Most of the tens of thousands of visitors expected to flood Augusta this week for the 77th Masters Tournament will arrive with some prized possessions firmly in their grasp – their precious tickets.
Many others, however, will show up empty-handed. That might seem unwise for those trying to gain access to the most exclusive event in sports, but it’s not uncommon.
With a little effort and a pocket full of cash, the ticket-less can change their fortunes pretty fast on Washington Road.
They just need to be careful where they do business.
Richmond County sheriff’s deputies will be watching the crowds and looking for people buying and selling tickets outside the gates of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said the enforcement effort will focus on those who are violating the state scalping law, which stipulates that only licensed ticket brokers can buy and sell sporting event tickets.
“They can lawfully get them from the Augusta National or buy them from a certified ticket broker,” he said, adding that the law also sets a 2,700-foot boundary around the venue where no tickets can be resold.
Although Augusta National policy prohibits the resale of Masters tickets, there is a vigorous market for practice round tickets and tournament badges, which is allowed under Georgia law.
What police and club officials want to avoid is allowing the public thirst for Masters tickets to turn into an open market outside the gates on Berckmans Road.
Even so, Gay said there will always be people handing off tickets to friends or even bystanders outside the venue.
“The problem is when there is an exchange of money for those tickets,” he said.
Last year, undercover sheriff’s officers arrested more than three dozen people who were accused of exchanging or soliciting tickets too close to the Augusta National gates.
Only two people were charged with violating the state scalping law. Most of the others were charged with disorderly conduct, hauled to jail and made to post a $500 bond to be released.
Many of those arrested complained they were only golf fans who were ignorant of the local ticket laws, not scalpers seeking a profit. Most were from outside of Georgia, some from as far way as California and Canada, who forfeited their bond money in lieu of a fine. But 17 individuals who chose to challenge the charges in court had their cases dismissed, and a few who were adamant about their innocence even persuaded Richmond County Magistrate Court officials to return their bond money.
Bryan Epps, of Florence, S.C., was the last to have his case heard in Magistrate Court. Epps refused to plead “no contest” and accept a dismissal as others had. He demanded a bench trial, so he could be found not guilty – which happened Sept. 17 before Judge H. Scott Allen.
Epps said he was snatched by sheriff’s deputies after accepting a free ticket from someone leaving the course on April 4, 2012. No money exchanged hands, he said.
Epps said after he cross examined the arresting officer, the judge swiftly dismissed the case and apologized to him for what occurred. Epps said he just hopes it doesn’t happen to anyone else this year.
“You need not to assume someone is doing something illegal without having any evidence to prove it,” he said.
Gay said this year will be different. Deputies won’t be charging people with disorderly conduct and if circumstances warrant, they will be issuing warnings to those who don’t know the local laws.
“If it is their first time and we witness it, we will confront them and explain state law to them,” he said.
He declined to discuss tactics, but said they will be using “more technology” in their enforcement efforts this year.
Gay has one piece of advice for people looking to make a ticket transaction: Take your business down the street.
There are no signs that mark the invisible line where it’s safe to buy and sell tickets, but the line is simple to spot nevertheless. One need only look for a sunburned man seated in a folding chair with a sign that reads, “Need Tickets,” and you are there.
Jimmy Dizoglio has his spot just beyond the 2,700-foot boundary, in front of the Parkway Inn on Washington Road.
A licensed broker, Dizoglio renewed his $500 broker’s license with the state on March 28. He’s been in the ticket trade full time since 2003, but he has been scalping tickets at concerts and sporting events for more than 30 years.
Dizoglio said tickets for the Masters are consistently the most desired and most difficult to acquire of any sporting event.
“Prices are up this year,” he said.
Ram Silverman, co-owner of Golden Tickets, agreed that demand was higher this year, especially for practice round tickets.
Last week, practice round tickets were ranging from as low as $350 for Monday, to more than $1,000 for Wednesday, ticket brokers said. A four-day tournament badge was going for about $6,500, but Silverman said prices can fluctuate wildly on any given day.