A true sports fan over their lifetime yearns to view in-person the marquis events in the athletic world. For many, these include the Super Bowl, the deciding game of the World Series, and the Kentucky Derby. In addition, on many lifetime lists is the Masters Tournament held at Augusta National each year during the first full week of April.
The Masters Tournament makes many lists for numerous reasons. These include the high level of play at golf’s first Major of the year, the drama which always seems to unfold on the back nine around Amen Corner and the shear beauty as Spring bursts forth in Augusta with the blooming of both the Magnolias and the famed Azaleas.
With so much to offer both the ardent and casual golf fan alike it is no wonder that the Masters has gained the reputation as the toughest ticket in sports. Tournament or “Series” badges (Thursday through Sunday) for the actual four rounds of play are sold out to those on the patron list. This list was closed due to demand in 1972. A badge waiting list began in 1972, was closed in 1978, reopened in 2000, and is once again closed.
Do not despair, your dream of walking on the course at the ultra private Augusta National can be realized in two ways. An application to Augusta National to purchase Practice round tickets (Monday through Wednesday) can be made. If this does not bring success, the age-old practice of ticket scalping is very much alive outside the gates of Augusta National. Over the years the pricing structure appears to be $50 to $300 for Practice Round days and $400 and up per day for the use of a Tournament badge.
Regardless of what you pay to gain admission, you are sure to find it well worth the cost once the Masters experience takes hold. The beauty and diverse challenge of the course is like none other that you will view. In particular, this is shown on the back nine around the famous Amen Corner (holes 11-13). Of special note is hole 12, the shortest par 3 on the course. With swirling wind, the club selection can range from a 6 to a 9 iron. With Rae’s creek in front and three bunkers (one in front and two in the rear) to contend with, the player’s shot must land on the putting surface. The Ben Hogan Bridge allows golfers to cross Rae’s creek. Fred Couples, who won the Tournament in 1992 summed the experience up, “There’s no bigger thrill in golf than the walk from Augusta National’s 11th green to the 12th tee.”
Echoing Freddy’s excitement over Augusta National are most golf autograph collectors that have had the opportunity to pursue player signatures during the Masters. One of the main reasons for this is that the Tournament invites each of the past champions to return each year. The defending champion hosts a champion’s only dinner on Tuesday night at the club. Most past winners make the yearly trip to Augusta, due in part to an honorarium, which is paid to each champion in attendance. Notable exceptions to this rule were Ben Hogan (1951 and 1953 champion) who did not attend in latter life, 1955 champion Cary Middlecoff who did not attend due to illness, and 1956 champion Jack Burke is an infrequent attendee citing obligations running the Champions Club in Houston, Texas. With these exceptions, the three Practice Round days are still the best three days of the year to acquire Masters Champion’s signatures. This especially has held true for players who no longer competed on the Champions Tour (Seniors). This was the case for Herman Kaiser who was an attendee at the Masters until his death in 2003. In latter years, autographing had become difficult for the 1946 Champion who was stricken by Alzheimer’s. Please see example of this time period signature on popular Masters collectible card set – 1997-98 Champions of Golf/Master’s Collection.
Other elderly Masters Champions who were seldom seen but good signers at the Tournament prior to their deaths were Art Wall (D-2001) and Sam Sneed (D-2002). Sneed in fact attended the Masters in April of 2002 signed items during the Practice Rounds before taking ill, and passed away in May of that year. Please see examples of signatures of both on a dated year 2000 Masters Champions flag.
Collecting autographs on Masters flags is one of the staples many collectors desire in comprising a Masters Tournament collection. Some of the more popular themes are field flags comprised of signatures from as many players as can be gathered from a specific years tournament. A second challenge, features a Masters flag with only the past Champions of the Tournament and a third option is single signed flags featuring an individual Champion per flag. The official tournament flag is currently only available at Augusta National during the week of the Tournament. Mail order is not an option, creating a large secondary market for the flags. Since 1999, the Masters flag has had the current year embroidered at the top. Prior to then, these flags did not carry the year and are now referred to as “undated”. In 2002, all flags “dated” flags were sold out, and some undated flags were then made available. Even though flags seem to sell out each year during tournament week, and collectors request them, the undated flags have not been sold again. Please see examples of single signed undated Masters flag by 1992 Champ Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw single signed flag with added notation of his two years of victory at Augusta National in 1984 and 1995.
Crenshaw, who is probably the leading enthusiast of golf history, enjoys talking golf with fans of the sport and will sometimes reward this interest with the addition of his championship years to an autographed piece. But be wary those collectors who Ben perceives as being in the project for financial gain, as they are likely to obtain no signature on a Masters flag, or an abbreviated version and most likely a tongue lashing. This is also the case with two-time Masters Champion Tom Watson who typically avoids autographing Masters flags. The easiest way to obtain Watson’s signature is to stand along the ropes amidst the sea of Masters flags with anything other than a flag or golf ball; you will be very likely to gain an autograph on your item.
During your pursuit of Masters Champions signatures keep a sharp eye out for other dignitaries such as athletes who have attended: Dan Marino, George Brett, David Robinson and Ernie Banks just to mention a few. Other good signatures to obtain are those from notable swing instructors, equipment designers, and Tournament Chairman, Hootie Johnson. See example of 2002 dated single signed Masters flag from Johnson.
A final item that Masters autograph collectors frequently choose is the Masters scorecard. The original ones from the course should have two small perforations for placement of a scoring pencil. Due to the difficulty in obtaining these scorecards, there have been numerous copies made; the reproductions do not carry perforations. Often times, however, these cards do carry authentic signatures. See three-time Masters Champion Nick Faldo’s autograph on original scorecard and 1957 Champion Doug Ford on a reproduced scorecard.
Now that your appetite is wet for collecting autographs at the Masters, make plans to head to Augusta in early April. Please remember when you finally cross this off your wish list of events to attend, that you must spend time on the course, drink in the beauty and experience the true spectacle of the Masters Tournament. You too will then see why attending the Masters is the most desired ticket in Sports.
by Kip Ingle
James Spence Authentication