AUGUSTA — Just inside the gates of Augusta National Golf Club sits what could be the single largest tourist attraction this side of the Mississippi.
No, it’s not the famed Amen Corner — holes Nos. 11-13 on the back nine.
It’s not Magnolia Lane either.
It’s the Masters merchandise building.
Make that the new-and-improved, state-of-the-art, Masters merchandise building.
For those who have been to the tournament before, the majority of the new building sits where the old building used to be. However, it is now at least twice the size of its predecessor.
For those who have not been to the tournament, the new building is probably 30,000 square feet of retail space, with 2,000 people armed with Visa cards crammed into it at any given moment.
When the club built the reportedly $50 million press center at the back of the driving range last year, the old two-story press building that sat next to the first fairway was reconfigured.
The bottom level of the old building has become a new concession area with more seating and better restroom facilities.
The top level became part of the new pro shop.
As you enter the shop, it gives off a museum-type feel. While people are in line, you have the opportunity to learn about Drive, Chip and Putt tournament, the Latin America Amateur Championship and the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship.
The first event brings junior golfers to the club to compete for national championships the Sunday before the Masters. The latter two were organized with help of Augusta National, and the winners earn invitations to play in the year’s first major.
There are also digital signatures and quotes of former Masters champions, along with large pieces of artwork from tournaments past.
While all that is great, it doesn’t distract from the moment at hand — that people are willing to spend just about anything for items with a Masters logo. The fact that they can only get it on site, and this one week of the year, allows them to justify the likely enormous amount of money they are about to spend on a unique variety of items.
Need a garden gnome dressed as an Augusta National caddie? You can get one here. Need Masters boxer shorts, sunglasses, binoculars, coffee mugs, glassware or neckties?
How about a new leash and bowl for man’s best friend? Or, maybe a fashionable green dog collar. I know it looks good, because they had it on a mannequin of a dog, which was one of 385 mannequins in use.
Want the new and hot item this year? Get the needlepoint wallets of the clubhouse and Amen Corner.
By far, though, the most popular items in the merchandise shop are the hats and shirts. The problem is figuring out which one(s) to buy.
Want a traditional ball cap, visor or bucket hat? There are 125 to choose from in every color and style.
What kind of shirt do you want? Dress shirt, golf shirt, T-shirt — long- and short-sleeve — pullover, vest, sweater and jackets — every color, every style and all with the outline of the United States of America with a flagstick planted firmly in Augusta, Georgia.
And if that isn’t enough, heading to one of the 64 checkout areas, you have to pass all the impulse items that can force you to have to take out a second mortgage
Signs, golf balls, towels. Watches, posters, playing cards. Calendars, flags, tumblers.
And that still doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. To make matters worse, the attendants hand you a shopping bag as you walk in, and from what I could see, most people were filling them up.
I know how much I spent, and I feel like I got off light. The people standing behind me had a total just shy of $500. The people ahead of me had to have cleared at least $1,000.
Last year, when Sergio Garcia won the Masters, he earned a first-place check of $1,980,000. Based on the sales I saw in the pro shop, Augusta National made that back by lunchtime Monday.
Buying Masters gear, a tradition unlike any other.