AUGUSTA, Ga. — Life is full of tough decisions: buy or rent, boxers or briefs, spend $40 on the three-piece candle set in the resplendent new merchandise center here at Augusta National or $39.50 on the bearded garden gnome clad in a caddie jumpsuit, which, as one shopper cooed Tuesday afternoon, "is just about the cutest thing I've ever seen."
At virtually every price point, the choices are vexing: ivory dress watch ($395) or alligator money clip ($350); nut bowl ($98.50) or printed scarf ($99.50), four-pack of magnets ($12) or cellphone ring ($9). Compounding the stress is that you're not just shopping for yourself. You've got your brother to worry about, and your neighbor Bob. Aunt Judy and Uncle Douggie. Lenny in accounting and Sheila in legal. Hell, even Fido is counting on you: Masters dog leash ($19) or dog bowl ($18). (Bowl is the correct answer, by the way.)
The lure of Masters-branded schwag has always been strong, but this year the tournament has upped its game with the mother of all merch centers. The Mastersmart (my name, not theirs) is like a golf-centric Barneys with faux hardwood floors, brass ceiling fans, and a central atrium from which natural light spills in. It would be beneath the club to say how many square feet the shop occupies on a parcel of land between the first fairway and the practice facility, but it has twice the floor space as the previous iteration and on Tuesday it took me three minutes and 12 seconds to walk from one side to the other.
There are hundreds of shelves and racks stocked with shirts, sweaters and pullovers, nearly 400 mannequins (and one dog-equin), more than 100 styles of hats and 64 registers manned by 128 clerks in lime green Masters zip-ups.
Orville Lemond, a lawyer from Atlanta, exited the shop Tuesday with three plastic bags loaded with visors, shirts and a couple of posters.
"Four twenty-five," he said when asked how much he spent, with nary a hint of regret or shame in his voice. He grinned at his wife. "Could have easily dropped twice that."
That's what this place does to you. Or more specifically what that logo does to you — the outline of the U.S., the flagstick jammed into Georgia. It's the holy grail of golf symbols, utterly irresistible to golfers of all ages, a universally-acknowledged emblem that adds gravitas to ball markers, pint glasses, throw blankets, teddy bears, you name it. It also adds bags of cash to Augusta's coffers. Industry experts estimate that Masters merchandise generates between $40 and $50 million of revenue for the club each year.
The new building took all of 20 weeks to construct — when Augusta National acts, it acts quickly — but it looks as if it's been here for decades: the plantation-style exterior blends in seamlessly with the club’s stately surrounds. The club also added an expanded shipping facility for patrons who've overindulged.
The ultimate splurge is tucked away rather unceremoniously on a display rack in a wing of the shop called the "Clubhouse": a dark green leather MacKenzie golf bag "crafted by skilled artisans to the exacting specifications of our discerning customers." Asking price: $995.
There are only 20 available this week and lest you think no one in their right mind would drop that kind of loot on a bag, a cheery attendant named Joyce told me on Tuesday that the shop had already unloaded eight of them.
"One guy said he's going to mount it on his den wall," Joyce said. "I think that'll look lovely."
Back outside the shop, satisfied-looking patrons sat on benches under a sun-splashed sky, bags of merch at their sides. If you listened closely, dollars spent was a popular conversation topic: 190, 270, 305.
Dolores and Stephen Scheft, retirees from North Myrtle Beach, S.C., were among the huddled masses. This was their first Masters — a one day-trip in and out — and they weren't about to go home empty handed. Among their haul: three hats, tumbler glasses, and a 1,000-piece puzzle. Total spend: about 150 bucks.
Any buyer's remorse?
"Oh, no," Bill said.
In fact, he was debating venturing back in for some coasters.