The biggest story at the 2013 Masters that you didn't read about was the debut of Berckmans Place (or BP, as insiders call it), the mammoth, new hospitality facility tucked in the trees along the 5th fairway at Augusta National. Berckmans Place is to the Masters what the Emerald City is to Oz. The building, 90,000 square feet and then some, puts Augusta’s storied old clubhouse at the end of Magnolia Lane to shame in size and opulence.
The Masters BP badge may be the new hottest and toughest ticket in sports. At $6,000, it is also among the priciest. The BP badges are available only through members for corporations, with a 10-ticket limit.
We talked to one lucky patron who set foot inside Oz -- er, Berckmans Place. He agreed to talk about his experience under the condition of anonymity. He’s retired, and he’s from the Hilton Head Island area. We’ll call him Bob.
Masters patrons with a BP badge have their own entrance to the grounds, Gate 9, and their own parking lot. Once out of the car, patrons walk a few steps, make a right turn and enter Berckmans Place.
“I walked through, and Lynn Swann came up to greet me outside,” says Bob. “I had a conversation with him and told him how much I hated the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
At the main entrance, Bob was greeted by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, also an Augusta National member. Then he walked inside.
“I tried to describe it to my wife," says Bob, "and I just gave up. You’ve got to experience it, basically.”
The facility features three main restaurants -- Calamity Jane’s, Ike’s place and Mackenzie’s. Bob estimates that each room can seat up to 400, plus another hundred or two on their outdoor patios.
Bob, who got his BP badge from a well-connected friend, says he was attending his 12th consecutive Masters, and his favorite part is to walk the course and watch golf.
“I had no intention of staying there more than 10 minutes,” Bob says. “I got there at 8:30 and stayed through lunch. I had to walk through it again on my way out, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”
Each restaurant has a bar area big enough to seat at least 50, Bob estimates. He dived in at Calamity Jane’s oyster bar. Mackenzie’s, in honor of its Scottish namesake and Augusta National course designer Alistair Mackenzie, has 25 types of single-malt Scotch whiskey.
Bob, who rated the food as “absolutely fabulous,” notes that each menu had 25 or 30 items, including everything from pasta to chicken to steaks. All food and drink is free. Bob found one ironic item on the menu. It’s called “Taste of the Masters,” and it features tiny servings of the standard on-course Masters fare—pimento cheese, egg salad and Masters club sandwiches. “But they’re made very daintily,” Bob says, unable to contain a chuckle. “They don’t have crusts or anything. They’re just little sandwiches.”
Bob’s eyes bulge when he gets around to the restrooms. “They’ve got nine attendants,” he says. “They have these floor-to-ceiling urinals, and after you do your business and step away, an attendant walks up with a pad on a pole and cleans everything.”
There’s more. The highlight for most BP patrons, Bob says, are three putting greens. They’re slightly downsized replicas of the 7th, 14th and 16th holes. The cups are moved to match each day’s location. So you watch a guy hit a putt on a certain hole on one of the 50 or 60 giant TVs, then you can go try it yourself.
“It was usually a 15- or 20-minute wait to putt,” Bob says. “You get in line, you get a caddie and you walk out and putt three holes. If you listen to what the caddie tells you, you might two-putt once. If you don’t, you’ll four-putt all of them.”
The BP facility is so perfectly landscaped, Bob says, you don’t even know there’s a golf course nearby. A short path, lined with blooming azaleas, leads patrons to the fifth fairway.
“I was there on Friday and there were 3,000 people in there, maybe even 4,000," says Bob. "I was surprised how many people in there didn’t seem to notice there was a golf tournament going on.”
Business magazines estimate the BP facility would bring in about $18 million annually, but that’s just a guess.
“If I was in a position to do so, I’d buy the 10 tickets to wine and dine my customers there,” Bob says. “Even at six grand, it’s worth the price of admission. I keep saying it, but the only word for this place is unbelievable.”