It was the Saturday before the 2013 Masters and Bob Barnes was racing around his house along Valleyvue Court trying to get everything ready for his soon-to-be-arriving guests.
As the owner of the company EventsXL, Barnes has been offering his clients Masters packages for almost a decade that include everything from finding them accommodations to providing them highly coveted Masters badges.
About two years ago, he purchased a hospitality house on Valleyvue Court that is within walking distance from Gate 9 at the Augusta National to better serve his clients.
Less than 500 yards from Barnes’ home is StubHub’s hospitality clubhouse called The 19th Hole along Heath Drive.
That’s where Barnes met a local man named Troy Goebelt, who is often referred to as “the ticket guy.”
“I remember Troy told me, ‘You know, I get badges. I would love to work with somebody like you,’” Barnes recalled. “I thought about it and I liked that Troy was a fixture down here.”
Barnes, 59, lives in Cumming, Ga., and he started EventsXL after working for the Jacksonville Jaguars and marketing the Super Bowl when it came to Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005.
He figured having a local “ticket guy” with Augusta connections could only enhance his business.
“It was kind of like working with a brick-and-mortar company,” he said. “You know they are going to be there, so I thought that was a good thing.”
For a few years, Barnes purchased a handful of badges from Goebelt. Then, in 2013, Barnes decided the two had established a good business relationship and he signed two contracts with Goebelt. The contracts called for the delivery of 24 badges by Goebelt in exchange for $65,000.
“One contract was for 12 badges and another one was for an additional 12 badges,” Barnes said, adding that he provided Goebelt with an initial payment of $21,000 within two weeks of the contracts being signed in the summer of 2012. “And we were on our way.”
On March 22, 2013, Barnes said he traveled to Augusta to make his second payment of $22,000 to Goebelt. He met Goebelt at 371 Heath Drive, the home that is rented each year by StubHub for its hospitality clubhouse.
StubHub is the world’s largest ticket marketplace which allows fans to buy and sell tickets to thousands of sports, concert, theater and other live entertainment events.
“I physically came down here to make the next payment at what I call the StubHub house, but it is really just the house they rent during Masters,” Barnes said, explaining that Goebelt told him that he had a contract with StubHub to construct and help manage the hospitality venue each year. “And I had cash with me. A lot of cash. But Troy said, ‘No. You know what? Hold onto it. I will have the badges in a little bit and we will just settle up at that time.’”
Since Masters was only a few weeks away, Barnes agreed and returned home.
“My lawyer tells me that was the one mistake that I made,” Barnes said, shaking his head. “It was a big mistake.”
When Barnes returned to the Garden City the week before Masters, he was scheduled to pick up the 24 badges and make his full payment to Goebelt on April 6, 2013.
So, on that Saturday, Barnes headed out of his house on Valleyvue Court, jumped into his golf cart with his dog by his side and drove down the street to meet Goebelt at StubHub’s The 19th Hole.
“I went to the house and, by then, it’s all pretty secure as they are preparing for Masters Week, so one of the employees said, ‘Let me get Troy for you,’” Barnes said. “I remember Troy comes out in the front yard and I’m standing there with my dog and I said, ‘This is going to be fun, Troy.’
“And Troy looks at me and says, ‘Well, I don’t have anything for you. I had some bad luck and people didn’t deliver.’”
Barnes recalls hearing the words coming out of Goebelt’s mouth, but he didn’t understand what he was being told.
“I just said, ‘Troy, I’m confused. If some people didn’t deliver, I know that can happen, but nobody goes zero for 24. Why don’t you give me what you have?’” Barnes said. “Troy just looked at me and said, ‘I have no badges.’”
Immediately, Barnes’ mind began to race.
“I remember that I’m standing there in the front yard, somewhat in shock. It didn’t click to me that when he said, ‘I don’t have anything for you,’ that he had nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Barnes said. “So, I said, ‘Well, financially, what do you have for us to solve this issue, Troy?’”
Barnes said Goebelt simply told him that he would return his initial deposit of $21,000 by the following week.
