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The Mystery Behind Magnolia Lane

The Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf club is one of the most special weeks in all of sports, and even pro golfers want to make the most of it
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

Tom Lehman never won the Masters but he was a contender, finishing third in 1993 and second in 1994. His experience inside the ropes at Augusta National was sublime. For those close to him, coming to Augusta every year was no less exciting.

“Over the years, the number of people—family and friends—who would come to any given golf tournament would dwindle,” says Lehman, now a Champions Tour player. “You’re talking something like the U.S. Open or the Phoenix Open. At the Masters, it just got greater. Nobody turns down a chance to come to Augusta.”

There is no more significant rite of spring in American sport than the Masters golf tournament, held every year around the first week of April—the 2011 event runs from April 4th to 10th. There is no American golf tournament so rich with tradition, so engrained into the national sporting psyche. There is no place harder to penetrate if you don’t have an “in.”

Think of the Masters and you think of green jackets, lush fairways, Amen Corner, Magnolia Lane, azaleas and Arnold Palmer. You think of the roars of the “patrons,” as the spectators are known, when they erupt from their reverence and gentility with a cannonade of cheers as a player makes a birdie or an eagle down the closing stretch.

The patrons themselves are as important to the Masters mystique as any single element of the tournament. Long ago, when the Augusta National Golf Club was under the iron rule of chairman Cliff Roberts, spectators at the Masters were referred to as patrons. Heaven forbid that you would now call their collective mass a gallery. That collective mass is thought to be about 30,000 per day of the tournament, perhaps 40,000 per day during the practice rounds. The club will not reveal the number of spectators it accommodates.

The patron’s badge is the single most difficult, and coveted, ticket in sports. Once the privilege of purchasing a badge comes into an extremely fortunate person’s custody, it can be held forever. There are Masters badges that now have been passed down through several generations. The badges have been the subject of divorce settlements, of contested wills.

Individuals and tickets companies make huge money on the scalping of these badges. Scalping them is legal as long as it is done a distance from the course, and some ticket companies rent houses and establish elaborate hospitality headquarters.

Woe be to the original ticket holder if the rules about distance from the club are violated; they can summarily lose that ticket forever. The face value of the badge is $200 and is good for all four tournament rounds, but a scalper can command well in excess of $2,000. If Tiger Woods were in contention on Sunday, that single day might see a badge go for $1,000.

A man who was a badge procurer for a ticket broker once came up so short of them, putting himself in a deep financial hole, that he killed himself. The patron’s badge is, you can see, much more than a ticket.

The players themselves can’t help but think about the Masters, too. It’s an ultimate destination for them, an ultimate symbol of arrival on the world stage. And winning the tournament itself makes you forever a member of the Masters family, allows you to come back every year to the enveloping arms of the Augusta National Golf Club and the warm embrace of the little city of Augusta, Georgia.

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