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In early days, challenge was to sell - not buy - Masters tickets

March 27, 2016 - 2:38 am
Hugh Pratt, a longtime Augustan and the president of Pratt-Dudley Builders Supply Co., remembers when Augusta National had trouble selling Masters tickets.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Hugh Pratt, a longtime Augustan and the president of Pratt-Dudley Builders Supply Co., remembers when Augusta National had trouble selling Masters tickets.
By David Westin |

In this day of Masters Tournament badges being among the toughest tickets in sports to purchase, it's hard to believe how easy it once was to buy them.

Until the late 1950s, Augusta National Golf Club needed the help of community leaders to sell tickets for the tournament, which started in 1934.

Clifford Roberts, the first Augusta National chairman and co-founder of the club, addressed the issue in his 1976 book, The Story of the Augusta National.

"We enlisted the aid of local members, hotels and the Augusta banks in the sale of tournament tickets, but total sales to Augusta were considerably below out-of-town buying," wrote Roberts, who died in 1977.

"(Augusta National) depended on a dozen leaders of the community to push them," said Augustan Hugh Pratt, the chairman of the board and president of Pratt-Dudley Builders Supply Co. of Augusta from 1963-91. Pratt is still president of the company.

Augusta banks, in particular, were asked by Augusta National to sell tickets.

"Our bankers had to move a certain number of tickets," said the 76-year-old Pratt, who has lived in Augusta since 1951.

Pratt recalls the pressure bankers would put on customers such as himself.

"You'd go to the bank, wear a tie and have your hat in your hand and tell them how badly you needed a $10,000 loan," Pratt said. "They'd say, 'We've got these (Masters) tickets to sell - how about taking 50 of them?' We were pretty well pressured by our bankers."

The cost of 50 tickets at the time, Pratt said, was between $400 and $500.

"We'd find use of 20 or so for our customers," Pratt said. "In those days, there weren't many people wanting them."

Tom Blanchard, of Blanchard and Calhoun Real Estate in Augusta, was among the community leaders who sold tickets for Augusta National.

"The tickets moved very slowly," Blanchard said. "There were more tickets than they had demand for and they were very, very cheap. (Augusta National officials) were anxious to get people. I did it because it was a good thing to do. I felt fortunate to buy the tickets to give them to somebody who could use them. I didn't do it as a civic duty. I like golf."

The problem Augusta National faced, as Roberts wrote in his book, was that Augusta "had a population of only a little more than 60,000 and a very small percentage of its permanent residents had any interest in either playing golf or watching the game played.

"We were undertaking to establish our event in a town that could not provide more than a fraction of the needed number of ticket buyers," Roberts wrote.

That's where the power brokers of Augusta came in.

"The leaders of the community wanted to help; they wanted to build up the Masters, to keep it going," Pratt said. "It was like the United Way, with community leaders. I think the feeling was, they wanted to help. I don't think there was any question (Augusta National officials) wanted to stay (in Augusta)."

Roberts had some doubts in the beginning after starting the Masters, as he recounted in his book many years later.

"I feel sure that, had we fully realized at the time the number of disadvantages with which we were faced, the Masters might never have been born," Roberts wrote. "I am even more certain that, had we foreseen the degree of success to be attained and the resultant responsibilities, the plans for the Masters might have been dropped."

The demand for tickets started to grow in the late 1950s when Arnold Palmer took Augusta National and the world of golf by storm.

"That's when they stopped pushing; the bankers never hit us up anymore. The tournament was making a go of it," Pratt said.

By 1972, the patron list was closed and a waiting list for badges was established.

"It's a complete reversal now," Blanchard said. "It's a different world."

"It's a big change," Pratt agreed. "You've got people now who would give anything in the world for a ticket."

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