By: Aaron Karesh | Business  | 

The Spirit of the Masters

As a college student at the College of Charleston, my grandfather played 36 holes of golf a day — 18 holes before class and 18 afterward — and to this day he is the best golfer with whom I have had the privilege to play. My grandmother is from Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous and exclusive golf club in the country — so exclusive, in fact, that the limited details that are available to outsiders were leaked by a former caddie in 2002. Very little has been leaked since. At the time, membership fees ranged from $25,000 to $30,000 annually and there were around 300 members. While no details vis-a-vis membership fees have been made public since then, the number of members has remained the same.

But this article isn’t about Augusta National Golf Club, it’s about the Masters golf tournament, which is held at Augusta National every year in the first full week of April. I know it’s barely March, still winter, and the semester feels like it kind of just started (at least for me), but Masters season is just around the corner.

When he was a teenager growing up in Augusta, my great uncle saved up to buy tickets to the Masters, and has held them ever since. The way these tickets work is as follows: Every year, ticket-holders have the option to renew their tickets for approximately $325 a piece; if the ticket-holder chooses not to renew their tickets in any given year, the tickets go to the next person on the waitlist, which has been closed since 2000. But what if you are just dying to go the Masters but don’t have tickets and aren’t next in line on the waitlist? In 2012, Augusta National began making a very small number of tickets available for purchase by “the public” if they’re lucky enough to be selected in the random lottery. If that doesn’t work for you — it won’t — then get ready to pony up. Masters tickets are hella expensive.

My dad had the opportunity to go to the Masters two years ago. Upon his return, he made a comment to me that was initially pretty surprising: The Masters was leaving tons of money on the table. I knew that the face value of ticket prices was relatively inexpensive considering their scarcity, and that food costs are lower than anyone could imagine (imagine paying $1.50 for a chicken sandwich!), but I figured that money was made up with massive TV deals and merchandise sales; I was wrong. In a Forbes report released in April of 2015, it was reported that the Masters generated about $115 million in revenue; while this may sound like a lot, it’s nothing compared to the approximately $215 million minimum they would have made had they signed a lucrative domestic television deal, which analysts say would be worth upwards of $100 million annually.

As a Syms student this appalls me; as a Midwesterner with Southern roots this makes me feel right at home. Allow me to explain. There is often talk in my family about “the spirit of the Masters.” Tickets and food are cheap, mega-television deals nonexistent, ad revenue small, all on purpose and all in an effort to maintain “spirit,” this “Southern Hospitality.” On years when my uncle cannot attend the Masters — this is only the case when it falls on Pesach, otherwise, nothing is stopping that man — he gives the tickets to a colleague of his so as to maintain this aura of respect to the game, to the course, and to the tradition and history of this storied tournament. And as dumb and fiscally irresponsible as that may sound, the Masters provides us with a small silver lining in a day-and-age where money is king and hoarding is second nature. To be fair, though, Augusta National does bring in massive amounts of money selling merchandise. The gift shop, I'm told by eyewitnesses who parted with plenty of money while there, is packed at all times. Hats are $25, pullover quarter-zips are $85 and the resale value of these items is nearly double!

While the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and Super Bowl all receive more acclaim than the Masters, they are by no means in a league of their own when it comes to resale ticket prices. The average ticket price for both the 2018 World Series and 2018 NBA Finals was about $1,800, the average price for an NHL Stanley Cup Finals game was just above $1,000, the average ticket price for a 2019 Super Bowl ticket was nearly $4,600 and as of Feb. 27, 2019, the cheapest option for a single-day 2019 Masters pass on StubHub was going for upwards of $2,100. So while the glitz, the glam and the “I was there” appeal of the Masters pales in comparison to that of a “Big Four” championship game, the resale value dictates that it’s tickets are just as sought after, if not more.

So why, with such clear and simple evidence that they are leaving money on the table, does the Masters continue to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table? The answer lays in the “Spirit of The Masters.”