Twenty years ago, the Masters Tournament ended one tradition and started another – the annual lottery for practice round tickets.
In May 1994, Augusta National Golf Club announced the lottery as a way to deal with growing crowds of golf fans in the days leading up to the tournament.
That first year, the club said, it received 250,000 requests for the 1995 practice rounds, and about 50,000 lucky applicants got a ticket.
Before 1995, anyone could usually walk up to the gate and purchase a pass, gaining access Monday through Wednesday.
While badges to the actual tournament rounds Thursday through Sunday remained sports’ golden ticket, the practice rounds allowed visitors to see azaleas and golfers, eat a pimento cheese sandwich and buy a Masters souvenir or two.
With no limits, the practice round crowds grew. An Augusta Chronicle report about the Tuesday crowd of April 5, 1994, estimated 80,000 in attendance, ”creating a major traffic jam around the club and long lines for rest-rooms and concessions.”
Some blamed out-of-town travel agencies for the fan boost and a spike in airport traffic. Local agents told The Chronicle that they were aware of golf packages from Chicago, Detroit and even Europe. Some guaranteed getting you to Augusta, delivering you to the golf course, then flying you back at the end of the day.
There was also a spike in chartered passenger planes flying into Bush Field in 1994. The previous year had seen three planes, an airport manager told The Chronicle. There were 25 the first three days of practice rounds in 1994.
The club acted quickly. A little more than a month after the 1994 tournament, Augusta National announced the ticket lottery to curb the crowds. A special effort would be made to guarantee Augusta-area fans access, the club said, though it did not release details.
The first practice round lottery ticket, on green paper, cost $16 and was dated April 3, 1995.