Hey Augusta, why the crackdown on buying and selling Masters tickets?

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Carolyn Licht grew up in New York, where her parents, Lewis and Barbara, taught her to love golf. Some of her earliest and fondest memories were of watching the Masters on television each April. Amen Corner. The Azaleas. The Green Jacket. It was a rite of spring. It was a family tradition.

In 2012, Barbara had passed and Lewis was 88 years old, confined, due to double hip surgery, to a wheelchair. Carolyn decided there was no more time to wait. She told her father they were taking a trip together. She was bringing him to Augusta National. He was all for it. She jumped online and bought a couple of practice round tickets from a secondary ticket broker.

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A couple months later, Carolyn was pushing her father around the place, the two of them sharing the sights and the smells, the hills and the excitement. It was a father-daughter bucket list for a few days.

“I decided I wanted to see it,” Carolyn said that week in 2012. “And I wanted to see it with my dad.”

“And I,” Lewis said, sitting in his wheelchair near the 10th-hole tee box, “wanted to see it with my daughter.”

What’s most remarkable about such a scene at the Masters is that it isn’t that remarkable at all. Carolyn and Lewis Lichts are everywhere, children and parents of all ages, groups of brothers, old friends who have scattered about the world, coming together at Augusta to reunite on these sacred acres. There are wheelchairs being pushed by pride and love. Beers toasted for just being here. Beaming smiles all over the place.

Augusta National connects on a primal level. People come here, especially during the early week practice rounds, not so much to watch golf as to walk the grounds. And often it isn’t about what they see, but who they see it with.

It’s why the Masters isn’t, and never will be, just another tournament. And it is a tournament that became far more accessible to the masses with the advent of the online secondary ticket market in the early 2000s. It allowed someone such as Carolyn Licht to log on one afternoon in New York and quickly secure tickets in a safe, secure and protected manner.

And now that might be threatened.

Ticket brokers line the road leading to Augusta National selling tickets for the Masters. (Getty)
Ticket brokers line the road leading to Augusta National selling tickets for the Masters. (Getty)

According to Golf.com, Augusta National is cracking down on the secondary sales, using technology on the tickets to track what is being sold. The seller could lose their future ticket privileges. The buyer could be stuck with an instantly invalidated badge that won’t scan past the front gate. Those have always been the rules, they just appear to be rarely enforced. That may have changed.

Augusta National declined comment on the issue. If this is a path it is going down, though, then it is an awful idea.

It would be the ethos of a golf club built on exclusivity, privilege and connections rearing its old, ugly head and limiting access from the masses.

The way the Masters handles tickets is as such. A four-day badge is given to the same person annually, sort of like a season ticket in pro sports. This a prized item. Badges used to be passed down through generations, although now it is limited to a living spouse. The event has been sold out since 1972, when it was a big deal, but not nearly the international event it is today. While the list of badge holders is believed to be more geographically diverse than before, many still live in and around Augusta and the Southeast.

Single-day badges for the Monday-Wednesday practice rounds, including Wednesday’s Par 3 tournament, are handed out through a lottery. The odds of winning are only slightly better than the Powerball.

Augusta, to its credit, doesn’t hammer its patrons. Face value is $75 for a practice round and $115 for competition. Concessions area also reasonable, a couple dollars for a sandwich or a beer. It could jack everything up. It doesn’t. It’s one of the charms of the place.

Badges can be used three times in a day, so one person can watch in the morning, another midday and third in the late afternoon. It is believed that the club’s thinking is that if it is going to offer such a deal, then reselling the badges is a sign of dishonor.

A badge for the Masters is one of the most prized tickets to obtain in all of sports. (Getty Images)
A badge for the Masters is one of the most prized tickets to obtain in all of sports. (Getty Images)

It’s an understandable, but wrong-headed viewpoint.

Before the advent of StubHub, SeatGeek and others, the way to get into the Masters was mostly to know someone with a weekly badge or arrive in Augusta and try to buy one on the street, which meant risking thousands in travel costs with no idea about ticket cost or availability. If you follow Augusta National rules, you still need to know someone. Very few people do.

Here’s guessing that even fewer, if any Augusta National members, have ever used a ticket broker to get into anything. Bill Gates is a member. Warren Buffett is a member. Roger Goodell is a member. If they want to go to something, they have their assistant call and say they are showing up. What the heck is SeatGeek to these people?

To the masses, websites are an access point, a chance to secure tickets without being connected to the right people. Yes, there is a huge premium. It isn’t a giveaway. That’s how the free market works. As of this writing, on StubHub a Wednesday practice round badge is fetching $650. It’s $1,750 for Thursday’s opening round.

Still, if you have the means or want to prioritize your discretionary spending as such, it’s there to be had.

The club has never been comfortable with anyone other than itself profiting off its tournament. Seen through the prism of Carolyn and Lewis Licht, and the thousands just like them, it isn’t unseemly at all. It’s heartwarming. Without the Internet, they wouldn’t have gone.

“I wouldn’t trade that experience I had at the Masters for anything,” Carolyn said when reached on Monday. “It was one of the best and most fabulous weeks that I ever spent with my dad.”

Exactly six months ago, on Oct. 2, Lewis Licht died. Carolyn says the grieving process has been difficult but comfort comes from their times together. And that includes the crazy trip they took down here to the Georgia Pines.

Whatever she spent doesn’t matter. The memories are priceless.

“It was well worth it for me,” Carolyn said. “Everyone should be able to enjoy the Masters with their families as we did.”

If anything, this should be encouraged. Allow the market to play itself out, allow dream trips to come true and carry on forever. Carolyn Licht described the trip with her dad as “special” in 2012. Six years later, and six months after his passing, it is even more so.

Is that what Augusta National really believes is worthy of a crackdown?

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