The Masters is an even tougher ticket than usual

AUGUSTA, Ga. — They’re getting desperate now, the badge brokers working the stretch of Washington Road between I-20 and Augusta National Golf Club. They’re posted up in front of the Krispy Kreme and the Cook Out and TBonz, the steakhouse that’s the unofficial 19th hole of the Masters, and they’re lonely.

John Daly and his RV aren’t here hawking merch in front of the nearby Hooters. Patrons who once clogged the highway and surface streets are watching from home this year. Five months after the Masters went completely patron-free, only a small fraction of the patron base will be permitted to return this week … and that’s having a ripple effect on both the availability and price of secondary-market badges.

Augusta National isn’t saying how many badge-holders will be coming through the doors this year, though most estimates of crowd size and market activity put it in the 20 percent-of-capacity range. There are cheers and roars, but they’re not quite the same, not nearly as loud.

As for who those lucky few are who get in this year? Yep, that’s a mystery too.

“Every traditional group of credential holders, whether it be daily ticket holders, badge holders, Berckmans Place holders, all were represented in the tickets that were distributed this year,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday morning, without putting any kind of number on “represented.” “And we also were very pleased to be able to provide local healthcare workers, quite a few local healthcare workers, with credentials to watch the tournament.”

Multiple ticket brokers contacted by Yahoo Sports indicated that they had been unable to secure any badges from annual lottery winners or long-term patrons. (Nobody wants to attach their name to anything related to badges; to do so is to put oneself on Augusta National’s radar, which is rarely a comfortable place to be.)

If you’re looking to get in the doors at Augusta and you’re not already a member, the most reliable way is to win the Masters. Winners are admitted forever. Assuming you haven’t won the Masters, or won an annual lottery for badges, you’ve got one of three secondary market options: buy in on a full-service hospitality package (often including transportation, lodging and meals outside the gates), buy from a national ticket broker, or head down to Washington Road and negotiate with a guy in a golf shirt sitting in a camp chair.

But each badge pipeline is suffering in 2021. Most hospitality brokers have just conceded that 2021 is a wash, and they’re already hyping 2022. (The Masters’ 2021 policy of no re-entry on a badge is also putting a dent in the hospitality brokers’ business.)

For some hospitality brokers, stepping back from the badge game is just good financial sense. Brokers will often speculate and sell ticket packages without actually having the tickets in hand. This can result in a healthy profit if a broker can, say, pre-sell a “ticket” for $1,000, then buy that ticket from another seller for $500.

But occasionally, the market shifts and leaves ticket speculators on the hook, forced to buy tickets for far more than they’d taken in from the pre-sale. That exact situation led to a broker committing suicide in 1997 when he ended up on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in ticket costs as Tiger Woods stormed to his first Masters win.

Most national brokers aren’t having any success, either. TicketIQ saw some initial movement early in the week, but prices have settled down now to roughly where they were in 2019 — about $2,000 for Thursday, $3,000 for Friday and Saturday, and $2,700 for Sunday. And even at those prices, there are literally only handfuls available, less than 20 per day.

StubHub, usually a reliable broker of Masters badges, has pulled out of the 2021 Masters badge game entirely, and so has SeatGeek. Neither would comment on the record for this story.

That leaves hustlers like the gentlemen (they’re almost all gentlemen) hanging around Washington Road. Few of them like talking about their business; any time spent talking is less time spent potentially selling. With big players like StubHub not setting the market, and with a hugely reduced traffic flow, brokers are spending a whole lot of time staring out at Washington Road.

“In a normal year, we’d get a lot of walkup, a lot of people coming in town without badges, seeing if they can get something,” one broker said. “This year, I’m not so sure a lot of people are coming without tickets.”

Lottery winners from 2020 were pushed to 2021 and then to 2022, which means it will be 2023 before the Masters truly returns to “normal,” from the patrons’ perspective. Start saving now, because those post-pandemic badges are going to cost you a semester’s worth of college tuition.

Masters badges are tough to come by. (File photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Masters badges are tough to come by. (File photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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