AUGUSTA, Ga. – As soon as Tiger Woods said he will return to golf at the Masters, the rooftop of Donny Thompson’s jewelry store became prime real estate.
TV networks have been pestering Thompson, wanting to rent space atop Windsor Jewelers for its rare camera angle – a clear view over the fence of Augusta National Golf Club to the practice tees where the pros warm up for the tournament.
“They just want to get close and see as much as they can,” said Thompson, who decided renting his rooftop wasn’t worth the hassle. “This just started when Tiger was talking about coming back.”
Those without access to the tournament itself, including some entertainment shows, tabloid photographers and celebrity bloggers, are looking for a place to land outside the private club’s wrought-iron gates. That’s bringing opportunities and headaches for people in this city.
“It is going to create pandemonium in the media from The New York Times to the ‘Today’ show – they are going to be pouring resources into Augusta,” said Harvey Levin, executive producer of TMZ.com, the celebrity news Web site.
Levin declined to discuss his plans for covering the tournament, but said he expects the event will draw interest from many who haven’t followed the sport.
“Golf will never be more popular than at the Masters this year,” Levin said.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he’s already received phone calls from reporters asking about his opinion on Woods’ return – and not much to do with golf.
“People magazine is not somebody who would normally call to check in with the mayor’s office,” Copenhaver said.
Woods, returning to the game months after admitting that he cheated on his wife, couldn’t have picked a better place to try to contain the hysteria.
Augusta National imposes strict limits on tickets and press credentials. The entire course is ringed by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and smothered by bamboo thickets, posing a barrier to prying eyes on the outside.
Sissy Boulus runs the Double Eagle Club, a private club that provides meals and cocktails for corporate executives and other VIP guests just outside the gates of Augusta National. Boulus said she’s been to the Olympics and the Super Bowl, where she also oversaw hospitality clubs, “and I would say the Masters is more controlled than any of them.”
Yet try as they might, tournament officials can’t control what happens outside the gates.
Doug Froham, who owns Jay’s Music & Sound Super Center across the street from Augusta National, said TV networks have called wanting to share his parking lot with his usual renters – vendors selling cigars and sports memorabilia.
Froham said networks have asked about posting cameras on his roof, though it’s not quite tall enough for a good look over Augusta National’s fence.
“Normally we wouldn’t have this media frenzy,” Froham said. “Really, what they will see is little or nothing as far as Tiger’s concerned.”
The Associated Press has rented property close to Augusta National in order to get a camera angle of the players’ entrance.
Woods has said he’s “a little nervous” about how fans will receive him in Augusta. “It would be nice to hear a couple of claps here and there,” he said.
Alfred Monsalvatge, owner of TravelMasters, which sells VIP hospitality packages for the tournament, is concerned some fans might try to heckle Woods outright.
“You get an element that’s not used to the proper decorum, one guy drinks too many beers and says something and BOOM!” Monsalvatge said.
Monsalvatge, who closely monitors the scalping market in Augusta, says Woods’ comeback spurred a surge in prices – four-day passes that were fetching $1,900 quickly shot as high as $2,600.
But he says many buyers appear to be first-timers more interested in Woods’ personal failings than his tee shots. That could mean repercussions for the original ticket holders who put their tickets on the market.
“I suspect there’s going to be a lot of tickets pulled and patrons not having their privileges next year because of this,” Monsalvatge said.
The interest in Woods’ comeback has also injected a fresh spark into many Augusta businesses that seemed headed for another sagging sales year.
Limousine service owner William Murrell hired 32 extra temps to drive high-profile visitors to and from the golf course this year, compared to the skeleton crew of 12 he used in 2009.
“I brought on half of them the week Tiger announced his comeback,” Murrell said.
Tanya Brantley, who manages the Red Carpet Inn about seven miles (10 kilometers) from Augusta National, said only 25 percent of her rooms had been booked for the tournament by early March. Then Woods made his announcement, and the phone started ringing again.
“Reservations have been crazy,” said Brantley, who’s inn is nearly 70 percent full now. “Tiger Woods had a whole lot to do with it. People are wanting to see his reaction back on the course after the controversy.”