The greatest perk, without a doubt, about playing hockey in Augusta, Georgia was being able to attend golf’s greatest annual tournament, the Masters. When I was playing hockey in Augusta, in the ECHL, we lived in a gated housing complex on Berckmans Rd. that backed onto Augusta National Golf Course right behind the trees looming over Amen’s Corner. We lived in the best spot in the city. The thing a lot of people don’t know about Augusta National is that it is closed to the public and only has 75 members world-wide. It took Bill Gates ten years on a waiting list before they would let him become a member of the prestigious course. The course is only open for members to play four months out of the year. The rest of the time, teams of groundskeepers meticulously comb the course, fixing every imperfection so that come Masters Week, the course sparkles.
My first season in Augusta, I had no idea what to expect when it came to Masters Week. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that I was going to get a shot to see a round. During Masters Week, the entire city of Augusta transforms and adapts to host the prestigious event. Hooters restaurant transforms its parking lot into a circus event and flies in the best looking “Hooter Girls” from all over the country. All the hotels in a hundred mile radius are booked solid a year in advance and half the streets are blocked off for special events.
John Daly, who wasn’t even in the Masters field that year, even had his million dollar RV parked out back of the Hooters. One of our Augusta Lynx booster club members, who lets Big John shack up at his place every year at Masters Week, had us come down one day and enjoy a few pops with Daly at Hooters. It was such a zoo with people coming up to him for autographs that we didn’t stay for very long. I remember thinking, if I were John Daly I would rather be having a drink in a hole in the wall somewhere with some privacy rather than being mauled like that.
As we were leaving the Hooters I can remember looking at the pictures on the wall of all the celebrities that had passed through over the years. I saw one particular picture of Tiger Woods, surrounded by six buxom beauties. I nudged my buddy beside me and said, “I bet ol’ Tiger there has a bit of a wild side. I bet he likes to cut loose with the ladies a bit, eh.” This was back in 2008 when he was still nerdy and squeaky clean, well before the skeletons started pouring out of the closet.
Tickets are a wild subject all unto itself when it comes to Masters Week. You see, you can’t just simply go online and buy tickets to the Masters like you can for other events. Masters tickets are dispersed through members, corporate partners and are donated to charities and various causes. Through these channels, tickets become available for auction or sale and the prices of these tickets become astronomical. The Masters isn’t like other golf tournaments. The amount of people on the course at any given time is small compared to other major golf events.
The tickets at the Masters are also only good for each particular day, for the most part. It isn’t uncommon to be walking along Washington Road in Augusta and see a man selling Tuesday practice round day passes for $1000 a pop. People come in for the week from all over the world and won’t even blink an eye as they rip out their wallets and shell out thousands of dollars for tickets. It is really quite an amazing thing to see.
The road that runs along the side of Augusta National, Berckmans Road, has been a topic of much debate over the last decade or so. Augusta National has been buying up the properties along the road for the purpose of closing the road altogether and developing the land for parking and extra par-3 course holes. The problem is, there are a few homeowners on Berckmans who have been there for years and years and aren’t willing to sell. I spoke to one gentleman who owned a two-bedroom bungalow who said he was offered $5 million to sell his house. Two years before that the offer was $3 million. He said he was going to hold out until it reached $10 million, sell it and retire.
Another big seller during Masters Week in Augusta is an opportunity to rent a nearby house for the week. Out-of-town big wigs will sometimes pay up to $35,000 to rent a nearby house for the week. One of the stipulations that was clearly written in our contracts when I played in Augusta was that we were strictly prohibited from subletting our houses for Masters Week. Back in July when I signed my contract I thought that was a ridiculous stipulation, but come April, I was wishing that wasn’t a clause. I would have slept in my car for a week to rake in $35,000.
When it came to tickets, I really lucked out. I was able to come across two tickets for the practice round on Monday for free. Two players naively paid $300 per ticket for the same passes, even though several of the veterans on the team kept saying to hold off. What the vets were hinting at was the fact that we had practice at 9 a.m. every morning and wouldn’t be able to head to the course until about noon. All the older folks would head in at 6 a.m. to watch Tiger and Phil Mickelson get their rounds in and then head home at noon after putting in a six hour shift in the sun. Since the tickets were only good for each day and they weren’t coming back, we simply waited until they came out and politely asked if we could use their pass. Some would decline but most were quite happy to oblige.
One piece of information that the vets enjoyed holding back on day 1 was the fact that beers were only $2 on the grounds. Here we were, slugging back pint after pint before we headed in so that we wouldn’t be shelling out for $10 beers like at every other sporting event. The beers came in a nice commemorative keeper cup. Top shelf turkey sandwiches on ciabata buns were only $1.50. Augusta National has so much money that they don’t need special ad contracts. They have such a large endowment that they take Masters Week and treat their guests.