Rites of Spring: The Masters on $100 a day

Spring Rituals beckon as the snow finally melts and the buds blossom, and there is perhaps no more iconic April rite than the annual pilgrimage by golf fans to the Masters golf tournament. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had by experiencing this tournament in person or on television. There’s also a lot to learn on the branding side. More than any other golf tournament, the Southern wizards in Augusta, Georgia have invented and sustained the most valued brand in all of golf for nearly half a century. Thinktopia contributor and founder of Snowball Narrative, Jonathan Littman wrote about the Masters as a Contributing Editor for Playboy. He’s recently published a book collecting his award winning Playboy stories, entitled Crashing Augusta: real life tales of sports, men and murder. Ever wondered how to experience the tournament without dropping several thousand dollars? Littman shares his secrets on how to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience on $100 a day. There’s still time to get to Augusta and see Tiger and Phil. The tournament starts on Thursday!


Crashing Augusta

I once shot 84 on a tough course, and like all duffers, dream that one day my wayward putts will fall effortlessly into one hole after another. Golf tempts us with the possible because perfection appears tantalizingly in reach, even for just a single hole, and that keeps us coming back after all the shanks and screams.  We’re fanatical by nature. Witness the hundreds of golf training gimmicks and videos and books we buy to improve our swings. But perhaps I’m more fanatical than some. I’ve gotten on an airplane and flown cross-country in the faint hope that I might see and smell and hear and feel perfection in the presence of golf’s masters in their house of worship.

I’m suffering from Masters madness. Against all advice and reason, I am standing outside the gates of the world’s most exclusive golf tournament. Every reasonable person I know has told me it’s absurd to attempt to attend this tournament if you’re not a corporation, guest of a corporation or happen to have several thousand extra dollars to blow. The fact I’ve gotten this far is itself a miracle. I’ve actually secured a crash pad – last night I slept like a baby on an air mattress on the screen porch of a little brick house I’m sharing with seven guys half a mile down Azalea. With the city snarled in traffic it’s ideally located and you can’t beat the price – my share of the week’s lodging, and golf cart (rented on impulse from a local), comes to a bargain $425.

But here’s the rub. The badge, or tournament pass for the Masters, costs $3,500 to $5,000 or more, and is harder to come by than a Super Bowl ticket. Price alone does not convey the tournament’s exclusivity. This is the Deep South, where “Yes Suh!” fills the air like the pervasive scent of Magnolia blossoms, Northern principles do not apply.

Headed by chairman Hootie Johnson, The National, as locals proudly call it, is defined by its own rules. When the thunderous drives of a certain gifted player began soaring over the sand trap on eighteen, The National backed up the trap and lengthened the hole.  As for Hootie’s headline grabbing preference for excluding the fairer sex. “Well, we’ve adopted a new policy,” Hootie proclaimed during his annual Masters news conference. “We don’t talk about club matters, period.” That means, “at the point of a bayonet,” he repeated, flanked by a bevy of green-jacketed members. “I said we have a new policy. We don’t talk about club matters, period.” Which is a pretty good idea when your organization excludes all women and counts just two blacks as members, while wholeheartedly embracing billionaires (six) and the nation’s richest, most powerful white men…

Corporations devour so many of the available Masters badges that it seems ludicrous for an ordinary golf enthusiast even to try to get one. But to my golf-addled mind, the clear financial hurdle only fires my competitive instincts. If you can do Europe on $100 a day, why not the Masters on the same budget?

The idea of a pilgrimage to Augusta has a dreamlike pull, like a Dodgers fan’s fantasy of being able to step back in time to stroll Ebbets Field. Hundreds of thousands of baseball fans make an annual road trip for spring training, a wonderful excuse to spend a beer fueled week in sunny climes, watching ball players up close and closing down bars. The Masters—the first Major of the season—is like spring training and the World Series at once. How can a true fan resist?

Storytelling is the new Innovation. We all want and need stories to read, tell and share. The kindle or print version of Jonathan Littman’s book “Crashing Augusta”—ideal for your next business flight—is available from Amazon.com