AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club’s decision to hold a patron-free Masters Tournament means tens of thousands of visitors will collectively cross the city off their 2020 to-do list.
The club announced Wednesday it would not allow patrons, confirming what Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis predicted last week. The tournament, which was postponed in March, is scheduled Nov. 9-15.
Augusta National does not release attendance figures, but past projections have conservatively placed the tournament’s economic impact in excess of $100 million, as patrons spend money on lodging, food and entertainment.
“The year 2020 has been challenging enough,” said Bennish Brown, CEO of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We knew the Masters held a bright spot for this community at large, so we will have to wait and see what happens.”
Brown said the absence of tournament fans, or patrons as they’re called at Augusta National, and corporate-hospitality guests will sap revenue from hotels, short-term rental operators, catering companies and transportation providers throughout the region.
A dim silver lining is that the tournament will still draw thousands of seasonal employees needed to do behind-the-scenes work at the course.
“We’re not going from 60 to 0,” Brown said. “It will just be a tremendously different headcount than what we’re used to seeing in Augusta.”
Prior to this year, the last major disruption to a Masters was the event’s cancellation during the final two years of World War II.
The tournament historically could be counted on to fill up metro area hotel rooms – currently 7,200 – and rented homes, which exceed 4,000 listings. On the Georgia side of the market, which has the majority of rooms and short-term rentals, visitors pay “tournament-priced” room rates as well as a 6% lodging tax, $1 a night local fee and a $5 a night state fee.
Richmond County, for example, collects an average of $1.4 million in hotel-motel tax revenues from the month of April, which is about three times higher than the average month.
Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Sue Parr, who oversees the Masters Housing Bureau, the sole Augusta National-sanctioned home-rental service, said she believes homeowners and renters will work out arrangements for refunds or will hold reservations over for the 2021 tournament.
“All of the above are opportunities for the homeowner and the renter to find that win-win,” she said.
Mike Kerbelis, a luxury travel agent and owner of Southern Travel Agency, said he was not surprised by the club’s decision to go spectator-free. He believes many patrons – particularly those who would have traveled by air – would have been reluctant to visit in the current climate.
“As far as our world is concerned, I think everything is on hold with people and the pandemic,” he said. “There are destinations that are just now reopening with their COVID protocols.”
Parr said the loss of Masters revenue makes it “more important than ever” to support local businesses, which have been reeling from pandemic disruptions since March.
Small businesses hit hard by the pandemic will need all the help they can to survive to next April, she said.
“Clearly, this was not the news we hoped for, but we are still Augusta and we are still home of the Masters,” she said.