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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

It costs a bundle, but a Masters pass is the rarest of treats

Saturday, April 3, 2004
RICHARD BLOOM

Forget about the Super Bowl, a gold medal hockey game or the World Series. Next week's Masters tournament is the hardest ticket to get in all of sport.

"Even with the NFL or the U.S. Open, you can enter a lottery and the public guy has a chance [at getting a ticket]," says Tim Orlando, the president of Mississauga's Ultimate Golf Vacations.

"Augusta is a whole other story."

Indeed, because most championship events take place in enormous stadiums, it is possible to get a seat up in the 'nosebleed' sections for a couple hundred bucks from a scalper.

Not the Masters. Instead of tickets, the tournament's organizers sell an undisclosed number of four-day badges to people on a "patron list," which was opened in 1972 and closed in 1978.

A new waiting list was established in 2000, but was closed a short while later. But where there's a will -- and a pocket full of cash -- there's a way to pull together a last-minute trip to see Bright's Grove, Ont.-native Mike Weir defend his Masters crown.

There are patrons who -- much to the dismay of organizers but to the delight of golf fanatics -- are willing to sell their badges to ticket brokers, often for triple or quadruple face value. Then, those brokers flip them for triple or quadruple the price they paid.

"Masters badges trade on the open market like a commodity," Mr. Orlando says, noting that the right to use a badge for a single-day can run you anywhere from $1,000 (U.S.) to $4,000. "I'd say $1,000 a day is a good price," he says. On top of that price you'll likely have to pay a deposit to the ticket broker, often in the $2,000 per-badge-per-day price range, to ensure its safe return for another user.

However, those who have been to the tournament recommend booking through a reputable sports vacation company, which will guarantee you access to the tournament and accommodations near the course. "It's so exclusive . . . especially if you're an outsider not knowing how to obtain the tickets. Patrons just don't sell their badges to anyone," says Brian Wilder, the owner of Cary, N.C.-based Premiere Sports Travel.

According to Premiere's website, the cost of a single four-day package to the Masters, including hotel, breakfast, tournament badges and shuttle back and forth to Augusta National Golf Club, is $5,985. For two people, it will run you $5,055 apiece.

On New York-based rival Tele-sports Inc.'s website, a similar package sells for $6,595 per person, or $5,445 each for double occupancy. Those costs are not including air fare to Augusta, which, according to website Expedia.ca, runs about $1,800 (Canadian) from Toronto Wednesday night and leaving Augusta Monday morning. From Vancouver, that trip costs about $2,000.

Of course, you could try to co-ordinate the trip on your own by shopping the internet for ticket brokers or scouring eBay. A recent search of eBay auctions had two four-day badges selling for $4,700 (U.S.).

But you're taking a huge risk by buying passes privately.

"There are a lot of scams on eBay. . . . It seems like every single year, someone loses money," Mr. Wilder says.

Added Mr. Orlando: "I would just be really careful that I didn't pass over my credit card or cash until I had ticket in hand."

On top of badges, hotel and air fare, don't forget about food, cognac, cigars, a souvenir balls-tees-and-divot-tool set, and that fancy driver that's only available in Augusta, and you're looking at a $10,000 weekend.

All that just to watch a bunch of guys hit a little white ball into some holes. Worth every penny.

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