The reality of the situation began to slowly sink in, Barnes said.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘Troy, so you are telling me you have nothing to invest in solving this issue?’” Barnes asked. “And I just remember he plainly said, ‘I got nothing.’”
The word “nothing” hit Barnes like a Mack truck.
“At that point, I can’t even describe what went through my mind,” Barnes said. “Another side of me was ready to take action. I remember telling him, ‘Troy, I just don’t know what to say.’”
In complete shock, Barnes said he was dumbfounded by Goebelt’s next offer.
“He said to me, ‘I will tell you what I’ll do. I will go with you to your clients,’” Barnes said. “And I said, ‘Go with me? What for? We have nothing to give them.’
“And he goes, ‘Yeah, but I’ll tell them that you don’t have the badges because I didn’t deliver them to you. I will do that for you.’”
At that point, Barnes said he didn’t know whether to laugh at Goebelt’s offer or slap him silly.
“I said, ‘Troy, I will not let you go with me to my clients. And I’m not going to my clients,’” Barnes said. “And I remember he had a weird look on his face and said, ‘What do you mean you are not going? If you don’t have anything, you have got to tell them.’
“And I said, ‘The only thing I have to tell them is, “Here are your badges.” If you have a contract with me, I deliver your badges. And, Troy, that is what you should be saying to me.’”
With that, Goebelt simply walked away, Barnes said.
“It was so shocking, I just let him walk away,” Barnes said. “I sat down in my golf cart and my head was spinning.”
As traumatic as his encounter with Goebelt was that day, Barnes immediately realized he didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity.
He needed to find 24 Masters badges as soon as humanly possible.
Barnes decided he had no choice but to contact one of his biggest customers, with whom he had a past professional relationship, and tell him that he currently did not have the 14 badges he was promised.
“I called him and said, ‘I want to tell you upfront, don’t worry, it is going to work out, but, right now, I don’t have your 14 badges,’” Barnes said. “And he was very calm about it and he said, ‘What can I do to help?’ And I said, ‘Well, you have got sources in the industry, if any of your sources have badges for me to buy for you, let me know.’”
As Barnes frantically began working the phone trying to score some Master badges, his customer called back within the hour.
“He said, ‘I hate to even mention this price, but I have a guy who will sell you 10 badges for $9,000 each,’” Barnes said, adding that his jaw dropped to the floor. “Here it was, the Saturday before Masters. I don’t have a lot of time. With my contract with Troy, I expected to pay about $2,800 per badge and sell them for $3,600. Now, I’m spending $9,000 for each badge.”
While Barnes thought he could probably get the badges for a cheaper price, he didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Here is a customer who is trying to help and is probably worried himself, so I decided, ‘You know what? I need 24 tickets. I have got to put a dent into that. If I can get 10 out of the way, I’m going to do it,’” Barnes said. “So, I told him, ‘Sold.’”
The news got a bit worse when his customer said the person selling the 10 badges insisted on a cash-only payment.
“So, here I have to come up with $90,000 in cash,” Barnes said. “That’s the most cash I ever had in my backpack. But I got it all in my backpack and, a day later or so, we met at Bank of America and we looked at all this cash on the table. The funny thing was that we were both laughing about it, asking, ‘Do we count it?’”
At that point, it was either laugh or cry about the entire situation, Barnes said.
“I told the guy, ‘Hey, I’m dying here. If you think we need to count all the piles, we can count them. Or, pick any one pile and count that pile and if that makes you feel good about the other ones, that’s great.’
“He just said, ‘No. I’m not going to count them. It’s all there.’”
The other scary aspect of that deal was Barnes was not given the badges directly. Instead, after he paid the $90,000, the seller was scheduled to deliver the badges directly to Barnes’ customer.
“So I am handing somebody $90,000 in cash praying that this guy delivers the badges,” Barnes said, chuckling. “That is a hard stack of cash to put into somebody’s hands. But, within an hour, my customer called me back and said, ‘I got the badges. I can’t believe how you are handling this, you got to be dying.’ I said, ‘I am, but you’ve got the badges, they’ve got the cash and I need to get you four more.’”
