Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

Did you know the Masters had a super-secret VIP club?

Imagine someone giving you Super Bowl tickets. On the 50-yard line, no less.

As you head into the stadium, rejoicing over your good fortune, you're told there has been a change. You'll be sitting in a suite with the Manning family. And before kickoff, you're invited onto the field. Would you like to kick an extra point?

This is the closest equivalent to Berckmans Place, the high-end hospitality at Augusta National that actually has no equal and is shrouded in secrecy, like so much of the club.

"My grandfather is 85 and he has been following the Masters forever, and I told him I had access to Berckmans," said Eric Ferri, in from Charlotte, N.C. "He said, 'What is that?' "

Ferri wrangled a Monday pass thanks to a hospitality consultant for sports agency Octagon. We met while waiting in line at the Putting Experience, a collection of three perfectly conditioned replica greens (Nos. 7, 14 and 16), framed by pink azaleas.

Select a top-of-the-line putter ("We're running low on the Scotties," the attendant said regarding Scotty Cameron putters) and you're handed a Masters-stamped Titleist Pro V1. Facilitators take you to a different spot on each green, and caddies outfitted in the traditional white jumpsuits offer advice such as: "Play this out to the left. There's 11 feet of break."

And then you putt it off the green and get a good laugh.

"This is above and beyond," Habeck said. "Corporations want that 'money-can't-buy' experience, and this is it."

Literally, your money is no good here. The menus at the four restaurants don't have prices. Ask a server to break $20 and she says, sorry, but there's no cash register. (A tip is "not expected, but we won't throw it out," she said.)

Entry is rumored to cost $6,000, but no one is quite sure if that's for a day or the week. Everything is included, whether it's oysters on the half-shell at Augusta's Seafood, Southern-style deviled eggs at Ike's or an Azalea (Ketel One vodka, lemonade and grenadine) at Calamity Jane's.

A sign outside the area reads, "PLEASE NO PHOTOGRAPHY INSIDE."

There are no signs that direct you to the reported 90,000-square-foot patch of heaven. The official course map shows a triangular area of green space near the fifth fairway. A small, circled "BP" is the only identifier.

The 4-year-old facility is available to Augusta National members, tournament sponsors and other "friends of the club," according to the Augusta Chronicle. Scour the Internet and you'll find just a handful of stories.

Mike Maguire, an ESPN executive who went with his father, Gerry, said he had been given a Berckmans Place pin in a special side room. "It's like a nesting doll of secrets," he said.

But he wasn't complaining. No one does. The food is top-notch, the Azaleas go down easy, the spotless bathrooms feature white subway tile, there's incredible history on the walls and the service epitomizes Southern hospitality.

A man removed his cap before offering a handshake, and a woman said, "Excuse me, sir, I'm so sorry," before informing someone not to bring his drink into the gift shop, where an alligator-skin wallet goes for $495.

Here you might be greeted by Augusta National members Lynn Swann or Condoleezza Rice, or you might hear about the time Olympic skier Bode Miller was stopped from trying to bring a quesadilla onto the course.

"It's Xanadu," Maguire said. "We came for a cocktail and stayed for 31/2 hours." — Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Comments
Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

ST. PETERSBURG — An old friend is back in the lineup.The Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches Miracle League, which champions baseball for the physically and mentally challenged, returned with a flourish Saturday morning. We're better for it."This...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Updated: 26 minutes ago

Friday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosXfinity: ToyotaCare 250 qualifying4 p.m.FS1Monster Energy Cup: Toyota Owners 400 qualifying5:30 p.m.FS1Xfinity: ToyotaCare 2507 p.m.FS1BaseballRoyals at Tigers1 p.m.MLBTwins at Rays7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMIndians at Orioles7 p.m.MLBMarlins at ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Updated: 7 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 19

Thursday’s scoreboardBaseballDixie Hollins 8, Canterbury 0Northeast 13, Lakewood 3Calvary Christian 5, Berkeley Prep 2
Updated: 7 hours ago
Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is a finalist for the second consecutive year for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league. The other two finalists are Drew Doughty of the Kings and P.K. Subban of the Predators, it was announced Thu...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

TAMPA — The second period was not even four minutes old Wednesday night when Devils right wing Patrick Maroon skated all alone toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a moment that could turn a game and even a series.A goal and the score would be tie...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Former UCF and Lakewood High standout Shaquem Griffin understandably has been focused on the NFL draft next week in Arlington, Tex., where he is projected as a potential second-day pick.But the Lightning's playoff run  hasn't escaped his attenti...
Updated: 11 hours ago