The $49.50 gnome that has become a must-have Masters souvenir

A woman carrying a Masters gnome
Masters gnomes are only available to buy at Augusta National - The Masters/David Cannon

Running is banned at Augusta National Golf Club. Like operating mobile phones or cameras (unless on practice days), or holding flags or banners of any kind, it is on a long list of prohibited activities. But when the gates open here at 7am each morning, there is a veritable stampede into these hallowed grounds.

Is it to bag a spot by the first tee? Or Amen Corner? Perhaps a prime seat in the practice area to watch the world’s best golfers warm up? Nope. Augusta’s ‘patrons’ are almost universally racing each other to one of the two merchandise stores on the property. And it is not a quarter-zip or a distinctive yellow Masters tee flag they covet most; it is a bearded gnome in a white bucket hat, navy cardigan and plaid trousers, with a golf bag slung over his shoulder.

No lie: gnomes have taken over at Augusta this year.

In one of the more curious developments in recent Masters history, mass hysteria has taken hold of patrons who all want to purchase one of these 1ft tall figurines.

And you can only buy one per person. They know what they are doing, these green jackets. You cannot buy any official Masters merchandise online – only in person, and only one per person. Rationing increases demand.

By the time this reporter turned up at the merchandise store at 7.45am on Saturday, the queue was already snaking around in long lines outside, with black-suited security guards on hand to prevent any desperadoes from queue-barging.

I asked how long it would take to get in. “Around 35-40minutes, sir.” Forget it.

Then again, maybe I should have shown more patience. A glance on eBay reveals that these cute little collectibles, which retail at $49.50, are reselling for $300 (£240). You can also buy a smaller version wearing Augusta’s traditional caddie outfit for $29.50.

Those are the same prices as last year’s gnomes. Gnome-flation has not yet hit Augusta. But it is surely coming. It is a simple question of supply and demand.

Augusta first started selling gnomes in 2016. “But it is only in the last couple of years it’s really caught fire,” I was informed by one of the staff outside the store, who did not want to give her name for fear of being fired. She told me that if you were lucky enough to have one of those original 2016 gnomes (same white beard, different outfit) you could be looking at $6,000-$7,000 on the resale market. “They didn’t make as many of those, so they are hard to find,” she explained.

I asked if I could speak to her store manager about how many gnomes they were selling, and how many were left, and how quickly they sold out each day. She said she would get her manager, Will. Will told me I would need the permission of Augusta National Golf Club. “But they won’t give it to you,” he added.

ANGC is notoriously tight-lipped on such matters. Rumour has it, the Masters makes around $1m per hour on merchandise.

I didn’t bother trying. Instead I spoke to some of the patrons streaming out of the store. It was easy to spot the gnome-owners. Their bags were weighed down by a distinctive striped rectangular box, and they sported huge grins on their faces. “Honestly, it was the hysteria,” admitted Lauren Center from South Carolina, who is on her first trip to Augusta. “I kept seeing them on social media and thought I’d better get one.” Lauren was planning on reselling hers to make back some of the money she had spent on her trip.

Mike and Steve Petershack from Milwaukee were more serious collectors. “My nephew is a members’ caddie here,” Mike confided. “He has one of the original series and he asked me to get him one of this year’s.” Steve just wanted one for his garden. “Well, I don’t have a garden,” he added. “But one day.”

On my way back to the media centre, I told my buggy driver (journalists are ferried to and from the course in golf carts) that I was writing a piece about gnomes and he nearly drove off the path. “I spent $1,300 in the merch store earlier this week and I didn’t even get a gnome,” he said bitterly.

“It’s my first year here. I didn’t realise they were such a big deal. I’m kicking myself now.” He planned to go back early on Sunday morning to pick one up, if there are any left. He and thousands of others.

Never mind the battle for the Green Jacket, the race for this year’s must-have Augusta souvenir is fierce.