Now it IS the village.
Twenty-five years ago last Tuesday the Augusta National was bursting at the seams with over 80,000 golf fans. Back then anyone could just walk up, buy a ticket and magically find themselves on the CBS set.
Bars pretty much anywhere in Augusta were looking forward to being packed, regardless of where they were located or what they offered. From high end to low, everyone in Augusta, it seemed, was making money.
As is still the case today, the city would begin to come alive a couple of weeks prior to the tournament, as personnel from all over the world would begin to reconnect the infrastructure supporting the annual event.
In addition to the technical crews in town, there was the annual influx of secondary market professionals (read scalpers) in beat up Mazdas and sun faded visors. They would begin posting up at bars, looking for opportunity, whatever that may be.
Masters week the neighborhoods surrounding the golf course were completely packed with visitors and their cars filling up pocketbooks and yards. The volume of people thrilled to be in our city created an electricity and sense of pride that was palpable.
These are remembered fondly as “The Good Old Days” for local business owners, and by the fellows at the Augusta National Golf Club, an abomination.
That Tuesday 25 years ago turned out to be a major turning point for the way the Masters Golf Tournament operated, beginning a methodical, well executed plan to bring the focus back to the event itself.
They wanted the circus to leave town.
The stampede of 1994 resulted in major changes for following year. Golf fans were no longer able to walk up and purchase a ticket for the practice rounds. The ANGC created a lottery system that distributed a total of 50,000 tickets for the three days leading up to the tournament.
Yet visitors still flocked to town expecting, and mostly finding, a way in.
As patrons left the course at the end of their trek through the towering pines and exploding azaleas, they would usually hand over their badges to fans hoping to get in, happily paying it forward at the expense of a great keepsake.
Even that practice was too much for the National.
In 2012, Canadians Dave Rawlings and his wife Dianne were leaving the course on the Tuesday of practice rounds when a plain clothed officer with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department approached them.
“We were walking out and this guy came over and asked if we were finished with the tickets,” Rawlings was quoted by the Metro Spirit as saying. We were going to give them to him for nothing, but he gave us $50 because he didn’t feel right taking the tickets for nothing.”
That’s when the plain clothed officer showed his badge and asked them to come with him. “He took us up to a building on the side and made out all the citations and then we got driven down to the jail.” Rawlings said. They were arrested at Augusta National at 1:15 and ultimately got out of jail at 7:30.
The message was very clear, and a sign of what was to come. The secondary ticket market was in the cross hairs of the ANGC.
This year each ticket or badge was allowed a maximum of two gate entries per day, down from three entries in 2017 and 2018.
In 2013 Rolling Thunder descended on Augusta like a hammer. Officers from around the state set up DUI checkpoints on twenty two nights over a three month span. Roadblocks on Washington Road, Riverwatch Parkway, Wrightsboro Road-from the Hill to the ‘Hood. Hundreds of flashing emergency lights, drug sniffing dogs circling cars and paddy wagons idling on the roadside.
Many business owners feel it forever altered peoples patterns and behaviors, having a huge negative impact in the F&B industry in Augusta. It seemed to mark the end of an era.
Augusta National re-routed Berkman’s Road, the final piece of the parking puzzle. The move allowed the ANGC to create a vast parking lot capable of handling a majority of Master’s visitors. Where once the guests in town for the tournament parked in the neighborhoods surrounding the course. Homeowners were able to make thousands of dollars each parking cars in their yards, and it was those visitors buzzing through our neighborhoods that created such an electricity. That connection is all but lost today.
Nowadays long-standing Masters week festivals are struggling to attract paying customers. Bars and restaurants still see a spike in business, just as long as they are in the right spot.
Insiders say Big Money has little faith in the ability of the local market being able to create an event befitting the Masters Golf Tournament experience. It makes sense as well. After all, Augusta is essentially a big small town, albeit a striving one, and simply can’t maintain the infrastructure of talent it would take to put on a proper week long party spread across the region welcoming golf’s choicest party.
A sputtering line up of altering events and locations, late announcements and high ticket prices does not instill confidence in the host’s city’s ability to take care of the fun stuff. No wonder so many out of town interests have taken over a large chunk of the Master’s week hospitality business from the locals.
So, corporations are building their own mini compounds all over town and leaving fewer and fewer golf patrons venturing out to explore Augusta.
We’ll always have the Masters Golf Tournament. Magnolia Lane will always be 20 feet from Washington Road. Now if we, as a community, want to keep a seat at the table, so to speak, in what visitors are exposed to Masters week a more refined approach and strategy may be in order, or we may end up losing to outside interests altogether.