets is a breeze. I could pay for the Tuesday tickets and count on finding Wednesday tickets, so we could attend for two days, not just one. Or wait for the year that we win the tournament ticket lottery. Or, after a few more years of failure, just pay the big bucks.

Meanwhile, here’s an article by WSJ sportswriter Jason Gay that I just found, written on the eve of last April’s Masters.

The Masters may be one of the hardest tickets in sports – daily tournament tickets are awarded by lottery, and though the price is a relatively modest $75, the reselling market can be many multiples of that (on Stubhub.com, there were Sunday tickets available for $745 each; Thursday’s were going for $590).

But once you’re inside the grounds, Augusta is weirdly inexpensive. The general rule of the modern sporting event is the “quintuple gouge” – gouge you for a seat, gouge you to park, gouge you to eat, gouge you to drink, and gouge you once more if you’re daffy and flush enough to want a souvenir. But the Masters is charmingly anti-gouge. Official parking is free, though if you want to be a cowboy and park at a private lot, there are plenty for $10. Food is astonishingly cheap – not just cheap in the sporting event context, but just cheap, cheap. The famous Pimento cheese sandwich is a buck and a half; two of them will have you napping under a shade tree. An egg salad sandwich is also $1.50. The Masters club sandwich is $2.50. For big spenders, you can go wild with a grilled chicken wrap at $3.00.

And beer? This will make you cry: $3 for domestic, $3.75 for imports.

At those prices you should have a few clams left over for a stop at the souvenir stand, where the prices are not discount den, but hardly grim. Official cotton Masters hats are $24, visors are $15; a commemorative glass is $7; you can buy a Masters carry-on bag for $99, but it comes with free shipping. Probably the most useful and travel-friendly gift is the official ball marker, which goes for $8. Last year’s Masters winner Charl Schwartzel raked in $1.44 million for his performance – good enough to purchase 180,000 ball markers, or 960,000 Pimento sandwiches.

If only today’s well-moneyed athletes played for Pimento sandwiches. Sports would be a different, cheesy place.

Some day. I don’t think I even like pimento cheese sandwiches, but I look forward to buying one.

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