The Masters Secrecy Of Success

The Masters Secrecy Of Success

Outside the inner sanctum of Augusta National Golf Club, little is known about the world’s most famous golf tournament. And that’s just the way tournament officials want it.

By John Buchanan

Augusta’s Other Sports
Augusta hosts an ever-increasing number of sports events each year. “Our niche markets are basketball, softball, rowing, disc golf, boxing and tennis,” said Tammy Stout, executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council, “Those are the markets for which we have abundant facilities and a strong established track record and international reputation.” Among the city’s most prestigious 2008 events are the ESPN BassMaster Elite fishing tournament (May), Nike Peach Jam and Nike Nationals (July) and USTA Mixed Doubles State Championship Georgia Cup (August).
The city offers state-of-the-art facilities for baseball/softball, basketball, bowling, boxing, disc golf, football, golf, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, track and field, and rowing. For more information about sports events and venues in Augusta, visit www.augustasportscouncil.org.
It is easier to steal U.S. nuclear secrets than get information about the Masters golf tournament. Fabled Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the annual event, which is not part of the PGA Tour but is sanctioned by the PGA as one of the four “major” tournaments of the year, releases virtually no information. As a result, no one outside of Augusta National knows the number of spectators who attend the Masters, the number of employees who work on it, or any other details that would allow for a factual portrait of what is generally regarded as the most prestigious and exclusive event in all of sports. Over the years, many major news organizations have made Herculean efforts to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounds the Masters, but to no avail.

By the same token, even the powerful have no power in breaking into the Masters. With this year’s tournament—won by South African Trevor Immelman in an 8-under-par finish—Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue attempted to make his grand entrance down Magnolia Lane, a magnificent entranceway flanked on both sides by trees that predate the Civil War. He was turned away. According to club rules, only players and Augusta National members can enter from Magnolia Lane; the governor was neither. Augusta National always abides by the rules, no matter who you are.

Given its special and longstanding heritage, the Masters has become the social event of the year for Augusta. As a result, about 2,000 volunteers man various committees and work the course during the tournament.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Masters is that absolutely nothing about the tournament has been commercialized over the years. The naming rights have not been auctioned off to the highest bidder. There are no sponsor’s signs or hospitality tents along the course. Augusta National has even removed the branding from beer, soft drinks and other products sold at concession stands. This year, the club also de-branded potato chips and candy bars, which were packaged in green plastic bags emblazoned only with a Masters logo.

“People in the sports events industry appreciate the traditional platform the Masters has maintained over the years,” said Tammy Stout, executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council, which hosts the Masters and other sports events during the year. “I don’t know of any other event in the sports marketplace that can afford the approach of being completely non-commercial,” Stout said. “It speaks to the exclusive nature of the event. The Masters…is an event entrenched in tradition.”

The tournament has only three TV sponsors: IBM, Exxon-Mobil and AT&T, which have the advantage of uncluttered airwaves since Augusta National allows just four minutes of commercial time per hour. TV revenues from the Masters provide a healthy profit margin, a good deal of which is given back to the community in charitable donations to a host of good causes.

Of course, the privilege of being able to avoid commercial consideration other than the sale of TV rights is a byproduct of the exclusivity and wealth of Augusta National’s membership roster, which includes Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and slightly lesser titans of the corporate world. It is rumored that its 300-odd members are primarily Fortune 500 CEOs. But Augusta National declined to confirm or deny that as well.

Perfecting Tradition
The Masters tournament made its debut in 1934, backed by Wall Street investment banker Clifford Roberts, who co-founded Augusta National with Bob Jones. Unlike golf’s other three “majors” of the year—the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open—the Masters is always played on the same course, so ongoing improvements can be made for the event. Augusta National planners go out of their way to make changes that keep the course as competitive as designers Jones and Alister MacKenzie intended.

The Masters added its famous “second cut,” 1 3/8-inch grass that serves as its equivalent of a rough, in 1999. Ever since, it has stymied some of the best golfers in the world when they have made errant approaches to Augusta National’s infamously difficult greens, which are Bent grass. Fairways are Bermuda grass over seeded with Rye.

Just as the course is improved upon each year, so are public facilities. Over the years, old tents have been replaced by new concession structures and public restrooms are maintained as the most sparkling clean in the sports universe. Another bow to fans is the least expensive food and beverages at any major sporting event in the country; for about $5, you can get a sandwich or hot dog, a bag of chips, a dessert and a beer or soda. The Masters is well-known for its homemade pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches—but how and where they are made is another of the tournament’s legendary secrets.

Tickets to the prestigious event are as hard to come by as the secrets are to uncover. One-day tickets to practice rounds before the four-day tournament are awarded in an international lottery system. Winners are named months in advance. Badges to the tournament are good for the entire four days of play and can be used by different guests, even within the same day. The waiting list for badges has been closed for years; many of them have been in families or local businesses from Augusta and nearby Georgia towns for generations.

Traffic & Security
With such high demand for tickets and such secrecy surrounding the event, you would imagine security at the Masters would be tight. Augusta National uses both public and private security, but does not provide any details.

The most daunting challenge for the Masters is traffic. This year, Augusta National purchased additional land near the course for a new 2,000-spot main parking lot. A number of satellite parking facilities support the main lot.

Traffic is managed by a well-coordinated consortium of Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia State Highway Patrol, Richmond County Sheriff’s Department and Augusta National. The Masters runs a traffic control center from nearby Westside High School. A Georgia State Highway patrol helicopter and cameras on all access routes monitor traffic volume for traffic engineers to adjust traffic signals as needed throughout each day of the tournament and overnight. Augusta-Richmond County also affiliated with two leading local radio stations—one AM, one FM—to broadcast real-time traffic updates throughout each day of the tournament this year. City employees phone in details to the radio stations as they traveled the various routes to the course.

Years ago, the city came up with an idea to help to control traffic during the tournament, and it has served the community well ever since: All public schools are closed for spring break during the Masters. Like everything else about the tournament, it’s that kind of attention to detail—and the secrets in the details—that makes the Masters the most exclusive event in all of sports.

Editor’s Note: Click here to read more about the Masters in John Buchanan’s special report on hospitality houses—offering a unique “at home” alternative to lodging golfers, caddies, officials and VIPs during the tournament.