AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Bubba Carter stood on a sidewalk outside a convenience store near Augusta National Golf Club, his mood worsening as a cold rain started to fall. Scanning the street for customers, all he saw were clusters of fellow scalpers.
Tiger Woods might be chasing golf history, but there was no excitement in the Circle K parking lot where the well-heeled usually trade fistfuls of cash for the precious Masters badges that allow access to Amen Corner.
The toughest ticket in sports can easily be had at discount rates this year in exchanges that might say more about the state of the economy than a whole slew of factory output reports.
"This ain't a good time," said Carter, who has been selling tickets here for 25 years. "Everybody's holding onto their money, I guess."
A year after prized Masters badges were being sold for up to $12,000 in the secondary market that normally thrives down the street from Augusta National, badges were being offered for a fraction of those rates Tuesday.
Those working the passing cars on crowded Washington Street blamed it all on another market -- the stock market that has cut into the wealth of the very people scalpers count on to pay inflated rates.
"I had some big orders cancel at the last minute," said Tony, who asked to be identified only by his first name. "Companies and corporations just don't have the money. The first thing to go is the corporate entertainment."
Outside the Circle K, Tony directed a small group of workers who usually would be kept busy buying and selling practice day tickets and badges that get a bearer in for the four days of the Masters itself. Scalping is technically illegal, but police parked on the corner made no effort to halt the sales.
Only a few cars were stopping on this dreary day, though, and those buying were looking for bargains on practice day tickets, not the more coveted and pricey badges.
Pat Johnson of Asheville, N.C., quickly spent $50 for a practice day ticket that some ticket services on the Internet had offered at $250. He might have done even better but wanted to get to the course before the rain got too bad.
"My friend got one for $30," Johnson said of the tickets that go for $21 if you are lucky enough to be on the Masters ticket list.
If the practice tickets were a bargain, the prized badges were already in the discount bin. Badges that sold for $12,000 a year ago were going for $1,000 with a little haggling.
"This time last year they were going off the charts," said Chris, another scalper who didn't want his last name used. "I saw more being offered for us to sell this year than ever, so I think there's more out there. Now, nobody's buying and nobody's selling."
The Masters is traditionally the toughest ticket in sports, mostly because Augusta National strictly limits sales and closed its waiting list in 1978. It reopened the list briefly last year to give some practice-round customers a chance to be selected for tickets, then quickly shut it off again.
The Masters officially prohibits selling the $125 badges, but it has long been a common practice for badge holders to finance a new car, vacation, or house addition with the annual sales to scalpers or ticket brokers.
Masters officials say they will revoke the badges of anyone caught selling them, but acknowledge there is little they can do to enforce the ban.
"We do scan every badge on entry," said Masters spokesman Glenn Greenspan. "But they can give them to relatives or children to use so it's difficult to check."
Among the more legitimate ticket brokers, hopes had been high for this year because Woods was going for his fourth major championship in a row. Indeed, early sales of badges were strong, but plummeted about the same time the stock market took a dive.
On the Internet site for Ticket Pros USA, badges were being offered for $3,250, or $1,000 for Sunday alone. But a call to the company's Atlanta office on Tuesday brought an offer of a lower price of $2,000 or $700 for Sunday.
At Indianapolis-based Ticketsquick.com, the badges were listed at $5,499. But company president Taylor Anne Smith said those were sold to corporate customers months earlier.
"I have heard sales of Masters tickets were a lot more sluggish than a year ago," Smith said. "Our sales are up, but we don't sell on the street where they might have taken a hit."
Smith said the economy was affecting other ticket sales as well.
"Our Final Four ticket sales were horrible," she said.
While ticket prices have suffered, there is little evidence the flagging economy has hurt businesses that line the road outside Augusta National.
Lewis Blanchard, whose company rents homes and also offers hospitality tents where corporate guests can be wined and dined for $275 a day, said his business was also strong. "We keep hearing about the stock market and things, but so far we're steady," Blanchard said. "We've heard that some companies have backed out but if you have to put a 50 percent deposit down six months early, it doesn't make too much sense to back out."
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