For seven days a year at Augusta National Golf Club, golf fans descend upon the Masters Golf Shop to score rare hats, polos, and some unnecessary memorabilia.
On April 2, Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters since 1934, unveiled a brand new state-of-the-art store for patrons of the 2018 tournament. If you’ve ever been to a golf tournament, then you know that heavily branded gear is almost a requirement: Dads who are dressed to play a round themselves (as if they may be subbed in should a player go down), kids in signed visors, and that one guy who is really pushing the limits of the dress code in an Odell Beckham Jr. jersey worn over a polo shirt. And every golf course has a pro shop filled with branded hats, balls, ball markets, club-head covers, and all the other stuff golfers love to buy.
But this new dedicated Masters store is something different, a pop-up retail temple that puts even Kanye West’s globe-spanning The Life of Pabloshops to shame. A few statistics: There are almost 400 mannequins alone in the space, 64 registers, and 125—125!—varieties of hat. More impressive is that the flow of the shop is as orderly and regimented as the tournament. The line to get in doubles as a Masters museum, and post-checkout, customers are given the option to ship their purchases home directly from the store. But what’s most interesting isn’t the fact that you can buy so much Masters gear in one place, and do so efficiently. No, it’s that this—one shop in Augusta, Georgia—is the only place in the entire world that you can buy it. Because of this, Masters merch has taken on a cult-like following, spawning obsessives and even a large resale market. To put it another way: Officially branded Masters products are basically Supreme for dads.
Before any of your favorite streetwear and sneaker brands popped into existence, the Masters was trafficking in exclusivity and scarcity—in what we now know as hype. Augusta National, the club that has always hosted the tournament, is arguably the most exclusive of its kind in the world. Current members, of which there are only 300, include Warren Buffett, Condoleezza Rice, and a whole bunch of former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This exclusivity has a less savory side, too: Until 1990, there had never been an African-American member at Augusta, while the first female members (Rice was one of two) were invited only in 2012.
But while the club itself has taken (small) steps to become more inclusive, the retail experience for its most prestigious tournament remains prohibitive. The store is only open for seven days a year, and in just the one location. But, as is the case for rare sneakers, this is in all likelihood good for business, adding to the urgency customers at the event feel to spend and spend big. Buy this polo shirt, or else you’ll never be able to get it again. And if you’ve ever shopped online after a couple glasses of wine, imagine doing the same after a day of standing in the sun, drinking beers, and housing pimento-cheese sandwiches in golf heaven. “I don’t even like shopping... Yet over the years, I’ve spent more time at the Masters Golf Shop than every clothing store combined,” says Teddy Greenstein, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune who’s been covering the Masters for a decade.
Where the Masters shop’s pastel polos and logo-heavy caps depart from the world of streetwear and sneakers is that they’re decidedly—maybe even purposely—not cool. A brand like Supreme sells clothes to people who want to flex—to show off their cool gear to people who recognize it as such. It goes without saying that most of the people who buy Masters gear aren’t fashion experts in the slightest. But the dynamic is shockingly similar. Over the phone Greenstein says, “I don’t know if it’s the logo, or what it is, but I get in there and it’s like trance. I hope I have five arms so I can grab everything I see.” He also says this year he bought not one, but two sets of Masters playing cards this year—one to use and one to store—in the same way sneakerheads will buy two pairs of kicks under the unassailable logic of “one to rock and one to stock."
In 2018, those hoping to get some official Masters gear no longer have to bank on scoring tickets to buy products—as long as they’re willing to pay a premium. There are websites dedicated to re-selling Masters merchandise for twice the price it goes for at Augusta. A website called MMO Golf is one of the top search results on Google for “2018 masters merchandise,” and it sells everything from hats ($60, marked up from $25) to shirts to jackets to balls ($120 for a set of 12 branded Titleist Pro-V1s, marked up from $50). “We purchase Masters tickets and use our Masters badges to enter the masters 2018 golf tournament to purchase official masters merchandise for customers like you every year,” the website reads. Think of these sites as a 1.0 version of sneaker reseller—someone who might show up to a store, clear out their inventory, and list the items on eBay.
For more hardcore Masters obsessives, there’s a level of merch even rarer than what you can buy at the megastore. These products are not branded with “The Masters”; instead, they simply say “Augusta National Golf Club” or “ANGC.” These are only available in the actual Augusta National pro shop—which only those with a membership (or VIP badge) have access to that during the tournament. (Greenstein says media was permitted into the pro shop in previous years, but was barred in 2018 for an undisclosed reason.) The prices for these items, available only on the secondary market, reflect their elite status—like, say, a friends & family-only edition of a sneaker. One hat adorned with the ANGC logo is asking $140 right now on eBay, while another is listed for $295.
But unlike the internet-first world of the sneaker market, which sees brands embroiled in a complicated technological arms race with resellers who are constantly trying to hack their way into obtaining the most pairs of a desirable shoe possible, Masters patrons are seemingly only limited by their bank accounts. Augusta lets people buy as much as they’d like—which makes sense, as much of the product is branded with “2018 Masters,” making it effectively useless to the store come next year. (Our emails to a representative for the tournament were not answered, so your guess as to what happens to leftover gear is as good as ours.) Streetwear pieces and sneakers deemed iconic can increase in value over time, but the market for vintage Masters gear is less enticing: if a product or item wasn’t worn by a player or tied to a specific moment in history, then it doesn’t fetch much. A T-shirt from the 1997 Masters—the tournament Tiger Woods won by a record 12 strokes for his first major—is available for $30 online, about the same price as a new one in 2018. Like the green jacket itself—which, after one year in the previous winner’s possession, must be returned to Augusta National forever—Masters hats, T-shirts, polos, and ball markers are at their highest value right after the tournament.
Ultimately, at the Masters, the logo isn’t the actually the product—the tournament is. Almost no one who was lucky enough to be standing greenside on the 16th hole on Sunday in 2005 to witness Tiger Woods’ legendary chip-in would exchange that experience for a really nice hat. And it’s tough to hit mega resale prices—we’re talking grail-level returns of 500% or more—if the thing you're selling is beloved by dads. So it’s difficult to imagine a distant future in which hypebeasts are desperately searching Grailed for some Masters 2018 gear, or an official Vetements x Augusta National collab. (Having said that, the whole thing about shipping your purchases home right after purchase? That’s a concept we think every destination retailer should get down with.)
But there’s a bigger lesson to be learned from how the Masters does business. Whether it’s ill-fitting polos or box logo hoodies, exclusivity—if not in product, than in simply getting through the door—is a key ingredient driving the survival of brick and mortar retail. And there’s no better example than Masters week at Augusta National.
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