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The Masters: A Customer Experience Unlike Any Other

by Scott Smith

Golf fans around the world spent last Sunday afternoon glued to their TVs to watch the best golfers in the world vie for the sacred green jacket. The green jacket is awarded by Augusta National Golf Club each year to winner of its Masters Tournament. On Sunday, hard-charging Jordan Spieth (who nearly tied the course record), the always-stylish Rickie Fowler, and Patrick Reed, who held on to claim his first green jacket, provided the perennial Sunday drama.

This year, unlike all the others, I got lucky. A good friend called a few months ago to invite me to the Tuesday practice round before the start of the tournament. He had won the online lottery for the tickets (did I say I was lucky?). Asking how much this ticket would set me back (because there wasn’t a chance that I was NOT going), he casually said $75. That can't be right, I said, not for the most popular golf tournament in the world. But it was correct, and spending time on the course made me realize that affordability was a critical part of the experience.

This experience starts immediately after entering the gates of the club. Anyone you encounter who works or volunteers at the club goes out of their way to genuinely ask if you're enjoying your time at the Masters. When was the last time an NFL team employee asked you that question at a football game? When you’re ready for lunch at Augusta, you’ll only need a $10 bill, and even then, you'll have change. A turkey sandwich, chips, and a beer will set you back a mere $6.00. Then, there's the merchandise, sold only in one physical location (which we called the Merchandise Mansion) and over only the tournament week each year. Golf shirts with the logo of popular courses regularly go for nearly $100 elsewhere. A Masters golf shirt costs $70 (which makes the average first timer at the Merchandise Mansion happy to part with close to $500 in Augusta National-emblazoned apparel, a figure I avoided, but only barely).

So, maybe you're seeing a theme. Augusta wants the patrons inside the gates to enjoy their experience so much that they don't let the supporting cast (food, beer, wares) get in the way. But the club isn't only thinking about the people inside the gates. They think about the millions watching at home too, and here's where the club misses out on a huge payday each year. While no one knows their official agreement, it is believed that neither CBS Sports nor Augusta National makes any revenue off their television deal. For those who watch, they see very few commercial interruptions. The club wants everyone at home to witness every critical shot. Media analysts project that based on comparable sporting events, the club misses out on upwards of $100 million in potential revenue because it forgoes what it could make off a TV deal. And that's the way they’ve chosen to operate, every single year since the tournament was first televised in 1956. 

I'm under no illusion about the balance sheet of the Augusta National Golf Club.  When it comes to assets, they probably are to golf clubs what Yale is to endowment funds. But the way it operates its annual event may have a lesson for all organizations who are in the business of serving others. If a customer's experience is the most important function of any firm, how much would it be willing to spend and forgo to ensure the best experience possible?