The Masters - Masters underground economy enjoying upswing

A recovering marketplace and an improving Tiger Woods have given a boost to the Masters underground economy that operates just outside the walls of the world's most exclusive golf club.

Reuters

Washington Road is the Masters bazaar, an unappealing four-lane corridor of strip malls, gas stations, fast food joints and budget hotels that runs straight past the picturesque Magnolia Lane, the short road leading to the Augusta National clubhouse.

It is a 1.5-mile stretch of pavement where, during Masters week, one can buy everything from machine guns to a Masters-themed children's book, 'Badges, Egg Salad and Green Jackets. The Masters from A to Z.'

A place where visitors can take in the Miss Par Three bikini contest at Hooters on Saturday night and confess their sins just up the road on Sunday morning at the National Hills Baptist Church's 'Worship the Masters.'

"We don't have any tickets yet but we came here for the party anyway," said Jim, who made the trip from Atlanta with three of his friends hoping to land what many consider as the most coveted ticket in sports.

Augusta National has been described as a little piece of heaven on earth, but to get to golf's promised land you must travel through a stretch of urban hell.

The road to the Masters is not lined with majestic Georgia pines but rather a gauntlet of pitchmen and ticket touts.

On one corner, George sits patiently under a tarp selling $1 bottles of water while stone broker Don McIntee holds up a sign hoping for a bite.

"It's hard, a couple of people walking by have stopped to ask a few questions but that's it," said McIntee. "I'm just out here trying to make a living."

Even golfing bad boy and former-British Open champion John Daly is hard at work, hawking his clothing line and posing for pictures outside his lavish motor home parked beside Hooters, which has pitched a massive tent and brought in extra staff from adjoining states to help with the flood of Masters visitors.

There is something for everyone on Washington Road.

The newest Jaguar luxury cars have taken over prime real estate on the corner of Berckmans and Washington while across the street Masters memorabilia tempts golf fans and Julie Alfriend Ferris signs copies of her children's book.

"My daughter was five and asked where her dad had gone for the day and I told her he had gone to the Masters," said Alfriend Ferris.

"She asked where did he eat lunch and I told her at the clubhouse and she asked 'what does the clubhouse look like?'

"The wheels started turning and I said, I don't think there is a children's book about the Masters so I wrote it."

Competition for the Masters parking dollar is almost as fierce as the fight for the green jacket given to the tournament's champion.

With Augusta National offering acres of free parking for patrons, enterprising businesses look to scoop up the scraps when those lots fill.

Some Washington Road stores turn over their parking spaces to charities allowing them to make a few dollars while small businesses, like flower shop owner Frank Mosley, have also gotten in on the action.

While Mosley's lot is almost full on Friday, next door to his tiny white flower shop the Venus and Adonis hair salon has just two cars baking under a late afternoon Georgia sun.

"I've been doing this for nearly 50 years and all these cars are people I've met who keep coming back," smiled the 74-year-old Mosley. "People come here to eat, drink and be merry. I love it."

'TALK TO JESUS'

It is Masters badges, however, that provide the real currency along Washington Road, exchanging hands for thousands of dollars.

From dawn until late into the night, hopeful golf fans and scalpers stroll up and down the pavement in search of tickets.

This year Masters tournament badges - with a face value of $250 for four days - were being offered for no less than $2,500 and as much as $7,450 for Saturday and Sunday on the ticket resale site StubHub.

"A gentleman came up to me and asked if I knew where he could get five tickets," chuckled Mosley. "I told him you better talk to Jesus because he's not going to find that many around here."

As always, the real action takes place inside Augusta National where 60 cash registers hum from dawn to dusk with golf fans snapping up thousands of dollars of exclusive merchandise available only at Augusta during Masters week.

"If I don't bring back a few souvenirs, I'm going to have a few less friends," smiled Steve, a Chicago dentist attending his first Masters after spending close to $1,000 in the merchandise shop. "It's a once in a lifetime chance so you have to do it."

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