Thursday, July 19, 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)

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