In the market to buy or sell pre-owned Masters tickets?
Buyers and sellers, beware.
Some original ticket holders who have sold their tickets for the 2018 Masters through third-party resellers have received letters from Augusta National informing them that their tickets have been invalidated. According to these notices, one of which was obtained by GOLF.com, the sellers are told they will receive a full refund but that they will be "permanently removed from all ticket lists."
Buyers of these tickets could face a worse result still. Invalid tickets could create a scenario where would-be patrons shell out for airfare, accommodations and rental car only to discover when they arrive at the gates of Augusta National that their tickets are no good.
The tournament has long prohibited the reselling of its coveted single-day tickets and multi-day badges, but last year it added a new defense to catch offenders: color-coded strips on the bottom of the tickets that the tournament's ticket police can use as secret decoder rings of sorts to determine the original purchasers. Each of the colors in the six-color design represents a letter and five numbers that match the corresponding ticket number.
It is unknown whether the club is using the strips to make an example of a few unlucky sellers or to power a wider-scale crackdown.
Augusta National Golf Club declined to comment for this story.
For many years the tournament monitored ticket trafficking solely through numbers printed on the tickets. Savvy resellers would simply obscure the number before posting the tickets online, ensuring officials couldn't trace them. The strips mean sellers now must redact both the numbers and the color codes to protect their identities.
If the codes have helped the tournament nail more perps, they haven't appeared to have iced the secondary market for this year's Masters, which thanks to Tiger Woods's resurgence is one of the most hotly anticipated tournaments in recent memory. Ticket-exchange sites such as Stubhub, Vivid Seats and SeatGeek, as well as online marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist, still have hundreds of tickets on the block, ranging from $1,800 for a single-round ticket up to $7,000 for a four-round badge.
StubHub spokesperson Cameron Papp said the company wasn't aware of more stringent efforts by Augusta National to limit the resale of Masters tickets but called the possibility of buyers winding up with invalid tickets "unfortunate" and said StubHub will stand by its guarantee of all tickets exchanged through its marketplace.
"We'll do everything in our power to make sure you get into an event, even if that means spending money to make sure we get supply elsewhere," he said. "As a very last resort you'll get your money back and a voucher. We hope it doesn't come to that."
Face value for Masters tickets are priced artificially low: $75 for practice rounds and $115 for tournament rounds. Tickets have been sold out since 1972. Since 1995, practice-round tickets have been sold via an annual lottery and some daily tournament tickets were added in 2012, the same year the process moved online. The public can apply for up to four tickets per day, beginning in May.
A Masters series badge — good for four tournament days — costs $375 if you are among the lucky few to acquire one. (According to the Augusta Chronicle, after a badge holder dies, the account is transferable only to a surviving spouse.) Badges come with additional barriers for resellers. Unless they're sold for the week, the badges are essentially rented on a daily basis and must be returned at day's end. To ensure the drop-offs happen, some scalpers require a stiff down payment, ranging from cash to a driver's license and the keys to a rental car.
StubHub sets up a fulfillment center by a Publix supermarket a half-mile from the club, where customers must return badges in a timely manner or risk facing a stiff financial penalty.
Whatever effect Augusta National's ticket policing may or may not have over time, don't expect the demand for badges to wane this year, not with Woods back in the mix for the first time since 2015.
"I'm not sure there is an athlete who affects supply and demand more than he does," Papp said.