Editor’s note: When the golf course maintenance industry talks about “The Masters Effect” or “The Augusta Syndrome,” it typically refers to the unrealistic expectations created from watching the most meticulously maintained golf course on Earth. That fallout can be difficult to manage, but a windfall of good fortune stems from Augusta National, too. Around the United States and beyond, golfers get up from the couch and start digging around for their golf clubs. The Masters represents the beginning of the golf season in the North, and boon for golf courses around the country. We decided to chronicle the economic impact of the year’s first major on the golf courses in the region and around the country. Enjoy.
Golf courses in the Augusta, Georgia, area have two seasons: Masters Week and the other 51 weeks of the year.
“That week makes or breaks our year,” says Dan Elliott, general manager and director of golf for Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta, a storied public course located about 5 miles from Augusta National Golf Club. “We prepare for Masters Week like it’s a golf tournament being held at our club. Our rounds double and our activities triple.”
Golf course superintendents and managers with courses up to an hour away expect to be sold out or close to capacity as golf enthusiasts swarm the golf haven for the 81st Masters Tournament, which begins April 6. All agree the event’s economic impact to the Augusta region is massive, although no studies exist to quantify it. Golf industry officials believe its cash impact rivals and exceeds that of other majors. The United States Golf Association estimated the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pumped $120 million to $135 million into the area’s economy with daily event attendance between 30,000 and 35,000.
Golf rounds on public and private courses will be sold for prices ranging from $50 per golfer to $2,500 for a foursome – and probably more. The region’s offerings for fans who want to stay and play range from the most basic “rinse and repeat” golf round to decadent, customized getaways that include stays in palatial private homes and five-course meals.
“The commercials have started on CBS so people are not golfing right now, but their blood has started flowing, and all they will have on their mind when they come that week is golf,” says Elliott.
“Fortunately we have a reputation as a nice place to play golf and we are the only other golf course aside from Augusta Country Club with any history and tradition that can be tied to The Masters era.”
Forest Hills, which is part of Augusta University, is a Donald Ross design built in 1926. Bobby Jones won the Southeastern Open there in 1930, which was a major springboard for his historic Grand Slam year. His play there and at Augusta Country Club exposed him to the property he would ultimately craft into his golf ideal.
The course’s Masters Week Promotion was $160 including cart, range balls and lunch.
“We will have 1,000 rounds that week, which is very busy for us. Normally, a good day is 140 golfers, and we will be over 200. We only have 18 holes and one tee, so it is pretty busy.”
Making way for Masters Week
As the days lengthened in February, Masters preparation at Augusta Country Club was shifting into high gear.
“Our play that week is quite busy and we probably play twice as many rounds as we would on a non-Masters week,” says Greg Burleson, golf course superintendent at the private club where roars and applause from adjacent Augusta National can be heard. “We’ve got a very good relationship with our peers at Augusta National, and we want to do everything on this side to make sure their event is well received as well. Someone will go to The Masters one day and then come here to play the next, and we want to make sure they have a good experience.”
Across the Savannah River from downtown Augusta, The River Golf Club of North Augusta, South Carolina, is known for its hospitality. Rounds will go for between $200 and $300 and include a cart, range balls, beverage service, breakfast and lunch.
“Thankfully our members are supportive and understand the money that we are able to generate that week really helps them because we put that money back into the golf course,” says Chris Verdery, director of golf for the semi-private club, who adds the course will generate three or four weeks of revenue during the championship. “So, while it may be an inconvenience for a few days, it’s beneficial for the rest of the year. It helps with our maintenance budget and without The Masters that would be a little less.”
Built in 1998 and designed by Jim Fazio, the course’s greens rise above a maze of lakes and wetlands. The River Golf Club also offers golf cottages with four to eight bedrooms, although they are booked for the upcoming Masters Week.
About 15 miles south of Augusta National, the private golf club Champions Retreat in Evans, Georgia, will open the property from April 3-9 to offer tournament-goers customized experiences that include luxury rental homes, roaring fire pits, live music and fine dining.
“Our vision that week is really about a lot of high-powered people, highly influential people, who come to The Masters and without knowing the clubs many people of that caliber might settle for a hotel room and a wait in line for dinner,” says Cameron Wiebe, general manager at Champions, which features an unparalleled combination of individually designed nine-hole courses by Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. “They will go to the tournament and they will never get an opportunity to fully enjoy this rich history and have the finer services. We take that seriously.”
Champions will offer foursomes for $2,500 including a forecaddie and food and beverage until 5 p.m., but Wiebe says the focus is on the overall experience, not just golf rounds.
Masters Week proceeds represent about 25 percent of the lodging, food and beverage revenue for the year, although Wiebe says golf only represents about 10 percent of the rounds for that time.
“The Masters experience is a variety of different things to different people.”
Champions Retreat has a housing pool of about 50 private rental homes in its development or just outside the gates of the club. The homes are high-end, highly appointed homes and, as Weibe puts it, “many people pay for college tuition that week.”
Public options available
Public courses in the area reported in early February that tee times were still available for those whose pockets were not as deep.
“We try to keep it where the common person can play while they are here during The Masters,” says Ira Miller, general manager for Augusta Municipal Golf Course. “Last year we were averaging 50 to 60 rounds every day that week. During a normal week, we might average about 25 rounds and on the weekend we hit 50.”
Augusta Municipal offers individual rounds during its Masters Week for between $35 and $50.
“The thing about this course is everybody can play it,” Miller says. “It’s not too long, and it’s great for the average player from any age group.”
Jeff Lloyd, golf course superintendent for Bartram Trail Golf Club in Evans, Georgia, says historically Masters Week at the daily fee course is not as busy.
“I’ve worked at several golf courses in Augusta, and we are by far the slowest course,” says Lloyd, whose 18-hole course was built in 2005. “We are only 15 minutes from Augusta, but that little difference seems to be a big one. For whatever reason, that extra five- or 10-minute drive hurts us even though we’re known as one of the best courses around.”
Traffic at the course, whose Masters Weeks rounds will be about $100 with a cart, could be changing. Columbia County has been lauded in recent years for its population and business growth.
“The Augusta market is expanding toward us,” Lloyd says. “We were built at a time golf was struggling, and so our course was built to have fun. We’ve done everything we can to make our course easier and faster to play. We started with 57 bunkers and we are down to 19 to make it easier to play and have fun.”
Read more: Super Offers His Take on Augusta
The Masters’ broad reach
Overflow from The Masters is known to extend as far west as Atlanta and as far to the east as the coast.
An hour’s drive west from Augusta in Greensboro, Georgia, the resort golf courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee and accommodations, including 50 cottages and condos and a 251-room Ritz-Carlton Hotel, are expected to be close to capacity during The Masters and the week prior.
“It’s our single biggest revenue week of the year,” says Lane Singleton, vice president of agronomy, who oversees 117 holes and 1,000 acres. “Literally, we start booking for next year as soon as Masters Week is over, and I think you will find it’s similar in nature for clubs in at least a 50-mile radius of Augusta that have a place to stay and play golf.”
In addition to the resort courses, one private course remains gated during Masters Week. Singleton estimated that each of the six properties would average 180 to 200 rounds during the championship; a typical day would max out between 60 and 100. Masters Week rounds will go for between $200 and $295 with cart.
“Some years are better than others, but it is very, very busy every year,” Singleton adds. “The only thing that puts a damper on it is when we get rain that week.”