Barnes had to use his personal money to get the 24 badges he needed for Masters 2013. The total price to replace the 24 badges was $192,400.
“I had to deplete accounts and do a lot of that stuff just to make it work,” Barnes said. “But there wasn’t ever a thought in my head that I would not deliver to those clients. I mean, my God, you choose to be in a business and you sign a contract to do something, you do it. Simple as that.”
As the frenzy over Masters badges continues to grow with each passing year, there is an increasing number of these scandals that are rocking the ticket brokering business. When people are willing to pay whatever it takes for a badge, ripples are felt throughout the industry.
Earlier this year, Rick Owings, member of Best Golf Experiences, LLC, sent his clients a letter with earth-shattering news.
“It is with the deepest regret that I must inform each of you as quickly as possible of a catastrophic situation affecting both Best Golf Experiences, LLC and myself, and in turn having a serious impact to each of you,” the Feb. 21 letter from Owings stated. “I have been victimized by fraud by the owner of the prior company.”
Best Golf Experiences, LLC was apparently out of money and officially “out of business” in February and Owings was notifying his clients that they needed to make “alternative arrangements” for the 2014 Masters tournament.
Owings insisted that the individual responsible for the fraudulent behavior was the previous owner of Best Golf Experiences, LLC.
“I intend to pursue all legal remedies available to me for the losses I have sustained pursuant to the owner of the prior company as he is the cause of this all now taking place as direct result of fraud,” Owings wrote. “We relied on the owner of the prior company to our collective detriment; if he had fully disclosed these material facts, none of these losses would have ever occurred.”
Richmond County Sheriff’s Lt. Lewis Blanchard, who also happens to be the president of Executive Marketing Services which provides clients with lodging and tickets to sporting events, said such fraud has become “almost a normal occurrence every two or three years” for companies such as Best Golf Experiences, LLC.
In fact, just last year a Canadian entertainment events company filed a federal lawsuit against a local firm, Mullins Management, claiming that it violated a 2013 contract to provide 100 Masters tickets to the Ontario-based company.
The Canadian company was seeking at least $1.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages, according to its 2013 lawsuit.
Blanchard said the best way individuals can protect themselves against fraud — not only when seeking Masters tickets, but tickets to any other sporting event — is to make sure a ticket brokering business is licensed and bonded.
But 2013 was a frenzied year for those purchasing Masters badges.
Many folks who waited until the last minute were forced to pay upwards of $7,000 per badge last year. The truth of the matter is pricing for tickets and badges is generally determined by influences in the marketplace, such as the state of the economy, security situations across the nation, the popularity of golf and even the popularity of specific golfers.
A recession, a war, the success of golfers Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson and even the weather can all have an impact on pricing for that year’s tournament.
The challenge is predicting when the influences might hit and disrupt the market.
It is also imperative that buyers thoroughly check out who they are purchasing their tickets or badges from, Barnes said.
“I’ve never been cheated or taken advantage of to that extent,” Barnes said. “There are sometimes that I continue to feel stupid. When you get taken, no matter what the circumstances are, you feel like an idiot.”
Those feelings force you to take a hard look at your own actions, Barnes said.
“You begin asking yourself what you could have done to prevent it,” he said. “Did I check Troy out well enough? The answer is no. I felt like I knew him. I had worked with him in the past and had no problems. I got too comfortable with him.”
It was a costly mistake.
While Barnes had expected to pay $65,000 for 24 badges with Goebelt, he ended up paying $192,400 to make sure each of his clients were covered.
In total, Barnes suffered a loss of $127,400.
“When people don’t deliver, it totally disrupts the buy and the sell,” Barnes said. “I don’t like letting the bad guys run things out there. I hate that. Because, if nobody does anything, they are out there doing it again next year and the next year and the next year. People shouldn’t be allowed to walk away from these things.”
