By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
April 5, 2013
Fess up. Even if you wouldn’t know a 3-wood from a 3-iron and the closest you’ve ever gotten to a golf course is the decrepit Mini Golf setup down at the Fun Zone, every single one of the three million and counting of us who have watched Oakley’s “Bubba’s Hover” marketing video on YouTube want to make like Bubba Watson and skim down the fairway, in and out of water hazards, in our own personal hovercraft golf cart, all the while denting nary a blade of grass on the course, according to the owners of Neoteric Hovercraft in Terre Haute, IN, makers of the eye-catching $20,000 ride.
And you know who is probably coveting his own Oakley hovercart more than anyone else? Rory McIlroy. If Oakley had built one for Rory, the kid maybe would have stayed with Oakley for life—which just might have gotten him to thinking about extending his loyalty to Titleist and forgetting all about this Nike thing.
Talk about erasing footprints.
Imagined game-changing chain of events aside, one place we know we will NEVER see a hovercraft golf cart, even if they are eventually put into production, is the hallowed fairways of Augusta National Golf Club. As the 77th edition of The Masters tees off next week, tradition, decorum, and old-fashioned Southern charm take center stage, viral YouTube videos be damned.
The Masters is one of the premier sporting events in the world, bringing an estimated $150 million in economic impact to the Augusta region. But unlike other major sporting events such as the Super Bowl or the Olympics, the Masters has a unique business model.
More so than any other sports property, Augusta National and The Masters have been rooted in tradition. The club only has three corporate sponsors: AT&T, ExxonMobil, and IBM, and it restricts how much commercial time CBS can show to four minutes per hour.
A four-day pass to The Masters is selling for about $4,500 on the secondary market, with one-day passes starting at $1,215. That’s the equivalent of paying to go to the Super Bowl for four straight days. Of course, once you’re inside the golf course, sandwiches and beer cost just $3 each.
$4,500 tickets, just three corporate sponsors, and $3 beer? Talk about a tradition like no other.
Even as the bones of the tournament remain the same, year in and year out, this year’s Masters comes equipped with some intriguing new storylines.
The 2013 Masters’ top story may end up actually involving equipment, as fans and the media will be laser-focused on Nike’s top duo of Tiger Woods and McIlroy. Woods, who regained the World No. 1 ranking after his two wins on Tour this year, is the heavy favorite in Augusta. If he wins, he’ll add Major No. 15 to his resume and resume his pursuit of besting Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 Majors.
McIlroy, meanwhile, still struggles to find his game in the wake of his reported $200 million deal with Nike and changeover to a full bag of Nike clubs. Business-wise, both players are doing just fine—in addition to being ranked World No. 1 and No. 2 they are also the top two golfers on the 2013 Bloomberg “Sportfolio” Horrow Sports Ventures Power 100 (Woods is No. 2, McIlroy No. 14). But as Links magazine notes in its current issue, despite a marketing outlay of more than half a billion dollars for deals with Woods, McIlroy, and dozens of lower-ranked players, Nike Golf equipment has yet to catch on with most amateur golfers, who still don’t see Nike as a legitimate golf equipment brand.
While the company is hoping that their equipment will catch on with the younger generation of golfers, a quick survey of junior tournament players in the golf-intensive Carlsbad, CA region showed that out of the 100-odd youth observed, only one carried a full bag of Nike Golf clubs. And McIlroy’s struggles with his Nike equipment are only likely to intensify consumers’ negative impressions of the brand.
Another storyline at Augusta National this year will be Watson himself (sans hovercart). Will the reigning champion and Power 100 No. 45 add another green jacket to his closet? And off-course, will he be able to sign the automotive sponsor he said he is seeking earlier this week?
For deal-making, of course, is just as important as the golf itself in and around Augusta National. According to the Augusta Chronicle, rentals of high-end homes in Augusta are booming as the corporate rental market gains strength. The president of Corporate Quarters Inc. told the paper that for the first time since 2000, Masters-related business has been a renters’ market, with some high-end homes going for $25,000-$35,000 for the week.
Among the companies that regularly court clients around Augusta during Masters Week is Black Knight, the namesake company of three-time Masters winner Gary Player (1961, 1974, and 1978). At the annual Braai held at the Player Residence rental, Player welcomes top executives from Callaway, Rolex, Humana, and SAP, who enjoy traditional South African barbeque and music alongside author James Patterson and other luminaries from business, sports, entertainment, and politics.
Two other political and business luminaries comprise the final intriguing storyline of the 2013 Masters. As they watch Woods, McIlroy, Watson, and the rest of the Masters field, patrons and the media will surely be combing the galleries for Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore, the first women admitted to the Augusta National membership.
Some Masters traditions, it seems, do improve over time.