The Masters Ticket

There may not be a more revered ticket in sports. I take that back; there is not a more revered ticket in all of sports. They are passed on through wills, bickered over during divorce proceedings, and the prized possession of any scalper working the Washington Road sidewalk.  

This announcement comes directly from the official Masters web site:                  

Tournament or “Series” Badges (Thursday through Sunday) have been sold to those on our patron list which was closed due to demand in 1972. A waiting list began in 1972, and was closed in 1978. It reopened in 2000, and it too is now closed. No applications for “Series” Badges are currently being accepted.

Face value they are not very expensive. I paid $128 apiece for two tickets when I worked for Raymond back in 1999 or 2000, I’m sure the tickets are a bit more these days. Each player is given a few for family and allowed to buy extras. Raymond said, “Go to the tournament office, tell them you’re my caddy and you want two tickets.”

I was reluctant but he insisted so I strolled into the office while Raymond was hitting balls, white caddy coveralls all aglow, and wrote out a check. While I was standing there talking with the tournament receptionist one of the “Green Jackets” walked past. He cast a wary eye my direction, but I didn’t think much of it; Raymond told me it was okay. I scurried back to the practice tee clutching the weekly patron badges.

The next day on the range Raymond said, “You got me in big trouble yesterday. They (Augusta committee members) cornered me in the clubhouse and told me caddies weren’t allowed to buy tickets.”

I pleaded my case; he acted really pissed, but later gave me that wink which indicated all was okay and I should forget about it. He had me going. I’m still not sure if he was pulling my leg or what, that’s what a stir these tickets can create. Nothing was said the rest of the week so I guess it was okay.

My early years they were normal paper or plastic badges, easily scalped or sold; now they are artistic holograms traceable back to the owner and scanned as each patron (not spectator) passes through the gate. Scalpers were rampant back then and are still prevalent just a bit more discreet these days. Caddies used to hawk their badges after missing the cut, and many times would make more money from the transaction than making the cut and receiving a percentage check.

“Scruff” used his same badge year after year before the hologram system. He wouldn’t be working but he’d be there outside the ropes, sipping cocktails with southern belles sporting his badge from five years ago. He said that Masters badge would get him backstage to concerts also.

In 1990 Bruce Edwards was working for Greg Norman and Watson was using different veteran caddies. Smiley was on the bag, and planning to work for Tom at Augusta, but was tragically shot and wounded during the Doral Open. Another veteran caddy (I’m not going to mention names) filled in, but was caught selling Masters Tickets to an undercover cop. He was fined, relieved of his caddy duties and Tom still finished top ten.                               

It’s a tougher ticket than my Packers. Walking out the back gate behind five green a large man with a quiet voice whispered as he walked by me, “$2,500 for your tickets.”

I spun around, “for both?”

“Naw, apiece,” he said.

Standing in the middle of the street I stared at him for awhile then shook my head no. My confrontation with Raymond earlier, handcuffs dancing in my head, and the thought of never returning to Augusta outweighed the $5,000, but not by much. What a dilemma for a struggling caddy. That was 2000 I think I may have to take the money and run this year.

If you really want a ticket, and are connected in the golf business or corporate world, it’s possible if you start laying the groundwork early. My buddies in Hilton Head, the volunteers I met over the years, players, and caddies all have their legal means for tickets. In 1994 a good friend, Chuck Anger, was turning 40 and his wife wanted to surprise him.

She called me, “I want to surprise Chuck with the best golfing trip of his life. Got any ideas?”

“How about a week at Hilton Head and maybe a Masters practice round; you get him to Hilton Head and I’ll take care of the rest,” I hope. That was the summer of 1993 and I still didn’t have the tickets in hand until the night before we left Hilton head for Augusta. Chuck kept asking where we were playing on Tuesday and I kept telling him we were playing some track about three hours north of Hilton Head.

My buddies, David and Tom Reilly, came through with the tickets and Chuck’s fortieth was almost a religious experience. The drive was quiet, we were recuperating from the night before, and we when we pulled into Augusta, Chuck asked, “We’re not are we?”

“Yes we are,” I said, and pulled right up to the main entrance. We got a hundred feet down Magnolia Lane before the cops turned us around, but Chuck was oblivious to the security issue. It’s amazing what one little ticket can do to a person. Chuck had transformed his golf game from hacker, who no one wanted to play with, to single digits in two years; he was an avid golf fan. Now he was in the hallowed grounds. Chuck didn’t say much that day; he walked around wide-eyed with his mouth open; that ticket had him under a spell.

I do remember him mumbling, as we were walking down the tenth fairway, “I think I’m going to have an erection all day, this is better than sex.” He was in that trance many people try to describe when they make their first trip to Augusta. Someone needs to do a book about first trips to the Masters.

Each year I went to the Masters I’d find another nook to explore. Scotty Watts, an old caddy buddy, told me about a discreet volunteer gathering every evening in the parking lot behind two green. There were doctors, engineers, postal clerks, and construction workers from all over the country; they had been volunteering many years for a ticket or two. Each one of them said they became volunteers when they realized getting inside the Augusta gates wasn’t possible. They put in long hours every day, and night, chaperoning the most well behaved fans in golf, just for a ticket.

We shared stories, beers, and appetizers after each round, and when I mentioned I might have a couple of extra tickets for the weekend all the cell phones came out; they were calling their friends and relatives. An old college football player from Birmingham won the lottery; it would be his first trip to Augusta. His brother Steve, one of the volunteers, asked me what I wanted for the tickets.

“A bottle of wine or something would be fine,” I said.

His brother showed up with a shopping cart full of liquor, gave me a bear hug and a kiss that put me in traction, and we had a hell of a party. Those tickets make people do strange things. For the next few years when I showed up in Birmingham, I couldn’t pay for dinner, and they said they could never repay me. The old boy was almost in tears when he told me about his first walk through Amen Corner that was payment enough.

The Augusta National committee gives free tickets to juniors every year. A patron badge owner can bring one child, ages 8 to 16, to each tournament round. They don’t have to be related and the child must stay with the badge owner at all times. It is strictly enforced but what an experience for a teenager.

Strictly enforced is an understatement. When a patron dons the weekly badge there is no more running outside the ropes, “you da man” has never been heard at Augusta, and the spectators gather outside the ropes in an orderly manner. All because of the power of that Augusta patrons badge. Any minor infraction may revoke your privileges and the committee might seize your ticket.

A couple of Fred Funk fans, Chris and Cheryl Williams were attending their first Masters in the early 90’s. Both were seasoned PGA tour spectators but were chastised by a gallery control volunteer. Chris was running outside the ropes and the volunteer calmly walked up and told him, “Sir, we’ll have to ask you to leave if you don’t desist with your disruptive behavior.”

Chris thought he was joking; the man was very serious. Augusta patrons are the most well behaved spectators in golf, and it’s all because of the fear of losing that precious ticket. When the gates open each morning there is an orderly rush to claim spots along fairways, tee boxes, and greens. The mass fans out over the course, deposits their chairs along the gallery ropes for later seating, then moves on to watch golf for the next 5-6 hours. When they return to their seats nothing will be disturbed and they will quietly watch the leaders pass through, collect their belongings, and walk to the next vantage point.

No running, shoving, yelling, stealing someone’s spot, or inappropriate signs are tolerated at the Masters, there is a tremendous honor among fans, respectfully watching the greatest golfers in the world, golfing their ball on one of the finest courses in the world

When you take possession of that patrons badge you accept a ton of responsibility. You immediately become one of the most responsible and knowledgeable fans in golf. It’s a true honor to enter the gates and 99.9% of the fans attending the Masters recognize the spell cast over them by that ticket to the best tournament in golf.

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