AUGUSTA, Ga. – Every Masters ticket is printed with the words “No Resale” right on the front, but try telling that to my man Butch, who is camped out all week on Washington Road, scalping the most sought-after ticket in sports.
Butch, who did not disclose his last name, is licensed by the state of Georgia and travels the country to major sports events. He says that he works 20-hour days but that it beats working. You can come see him just past the intersection of Washington Road and Boy Scout Road, steps away from TBonz Steakhouse. If you roll into the parking lot at the Augusta Best Inn, he'll know you're serious and not just one of the hundreds of curiosity-seekers rolling down their window as traffic slows. His partner is Jimmy D, who has been working this corner of Washington Road for 15 years and offered me all of $20 for my practice-round badge (which retails for $50).
Not even the weather could dampen the spirits of Butch, who gave me a crash course on the scalping market at his 31st Masters.
"I'm doing tons of volume," he said around midday Wednesday. "Pro-rated, this is probably the cheapest you'll ever get in on Par-3 day. To say you've had your feet on golf's holy land for $200 is a bargain."
A week ago, the market for Wednesday was commanding $1,200. Typically, he said, the walk-in price is $900. Butch's flip phone beeped and he answered. When he hung up, he announced that the course was closed for the day, making the handful of Wednesday tickets in his hand mere souvenirs.
"I can still get $20 for them on eBay," he said. "Anyway, I look at it like fruit at the market. There's always going to be some spoilage."
Monday also had been a washout, which sent Tuesday ticket prices soaring. The "new norm," Butch said, is $450 for Monday, $650Tuesday and $900 Wednesday. It goes up significantly for the tournament rounds. I called a ticket broker named Bill, who answered when I called the Realtor-like sign he stuck on a corner of Washington Road with the digits 404-372-4997. He wanted $2,000 for Thursday. Butch said you could probably get one for $1,500. Friday and Saturday likely will go for "2 dimes," in scalper lingo. Sunday is "travel day" and usually goes for less.
An Augusta series badge – good for all four tournament days – costs $250, if you are among the chosen people. But the weekly badge comes with some tricky issues for scalpers. Unless purchased for the week, they must be returned each day. To make sure that happens, Butch requires a stiff down payment. Bring your ATM card because he asks for at least $5,000, your rental-car keys, your driver's license and your plastic. Golf fans tend to be an honest bunch, but he's not taking any chances. In 2012, the Masters began issuing daily tickets, and those tickets go for a few hundred more than the series badge.
"Some people want to avoid leaving the deposit, so they'll pay more for the cash 'n' carry. No fuss, no muss," he said.
Two other interesting nuggets to remember: The scalpers on the side of Washington Road heading toward the tournament typically are looking to sell to you. Those on the side of the street leaving Augusta National are looking to buy used tickets and re-sell them. There is a strong walk-up market, Butch said, of patrons looking to step on the hallowed ground only for a couple of hours. Some are willing to spring for a ticket late in the day just to go into the merchandise shop. One such customer had seen the course but had to leave because of the inclement weather before he had a chance to shop for memorabilia. He was debating forking over what amounted to a luxury car monthly payment just so he could buy a shirt and cap. Such is the power of the toughest ticket in sports.
As I left Butch and told him I'd check back with him Thursday, he replied, "If I'm alive, I'm here."
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak