Originally created 05/08/00

Masters souvenir sales hot



Jay Blint says he got a deal on one of the original souvenirs from the Masters Tournament -- a seat that dates back to the days when the tournament was called the Augusta National Invitational Tournament.

The retired business consultant paid more than $4,000 for the seat purportedly from the 1934 inaugural tournaments, and he would have paid more.

"To be honest, the guy that was pushing me on that chair I would have gone to $6,000 on it," he said. "The only known items from the first tournament are Bobby Jones golf clubs, which are in the clubhouse at Augusta."

The seat will now occupy a spot in the golf room of his second home in East Texas. Mr. Blint is just one of thousands of people who have turned to the Internet for golf collectibles. Most of Mr. Blint's bids on the popular auction site eBay have been for older collectibles, including a ball signed by Gene Sarazen. He's added it to his collection of past Masters champion's signatures, which are also kept in the golf room

"My wife let me have one room to call my own," he said. "I settled on the Masters because it is the only tournament to be played in the same location every year. From a historical perspective that means a lot."

But some of the newer souvenirs also are popular. For example, the Masters 2000 bean bag bears are selling for more than $30, and caps are selling for more than twice their course price.

"What's sad is what people don't know is they can pick up the phone, call the pro shop, give them their credit, and get them for $14 and postage," Mr. Blint said.

For Tim White, Internet auctions have been the perfect avenue to publicize the Web site usagolfer.com, where he serves as vice president of marketing. While attending the Masters for the first time this year, he bought lots of souvenirs. It was after he got back home to California that he decided to sell part of his cache.

"When I went to Augusta, I was like a kid in a candy store," he said. "When I got home, my wife said, `You spent what?!"'

So he turned some of the items over to eBay.

"I thought, well shoot, I can only use so many shirts," he said. "We tried to set it up so that it basically was not in any way disrespectful or would shed any negative light on the Masters."

And the sales worked pretty well. Each of the 18 items' description included a plug for the Web site, and that generated more than 2,000 new users for the Web sites.

"To us, an additional 2,000 users is pretty strong," he said.

But even with the popularity of Masters 2000 items, some antique and memorabilia dealers say the most-wanted Masters collectibles have more to do with the players -- not the tournament.

"It doesn't have anything to do with the tournament or how pretty the badge is," said Martin Campbell, who's been selling Masters collectibles for the past five years. "The only person that would have done me any good to win that tournament would have been Jack Nicklaus or Greg Norman or Tiger Woods."

As co-owner of the Riverwalk Antique Depot, Mr. Campbell said he sells a hundred or so old badges a week. And each badge is usually linked to a certain golfer.

"There's nobody ever come in here and asked for Fred Couples badge," he said. "Nobody had ever come in and asked for a Ian Woosnam or Sandy Lyle or Larry Mize. ... When it all boils down, more so than the Masters collectibles are the favorites of golfers.

"Who won it is bigger than the Masters, is what I'm saying."

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115.