The other story of a postponed Masters: ‘An economic disaster’

Masters Week is also known as the 13th month in Augusta, Ga., a special Saturday to Sunday in April when merchants, retailers and creative entrepreneurs can earn an extra month’s worth of income in seven days.

Restaurants, retail shops, hotels, caterers, event planners, mom-and-pop stores and anyone with a lawn big enough to park cars can reap a handsome haul when the Masters is played at Augusta National Golf Club off Washington Road. That’s why the postponement of the 2020 tournament has been devastating for many in the community despite being rescheduled for November.

“It’s an economic disaster,” said Brian Bush, a real estate attorney in Augusta. “Business entities, companies and individuals depend on this week. It could be as simple as the household that allows people to park on their front grass and they get $20 a car. It winds up being some significant money for that family. Or it could be the family that earns income from renting out their house; or the people who have purchased stuff they plan to sell. There’s no way to adequately describe the impact of not having the tournament on the city of Augusta.”

Thursday should have been the opening round for what traditionally is the first major championship of the year. The azaleas around Amen Corner would be in full bloom and five-time winner Tiger Woods would be defending the green jacket he captured last year in dramatic fashion. But the Masters, like the rest of the sporting world, has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There had been nearly 11,000 confirmed cases and 379 related deaths in Georgia as of Thursday.

It has been a double whammy for the Augusta economy. Not only are closed businesses and their employees losing their normal method of income, they’ve also lost the added revenue the Masters generates.

“I feel so sorry for the small businesses,” Bush told The Post. “Not only are they losing out on Masters Week income, but everything has been pulled out from under you. Even the normal crowd is gone.”

The Masters announced it has rescheduled the tournament for Nov. 12-15. But it won’t be as easy to adjust to November — if golf is even played in November — as it’s doubtful the Augusta community will generate anywhere close to the revenue normally made in April.

It has been estimated a typical Masters generates $100 million, but it’s likely much more. The Masters is a global event that attracts fans from all over the world. A year of planning goes into maximizing the week. Arrangements for housing, transportation, catering were set months ago and could be difficult to adjust.

“It’s a forgone conclusion that there’s going to be a lot less people that’s going to show up in the fall than there would have been for April,” Bush said. “It’s totally unprecedented and nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen.”

Tradition is a big part of its charm. The last time the Masters wasn’t played as scheduled was when it was canceled 77 years ago for World War II. Since then it has been the only major golf tournament held on the same golf course, in the same city, and at the same time of the year.

“The Masters is a lifetime event that happens every year,” said Bennish Brown, CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The Masters means so many things locally to so many people. This has been a shot to us mentally. It’s a time everybody looks forward to because it really does help provide more for that nest egg. People rent out homes and use that money to pay their mortgage, college tuition or make home renovations. The trickle down is unbelievable in so many different ways.”

Bush has rented out his five-bedroom home for the last 15 years. It sits about a mile from Augusta National. His first renters were part of a world-wide company that brought in clients from all parts of the planet. Now he rents to a group of reporters, who plan to return in November. Others may not be so fortunate.

“There have been lots of reschedules and lots of cancellations,” said Nikki Johnson, owner of A Family Affair Catering in Augusta. “We’ve been closed since this started because we cannot serve our public. We can’t serve any food or have a function with over 10 guests. It’s been a little bit stressful.”

Meanwhile, home owners planning to rent their houses during the Masters have completed their annual spring cleaning, but now have no place to go. Bush said he has used past income from the rental to pay debts, renovate his home and take the family on a week-long cruise. “The main goal is to get the heck out of town so you don’t have to deal with the prices of the restaurants going up and the hustle and bustle of the extra traffic,” Bush said.

Now everything must be rebooked or canceled. Refunds depend on each contract. While Augusta National sits quiet, its community remains nervous.

“The way this impacts people, there’s no way you can wrap your head around it,” Bush said. “It’s just insane.”

Filed under 4/9/20