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The Masters merch scene is a feeding frenzy unlike anything I've ever seen before

Joe Ciolli   

The Masters merch scene is a feeding frenzy unlike anything I've ever seen before
  • The Masters is this week. You know what that means: an opportunity for attendees to buy merch.
  • Items with the Masters logo have become elite status symbols.

When the Masters golf tournament starts this Thursday, those watching on TV will be treated to the usual assortment of visuals: lush green grass, immaculate flower beds, and the world's greatest players putting on a show.

But an even fiercer competition will be raging behind the scenes: the battle for authentic Masters merch.

Sure, seeing superstars like Tiger Woods and Scottie Scheffler in person is cool. But so is loading up on gear emblazoned with the Masters' famous yellow logo, which has become a cultlike beacon of status.

I had the good fortune of attending a Monday practice round for the Masters and could see the merch fervor up close and personal.

When I showed up at Augusta National Golf Club with my family (shout-out to my dad, who secured the tickets after a decade-plus of lottery attempts), I quickly noticed the number of people already heading for the exit. They each had six to eight bags stuffed with shirts, hats, and towels, and many had the most highly sought-after item of them all: the Masters garden gnome.

The tournament allows for one reentry a day, so it's possible those people were going to drop their merch off in their car. But it wasn't lost on me that they might be part of a legion of resellers who make thousands marking up and flipping authentic items. To get an idea of how lucrative that can be, check out this 2023 Masters gnome listed for $1,200 on eBay. (Original price: $50.)

Once we made our way further up the entry path, we saw the start of the line. It stretched back 50 feet from the actual entrance, which was followed by a series of winding metal gates reminiscent of a TSA checkpoint. Directly in front of the entrance, there was a sea of people standing shoulder to shoulder, trudging along, trying to make their way to the actual course. It reminded me of going between stages at a music festival. I would've snapped a picture of the hubbub, but the Masters' no-phone rule made it difficult to document the journey.

Being in the main line feels a lot like waiting for a ride at Disney. Once you enter the building, there's a huge room and corridor with gates snaking around. The line seems to extend at every turn. What's another 20 minutes when that sweet merch is within grasp?

After roughly 45 minutes, we made it to the actual shop. The final step is to wait for about five minutes in an entryway before they let in a new flood of shoppers.

Once you're inside, the mania is overwhelming. There are separate alcoved sections for men, women, and kids. A giant houseware display sits in the center of the store. Countless shirts and hats are displayed on the wall and busy workers rush to fetch items from bins stacked high with various sizes.

There are several checkout lines, each with at least five registers on either side. The cashiers crank through piles of merch, run credit cards, then move on to the next. It's an impressive assembly line of capitalism.

I ended up purchasing a polo shirt, a T-shirt, a hat, and a cup. Compared to almost everyone else around me, it felt like a meager haul, and I wound up toting around just a single bag for the rest of the day.

The whole experience left me feeling like the Masters has become a retail juggernaut that just so happens to put on a golf tournament. And the numbers bear that out: The 2022 tournament raked in $69 million in revenue from merch, per Forbes, which was far more than it made from tickets and concessions.

Attendance figures aren't made public, but the consensus is that about 40,000 people attend the tournament each day, which works out to each visitor spending an average of $246 at the merch store.

But that assumes endless supply. A guy I met at my hotel said that last year, the store had to stop selling merchandise by Friday because of depleted inventory. It's also possible people are less merch-obsessed from Thursday to Sunday when the actual golf tournament is going on, so the Monday-through-Wednesday practice-round crowd could be driving up that average.

It seems more likely that the typical patron is ponying up even more than $246 — the people carrying six bags were surely toting five figures worth of swag.

So in the end, what's it all for? The answer is pretty straightforward: street cred and status. Golf is already an expensive sport largely played by the affluent. For one to stand out in that already elite crowd, extreme measures must be taken. Lines must be waited in, and hundreds (thousands?) must be shelled out.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to head to the store wearing my new Masters hat.

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