Monday, April 18, 2016

The Counterintuitivity of the Masters

Talk to someone who has been to the Masters and they don't say a whole lot about it. They can't. I still can't. I was greeted by enthusiastic questions of "how was it?" and my thoughts returned to one of an unspeakable grace. Still, those who have made the trek drop hints. Subtle ones and telling ones. They all point in the same direction, and that's to a common truth. Everything about The Masters is counterintuitive. And truth be told, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Guests, not patrons arrive to the most counterintuitive gesture of all: free parking. As a woman who lives in a city that charged, and I'm not kidding $120 to park for the Giants home opener, this was shocking, and yet it wasn't. It's the first of many signs of hospitality that the hosts of the tourney extend to those lucky enough to carry a badge.
Though 50,000 people attend this annual event, the first major of the year, it is the"toughest get" in all of sports. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to the official tournament, not the practice rounds, you seldom mention this truth—most likely because you are in disbelief that you got one and/or because you pay so much. As I've told anyone who asks, I'm teaching summer school to pay for mine. But the question remains, a half of a million people do get to go. What gives? This is what I learned.
Ticket broker Brian Talbot has written: "From my experience, it's safe to say these are probably the toughest tickets to get in the world," Talbot said, "with Super Bowl tickets running a close second, depending on which teams make it and where the Super Bowl is hosted." 
But there is a tiny window through which fans can obtain Masters tickets for tournament rounds directly from Augusta National. Each year, a small number of tickets are returned to The Masters following the deaths of longtime ticket holders, or for other reasons. Previously, those tickets were simply removed from circulation. But since 2012, fans can register online to take part in a random drawing for those tickets. 
To do so, golfers much register on the tickets page on; registrants receive notification when the ticket application process is opened each year, shortly following each Masters. Registrants are required to provide credit card information during the online application process. 
The Masters doesn't say how many tournament tickets are available, but rest assured the number is very small and your odds are very, very long. Those who are super-lucky are notified by email and must pay for the tickets at such time.
I have entered that lottery since 2012, and it should go without saying that I yet to receive an e-mail from Augusta that I that I have won. It's funny, for some reason, I am always disappointed that the outcome isn't different. I'll keep trying.

Even more interesting to me however is that patrons can get tickets from their favorite golfers. According to Golf, those who want to attend should
Write letters to the top golfers through the Professional Golf Association. Golfers in the tournament get to purchase a limited number of tickets, and they have been known to resell them to fans. It's best to have a relationship with a golfer to begin with, but it is possible.
A life long proponent of letter writing, who would have thought this lost art could pay off in a Masters ticket? Perhaps it is nothing more than a pipe dream or grand unicorn, but it's worth a shot...and a stamp.
You will need to pass through a metal detector before walking onto the hallowed grounds. I don't get the sense that gun safety is the primary concern at Augusta National. Rather, it's another modern day enemy: the cell phone. Not a single one was in site; if you needed to make a phone call, the Masters has phone stations where you can make a call anywhere in the US free of charge. How countercultural! Imagine that many people focused on being in the same place at the same time. It was liberating. And, it set the tone for other protocol that patrons encounter. Not a single volunteer or marshall needed to raise an arm, a hand or even a finger asking folks to be quiet. I never saw an electronic score board. No, instead a few leader boards on the property post the official scoring: red is good, and black is bad...the dead opposite of a business' financial goals.

It's strange and wonderful thing to attend a sporting event today where the only thing you are watching is...wait for it...the sporting event. No dots races, no web gems, no flying t-shirts for patrons. There were no free: pizzas, tacos or haircuts if athletes do something spectacular. My friend asked me if I saw a lot of cute men; even I couldn't believe what I said. "The crowd was about 75% male, but honestly I was so focused on the golf, I guess I wasn't really paying attention" I guarantee I've never said that before.

Equally delightful as the lack of distraction is the fact that the only sounds one hears at The Masters are the roars of the crowd. There is no walk-up songs for golfers, there's no announcers, bells, buzzers or timers. I did however hear birds, balls hitting irons, a few quiet conversations, claps and roars. I loved listening to exchange between caddie and golfer. If my ears could thank me, they would have. They were on vacation too!
And if you know anything about The Masters other than the golf, it's about the hospitality because it is second to none. Furthermore, it manifests itself in strange ways. Sandwiches were $1.50, beers were $2.50 or $3.50 for a craft beer, all snacks were $1.00. The idea is that once you are there, the hosts wants you to enjoy. A student of mine thought the prices were cheap because "everything is cheaper in the South." I kindly informed him, I'm afraid not. One, I'm not sure I've EVER paid $2.50 for a beer at a sporting event in the south or anywhere, and I've been able to do that for over 20 years now. Two, how do you explain that the Knight's Inn charges at least $350 a night during that week. If Augusta National wanted to charge $10 for a beer they could. For the sake of hospitality, they do not.

Counterintuitivity (not sure that's even a word) isn't unique to The Masters. I am a fan of an NBA team that reeks of this. Who else has a 6th man that was awarded MVP of the NBA finals? How common is it to have a star player who is 6'3" and 185 lbs? What  teams really play defense today? How many other teams can brag that their fans can easily name the not only the starting five but their replacements, or rather, their teammates? And my favorite, in an era where athletes are paid more to play less, this team rested no one to earn a single-season NBA record 73 wins.
But there is something noteworthy about the fact that counterintuitive is a common word I use to describe them both. A different modus operandi has served as a wonderful invitation to think about they way things are and why. How something can be different, why it should be, how we respond and what we might learn in the process reveals much more about us—sports fan, athletes, coaches, marketers, than I ever expected. I'm grateful it required me to go to Augusta to figure that out.

Photo Credits
Danny Willet wins!

Danny in green

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