A few weeks after the 2013 Masters tournament, Barnes hired Atlanta attorney Bryan Brunson and they filed a lawsuit in May 2013 against Goebelt claiming a breach of contract and seeking at least $127,400 in damages.
Brunson also stated in his complaint that Barnes should be entitled to interest on the principal sum of $127,400 at a rate of 7 percent dating back to April 13, 2013, and Goebelt should be held responsible for the attorney’s fees.
In a response filed by his attorney, Jim Trotter of Augusta, Goebelt denied any breach of contract or any fraudulent behavior on his part. In fact, Trotter stated that Barnes’ claims against Goebelt should be dismissed because Barnes failed to provide his client with the second deposit for the badges.
Trotter is referring to Barnes’ trip to Augusta on March 22, 2013. Barnes claims he traveled to Augusta to make his second payment of $22,000 to Goebelt at StubHub’s hospitality clubhouse, but Goebelt told him to “hold onto it” until he had the badges and they would “settle up” then.
Barnes is the first to admit that when he went to the StubHob hospitality house and Goebelt refused to take the money, that should have been a red flag.
“It should have been, but it wasn’t,” Barnes said. “I had already paid the other amounts with him and we were sitting in the back yard, talking like friends. But, yes, he claimed that I didn’t make the second payment.”
However, Barnes was smart enough to make sure he had a paper trail proving, at least in his mind, that he attempted to make the second payment.
“I had people who saw me go into the house. They can verify I had the money,” Barnes said. “I have hotel receipts. I have phone records saying, ‘Yeah, I will be there in 10 minutes.’ I have bank receipts where I took the money out to have the money for him. I’m pretty good about that stuff. Of course, sometimes I wonder if I am really smart about human behavior.”
Barnes’ lawsuit went before Richmond County Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet and Brunson filed a motion to “compel discovery” in October 2013. Brunson was seeking to require Goebelt to provide detailed information about his ticket business including the identity of the people in which Goebelt purchased the badges, the number of the badges, the purchase price of the badges and his relationship to StubHub.
“Troy’s attorney came back and said, ‘No. no. no,’” Barnes said. “It didn’t surprise us that Troy didn’t want to disclose his relationship with StubHub and what he might have done and what he might not have done with StubHub.”
At that point, Brunson suggested that he have a conversation with Goebelt’s attorney to reiterate that Barnes had no intentions of backing down from the situation.
“During that conversation, my lawyer may have suggested, ‘Hey, if your client is open to other discussions on how to make this happen, we don’t need to bog down the courts,’” Barnes said.
That is when the two attorneys began discussing a possible settlement involving future Masters badges.
“We went back and forth,” Barnes said. “I think I originally said, ‘I had a contract for 24 badges, I want 24 badges,’” Barnes said. “And he said, ‘No.’ Then, he came back with, ‘I will give you eight.’”
Goebelt agreed to produce eight Masters badges for the 2014 Masters tournament and eight more for the 2015 tournament.
“I figured that was probably the best I was going to do,” Barnes said. “It took me a month to settle my wife down because she just couldn’t quite understand why I was settling. She kept saying, ‘Why would you settle? You didn’t do anything wrong.’
“But the reality is, if he doesn’t have money, we may be chasing him forever and ever. A judgment is a victory, but it might be a very shallow victory.”
Barnes and Goebelt both agreed to the settlement on Dec. 17, 2013. The first four badges for the 2014 Masters tournament were scheduled to be delivered by Monday, March 24.
The documents were signed and the deal was done.
Or, so Barnes thought.
“Maybe naively again, both Bryan (Brunson) and I thought it was going to work out,” Barnes said. “I mean, it was eight badges this year. Come on. Troy knows people. He can have eight badges. And he knows he can save a lot of money by just making this right.”
As the March 24 deadline approached for the first badges to be delivered, Barnes sent an e-mail to Goebelt asking him to meet that day at the Bank of America on Wheeler Road at 11 a.m.
Barnes received no response.
By Tuesday, March 18, Barnes sent another e-mail asking Goebelt to confirm the meeting time and place.
“If you need an alternate time, we can meet at 3 p.m. at the same location,” Barnes wrote.
Still no response.
On Friday, March 21, Barnes is clearly getting worried.
He sent Goebelt a final e-mail stating, “Although concerned with the lack of response from you, I will assume you will meet me on Monday, March 24, at 11 a.m., at the Bank of America on Wheeler Road, for the ticket/badge delivery. I will make the trip to Augusta, trusting that you will honor our contractual agreement.”
But Barnes put his trust in the wrong man, again.
“I was probably about 30 minutes outside of Augusta, I think I was passing exit 172, and bingo, I got an e-mail from Troy’s attorney,” Barnes said.
Jim Trotter wrote the following in an e-mail dated March 24, 2014, that was sent at 9:56 a.m.: “Mr. Goebelt just informed me that he is not going to be able to deliver these tickets today, or any others described in the settlement agreement.”
Barnes couldn’t believe it.
“I just thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Barnes said, adding that his attorney quickly called him to make sure he was all right. “Bryan (Brunson) is immediately on the phone saying, ‘Bob, hey, don’t do anything rash.’ I just told him, “I’m okay, Bryan. We are just going to have to work on this.’”
Fortunately for Barnes, he made sure to plan this year’s Masters tournament as if he wouldn’t get a single badge from Goebelt.
“I was running my business this year as if they would never be there,” Barnes said. “Knowing that if I got them on March 24, I would market them. But I’m very stingy about who I will sell a badge to. It’s not the first guy who walks by. I have a high regard for the people who have these badges every year and I don’t want to have somebody use a badge who misbehaves. It doesn’t take much to misbehave at Augusta National, and the badge is gone for that person for the rest of their life. I understand that.”
As for Goebelt, the Metro Spirit attempted to discuss the allegations against him and his decision not to comply with the arranged settlement.
A Metro Spirit reporter approached Goebelt at the StubHub’s hospitality clubhouse two weeks ago, prior to this year’s Masters tournament, but Goebelt did not want to discuss the matter.
“I’ve got no comment,” Goebelt stated, as he walked towards the back of the property to continue his work on the clubhouse. “It is still in legal proceedings.”
When the Metro Spirit contacted Goebelt’s attorney, Jim Trotter, the reporter received a similar response.
“I’m not going to be able to comment on any of that,” Trotter said by phone. “Troy is out of that business. He is not doing it anymore. And I’m not going to able to give you any comments on any of that. That is ongoing litigation. I wish I could tell you Mr. Goebelt’s side, but I can’t.”
The Metro Spirit also contacted StubHub’s media relations department last week seeking a comment on the litigation against Goebelt and clarification on his relationship with the company. StubHub did not respond to the Metro Spirit’s request for a comment.
Now that the 2014 Masters is over, Barnes said his attorney plans to go back before the judge regarding his lawsuit against Goebelt.
“The judge actually already told us if he doesn’t deliver the badges, none of this has to go away,” Barnes said. “So I will continue this fight. There is nothing hidden in what I’m doing. I’m trying to salvage some portion of $127,400. And to be honest, I was going to let Troy off the hook with the settlement. If you figure in two years, those badges were worth $5,000 each. That is $80,000 I would have gotten. So, Troy had a good deal.”
But that deal is off the table.
“I think the bad guys keep saying, “Avoid it. Avoid it. Avoid it. And it will go away,’” Barnes said, shaking his head. “In fact, a lot of stuff does go away. It wears people down. Well, I’m old, but I’m not that old. I’ll hang in there. Because, if I give up on this, I can’t even look at my wife.”
It has been a very difficult year in the Barnes household, but his family and friends are proud that he honored his commitment to his clients and that he is trying to peacefully resolve the matter.
“But I will tell you, to my deathbed, I will be thinking about the guy who screwed me over,” Barnes said. “It hurts. Friends tell me all the time, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong. You did a lot right.’ So what? I got taken. I should be smarter than that.”