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The sandwich economy of the Masters and Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Georgia – José María Olazábal hit a tee shot at the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club one day this week, bowed jokingly in front of spectators, and meandered to the green of one of the golf’s big holes .

Much of the gallery quickly made its way to one of the sport’s bargains: the Amen Corner concession stand, where Masters fans can come for a meal – sandwich, soda and cookie – for as little as $ 5.

The famous control club spent decades accepting that they couldn’t, in fact, control the weather. But the economic forces surrounding the tournament are quite reasonable, so the price of a pimento cheese sandwich has been around $ 1.50 since 2003. Adjusted for inflation, and assuming the price of the sandwich was appropriate to start, it should be around $ 2.14.

Economists believe that the sustainable market, at odds with an era of shock sticker pricing at many sporting events, is not just about southern hospitality. Instead, they see an uncompromising genius and soft power: a thrifty way of cultivating the mystique that has helped make the Masters brand one of the most valuable in sports.

“They want to take you back to the days of Bobby Jones – the good old days, if you will,” said John A. List, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, referring to the co-founder of Augusta National. “They haven’t followed the prices, and they understand that their bottom line is over the years. I think they are deliberately not keeping up with inflation and the economy, which makes the message even stronger. “

“Economically,” said List, who attended the Masters in 2019, “actually I thought it was great.”

While Augusta National may be the most famous cheap dealership site, it can offer broader lessons for the sports industry as well. Georgia, with its moderate cost of living and high-powered sporting events, has become something of a case study. About 145 miles west, the Atlanta Falcons cut prices in half a few years ago when they moved to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The franchise, aware that most of the NFL’s money comes from media rights deals and ticket sales, rejoiced in positive media coverage and, ultimately, more spending from from the fans.

The concept slowly spread to all sports. The Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers and Charlotte Hornets, among other pro teams, have rolled out their own so-called fan-friendly concession pricing initiatives, which have helped draw spectators to stadiums earlier and have encouraged them. others to attend in the first place.

At Augusta National, reducing the cost of a chili cheese by 50 cents, to $ 1, would be a throwback to George Bush’s presidency – the first. The club, which wraps its sandwiches in green wrappers that blend in with the course, is unlikely to go the other way and raise prices sharply, which would mean abandoning the strategy it has long concealed. in the language of kindness and wholesomeness.

“We want the experience to be not only the best, but also affordable,” said Billy Payne, who spent 11 years at the head of the club in 2007. “We take some things very, very seriously – like cost. of a chili. the sandwich is just as important as the height of the second cut.

Fred S. Ridley, Payne’s successor, also said Augusta National’s goal was to provide food “at a reasonable price”.

Ridley said the low cost “just adds to the feel” for the sandwiches, although he declined to identify which one he prefers. (“I love them all but try to stay away.”)

People, of course, would still eat. But the prospect of higher profit margins, List suggested, is almost certainly out of place in the minds of Augusta National’s green jacket members, who are often titans of business or politics. Whatever quarters remain on the table, they represent some sort of investment, experts said, while also aligning well with club and state philosophy.

“They want to shock you and impress you on the low side, and they could double, triple or quadruple the prices,” List said as he headed to a Chicago White Sox game this week. “I would have noticed and thought it was normal. And I don’t think the Masters want to do anything in common.

It’s unclear exactly how much money goes through Augusta National, a multi-million dollar mystery that satisfies a tradition of confidentiality at a club that has long been accused of racism and sexism.

Augusta National doesn’t say how many tickets he sells for $ 75 for practice rounds or $ 115 for competition days, nor how much he makes on decidedly not cheap merchandise fans buy and hang around in plastic bags. transparent. His televised deal with CBS has long been a series of one-year contracts that aren’t seen as hugely lucrative for the network or the club. It only accepts a handful of top-notch sponsors, and Ridley said this week the club will donate the profits from a new video game partnership with EA Sports to a foundation that promotes golf.

And Augusta National isn’t afraid to capitalize on its food when it’s headed to places beyond its doors. This year, fans could have Masters dishes delivered to their doorstep, including pounds of chili, pork, and chocolate chip cookies. For good measure, the $ 150 packages included 25 of the dishwasher-safe plastic cups that are major tournament memorabilia.

But whatever the financial side of Augusta, they’re almost certainly helped by the simplicity of the club’s menu. Along with the chili cheese, which is served between two pieces of white bread, there’s an egg salad sandwich for $ 1.50. This year brought the introduction of a new sandwich, a chicken salad on a brioche bun, for $ 3. The most expensive selections on the menu are beers, served in green plastic cups for the princely sum of $ 5.

Pimento cheese, a staple of Southern events, from backyard gatherings to black-tie weddings, has been on Augusta National’s menu since early days and is the club’s most famous culinary offerings.

Cookbook author and prominent Southern chef Nathalie Dupree said the acid in the mayonnaise acts as a preservative, allowing golf enthusiasts to carry a few sandwiches in a pocket or purse for a few hours. and nibble them. under the hot Georgia spring sun.

“It’s kind of a Southern genius that they’re going to find a sandwich for the heat,” Dupree said. “You always work around the heat, before the air conditioning, in particular.”

The sandwich featured prominently in tournament reviews in the 1970s, when the Augusta Junior League published their cookbook, “Tea-Time at the Masters.” The club’s chili cheese recipe wasn’t included, although a step-by-step guide to a cheese paste dubbed a concoction, made with cheddar, cream cheese, and chili cheese – at room temperature – l ‘ did.

The woman who submitted him? “Mrs. Arnold Palmer,” Winifred Palmer, whose husband had already won all four of his Masters titles by then.

“My mom in particular was very fond of Augusta’s chili sandwiches,” said Amy Palmer Saunders, who chairs the Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation. “She would have liked to experience something like this in the kitchen.”

Food is also revered by gamers, no matter how simple.

Bubba Watson, who won in 2012 and 2014, said he prefers the barbecue and chili cheese sandwiches, asking club staff to hold the egg salad and slide in more pork when ordering a known trio. under the name of Taste of the Masters. And before winning last year’s tournament, Dustin Johnson simply said, “My favorite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches.”

Walking the class this week is an opportunity to hear, no matter what time, someone think about what they want to eat. Cashiers, only accepting credit or debit cards due to the coronavirus pandemic, are waiting.

“They make the kind of dream you have come true,” said List, who described Augusta’s approach as “Adam Smith in his glory”.

“When you see it on TV you think it’s a wonderland,” he said of the course. “And Disney looks like a wonderland until they stick it to your wallet.”

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