Photographer: David Cannon/Getty Images
Travel

The $50,000 Way to Watch the Masters

And travel tips to do it on the cheap (if you must)

During one of his many trips to attend the Masters Tournament, retired insurance executive Charles Cramer faced a dilemma: To place his chair down on the edge of the 18th green—so he could have a good view of the winning putt—he would need to get to the Augusta National Golf Club’s main entrance gate by 6 a.m. and wait in line. When that gate opens, ticket holders dash for the 18th to place their chairs.

“I thought: It sure would be nice to have a runner to do it for me,” Cramer, 73, says in a phone interview.

Cue the runner!

In stepped a representative of PrimeSport, an Atlanta-based sports hospitality company that had arranged Cramer’s trip to Augusta. Cramer’s green folding chair was placed greenside for him while he enjoyed his morning coffee away from the course’s crowds.

The Masters, the first of golf’s four annual major tournaments, signals the beginning of spring for most of the U.S.

The Masters, the first of golf’s four annual major tournaments, signals the beginning of spring for most of the U.S.

Photographer: David Cannon/Getty Images

“That was a major thing,” says Cramer, who has used PrimeSport to attend dozens of major sporting events.

Cramer was there when Duke’s Christian Laettner hit “The Shot” to beat Kentucky in 1992. He was there when Chris Webber thought Michigan’s “Fab Five” had another timeout in 1993. He was behind the goal when Canada’s Sidney Crosby slid the puck between Ryan Miller’s legs to win Olympic hockey gold in 2010 in Vancouver. But the event Cramer loves the most is the Masters.

“It’s a special experience,” he says. “They treat you right. And when you go to the Masters, you don’t have to deal with drunks and foul language or fights breaking out on the ninth green. Everybody is very polite.” Call it Southern hospitality.

Business Spring Break

Magnolia trees line Augusta National’s Magnolia Lane.

Magnolia trees line Augusta National’s Magnolia Lane. 

Photographer: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Masters, the first of golf’s four annual major contests, represents the pinnacle for many sports fans around the world; a ticket is often noted as one of the toughest in sports. So naturally, as azaleas and dogwoods bloom each April in Augusta, Ga., the world’s business elite flock to the state’s second-oldest city.

“It’s corporate America’s spring break,” says Morgan Jones, sales director for Executive Marketing Services, an Augusta-based company that makes sure visitors enjoy the show. Executive Marketing operates several large hospitality homes on Azalea Drive and Magnolia Drive—walking distance from the club’s entrance. Augusta National, a private club co-founded in 1932 by golf legend Bobby Jones and Wall Street investment banker Clifford Roberts, ranks among the world’s most elite private clubs and counts Warren Buffett and Bill Gates among its members.

The Masters, as the only major golf tournament that returns to the same venue on an annual basis, was once just the biggest sports event in Georgia. Since Tiger Woods’s 1997 win, the landscape has changed dramatically.

“It has grown over time from a regional event to an international event,” says Brian Wilder, a PrimeSport sales executive who handles the company’s Masters account.

“The world has gotten smaller, and people have realized, ‘Hey, I can actually do this.’”

Executive Marketing operates several large hospitality homes on Azalea Drive and Magnolia Drive -- walking distance from the club’s entrance.

Executive Marketing Services operates several large hospitality homes on Azalea Drive and Magnolia Drive—walking distance from the club’s entrance.

Source: Executive Marketing Services via Bloomberg

Whatever Your Pleasure

And when they do decide to “do the Masters,” many golf fans want to do it in style—as in $50,000 worth of style.

That’s what a blowout trip for four can add up to when booking with PrimeSport or Executive Marketing. A variety of Masters packages can be arranged, with high-end trips including golf at upscale private clubs such as Augusta National’s neighbor—Augusta Country Club—and South Carolina’s Sage Valley. Other lower-end packages can cost as little as $1,000 for a ticket and one night at a hotel. But it’s the Masters: Why go small? As Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne would say, “That’s not the way Mr. Jones would have wanted it.”

Along with helping to secure tickets, the concierge companies arrange travel—meeting you and your group at Augusta’s private airport—a private driver for the week, and a private chef in your home. No request is too off-the-wall.

“We had a group one year that ran out of firewood at 11:30 p.m.,” Wilder says. “They were sitting around the fire pit drinking and smoking cigars. We went out and found some more firewood for them.”

Bed Crunch

With limited hotel space in Augusta—$49 hotel rooms sell for as much as $500 during Masters week—many attendees rent private homes through companies like Corporate Quarters. For $20,000 you can get 10-bedroom homes in nearby Jones Creek Country Club or Augusta’s West Lake Country Club for the week.

10-bedroom homes in nearby Jones Creek Country Club or Augusta’s West Lake Country Club can be rented for $20,000 for the week.

Ten-bedroom homes in nearby Jones Creek Country Club or Augusta’s West Lake Country Club can be rented for $20,000 for the week.

Source: Corporate Quarters Inc. via Bloomberg

Cramer, who would often host clients during the Masters, was a frequent private home renter.

“It’s just so much easier to do it that way,” he says. “That worked out really well. We entertained a lot of clients from abroad, and when they would come over, go to the Masters—which they just dream about. That’s special. That goes a long, long way from a marketing standpoint.”

The newly-renovated Partridge Inn, which labels itself “The Grand Hotel of the Classic South."

The newly-renovated Partridge Inn.

Photographer: KF in Georgia/Flickr

Large antebellum homes line the sidewalks of Augusta’s Walton Way near the newly renovated Partridge Inn, which labels itself “The Grand Hotel of the Classic South” and serves the requisite Southern dish: shrimp and grits. Rooms start at $999 a night during the tournament.

On the Cheap

Don’t have $50,000 to toss away? Not to worry, the Masters can also be done for about $500, although pulling off such frugality can be as tricky as sinking a downhill putt on the course’s ninth green.

A practice-round ticket can be found for about $400 on ticket resale site StubHub.com. If you live within driving distance of the club, gas, food, and merchandise (a must-have for first-timers) would be your only costs. Parking is free for ticket holders.

Too far to drive? A basic flight from New York to Atlanta will run you about $750. Add a rental car for $75 and a hotel room near the Atlanta airport for as low as $49, and you’ll be at Amen Corner for less than $1,200.

Once you’re there, food is sold on the course at 1960s prices—$1.50 for the club’s pimento cheese sandwich. Yes, $1.50.

Off the course, the food choices are fairly limited, as the town is not known for upscale dining. Outside the gates, Washington Road is lined with every chain restaurant you see across the U.S. Carrabba’s, Olive Garden, and Waffle House are staples of the main drag. TGI Fridays closed recently, but Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is going strong.

“Five Guys is good,” Sean Foley, a PGA Tour swing coach who teaches Hunter Mahan and counts Woods as a former client, says with a laugh. “Or Hooters.”

Food is sold on course for 1960s prices -- $1.50 for the club’s pimento cheese sandwich. Yes, $1.50.

Food is sold on the course at 1960s prices—$1.50 for the club’s pimento cheese sandwich. Yes, $1.50.

Photographer: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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