Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience clubhouse display

Field Report: Inside the ‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ Mercedes-Benz Experience at the Masters

Event Marketer travels to Augusta to explore a customer-centric sponsorship strategy around the tradition-rich men’s golf tournament on the PGA Tour

A drive down Magnolia Lane is special. Lined with dozens of large magnolia trees, the famous 330-yard-long road into Augusta National Golf Club is more than just an entrance; it’s a historic landmark in the golf world that fills players and spectators alike with anticipation and excitement for Masters week. We were lucky enough to experience this drive into the 2024 tournament, held April 8-14 in Augusta, GA, thanks to an invitation from Mercedes-Benz for its Masters Experience.

Tickets to the Masters—the first of four major championships in men’s professional golf—are some of the most coveted in all of sports because one can’t simply buy a ticket to gain entry. There’s an application process to join the Masters ticket lottery for the chance to win a slot to purchase ground passes. Some golf fans wait years to be chosen. But through its exclusive hospitality experience, Mercedes-Benz offers its VIP customers a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to attend the Masters, which this year was won by Scottie Scheffler for the second time in his career.

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Private Residence Accommodations

Private jets at Augusta Regional Airport

Private jets swarmed the small Augusta Regional Airport, as VIPs flew in for the Masters.

Our three-day trip (April 10-12) started with flying into Augusta Regional Airport, a small but beautiful airport with two runways, six gates and two security screening lines (a TSA agent told us you could walk backward through the airport and still make it to your gate on time). Upon landing, we saw private jets galore, signaling the influx of celebrities, executives, sporting legends and moguls in town for the Masters. Mercedes-Benz arranged for one of its EVs to drive us from the airport to the River Island community in Evans, GA, located about nine miles from Augusta National Golf Club.

For the last 17 years, the brand has taken over the neighborhood on the Savannah River, sometimes referred to as “Mercedesville,” renting out several private homes to house its guests for Masters week. Luckily, Augusta’s school spring break coincides with the golf tournament, allowing homeowners to take their families on vacation and leave their vacant houses available for lodging.

This year, Mercedes-Benz booked a large number of homes and thoughtfully grouped together compatible guests into each house, a shared space where participants receive their own bedroom with a private bathroom, which is a requirement for rent. And insiders told us that homeowners often design their houses with this condition in mind. (After all, some locals are making $100,000 offering up their homes to brands and tournament attendees for the week.)

We checked into River House, the community’s clubhouse that served as a home base for the experience. Here, Mercedes-Benz hosted complimentary breakfast, afternoon bites, cocktail receptions, dinner and entertainment (more on that below) each day of the experience. Attendees shuffled back and forth from River House by golf carts provided at each of the homes, for which we were grateful as our house was more than half a mile away from the clubhouse. River House was also the site of the brand’s vehicle showcase, with the latest AMG luxury performance cars, G-Class SUVs, EQS sedans, Maybachs and EVs propped up on platforms and lit from above and below.

Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience car display

River House was the site of the brand’s vehicle showcase.

At the homes, Mercedes-Benz set up lawn signs with its logo and corresponding number of the house, and in the kitchen, we were greeted by a selection of snacks, golf-themed frosted cookies, wine, a bowl of mints, an 88th Masters Tournament Journal and digital photo frame with rotating slides displaying schedule and policy information. In our room, we received a Mercedes-branded gift bag containing a Masters caddie ornament and a set of Masters drinking glasses.


On the Course

Golf player statue at Augusta Regional Airport

A statue of World Golf Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd greets travelers at the Augusta airport.

In addition to accommodations, Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience attendees were granted two tickets to the tournament, one for Wednesday’s practice and one for Thursday’s first round. Mercedes vans and cars shuttled us to Augusta National, down Magnolia Lane and to the brand’s Firethorn Cabin behind the 10th hole.

The private cabin offered a lunch buffet with a plethora of Masters sandwiches, including the well-known pimento cheese sandwich and Masters Club; an à la carte menu; a desert station; chilled water bottles; and a bar for guests to enjoy while they viewed the tournament from TVs inside and outside on the patio. The atmosphere was peaceful and upscale; waiters were dressed in white blazers and shirts, black bowties and black pants. It was a nice respite from the sunny, humid outdoor environment.

Walking the shaded path behind the cabin led us to the putting green and a great vantage point at the top of the course. What stuck out to us was the sea of greenery—rolling hills, dogwoods, azaleas and evergreens. It’s no wonder all the holes at Augusta National get their names from flowers, trees and shrubs, reflecting the natural beauty around them.

Interestingly, nothing gets in the way of views of the fairways. Why? There are no banners, signs, digital boards, sponsor logos or tents. Directional arrows on poles guide attendees around, and everything is housed in a permanent structure, from the hospitality cabins to the bathrooms to the iconic Clubhouse. Leaderboards are manually operated, with volunteers climbing ladders to update the scores by hand. For this reason, being at Augusta National feels like stepping back in time to an era before smartphones and digital tech.

Speaking of technology, cell phones, cameras and electronic devices are not allowed on the course, and the separation anxiety was real. Before we got on the shuttle to Augusta National, brand reps asked if we left our phone at the house, which we did, of course. Many spectators commented that they reached for their pockets or purses throughout the day before remembering their phones weren’t there. But the upside was that they felt more in the moment, able to truly take in the experience of being at the Masters and watching golf without distraction. No one was looking down—only focused on the action in front of them or chatting with fellow fans.

Still, in the time of doing things “for the ’gram,” there was no way to take personal photos from the course (cameras are only allowed on practice round days), other than official patron photos taken at Founders Circle. Without smartphones, spectators relied on rows of landline phones (remember payphones?) and stepped up to make free calls to the outside world.

A must-do experience at Augusta National is hitting the golf shop. Winding queues were set up to handle the high demand to get in, and we heard from several longtime tournament attendees that it’s normal to drop a good chunk of change on memorabilia, souvenirs and golf gear. There’s an exclusivity to Masters merch because being on-site is the only way to acquire tournament-branded products.

Attendees get requests from friends and family members for items to bring back home. In a sense, everything in the golf shop is a hot item, especially the limited garden gnomes that sold out each morning… And there’s no need to worry about fitting the keepsakes into suitcases, as shoppers could ship their purchases home with UPS right from the course.


Evening Entertainment

After a day of golf, Mercedes-Benz treated participants to cocktails and dinner prepared by award-winning, local chef Sean Wight. On the first night, the Pavilion at River House created an intimate atmosphere with a mix of blue and warm yellow mood lighting, lanterns, candles, potted plants and conversational buzz from attendees mingling at assigned tables. The brand brought hockey legend Wayne Gretzky on stage for a discussion led by sports broadcaster Taylor Rooks, followed by a performance by R&B group Deep Velvet.

The next evening, organizers flipped the Pavilion space with a new design of purple lighting, blue table runners, flowers and overhead lighting fixtures with flowing fabric. The main event, in addition to a delicious prime beef filet and chocolate ganache cake, was a private concert with Charles Kelley, co-lead vocalist and founding member of Lady A, who performed the country music group’s hits “Need You Now” and “Just a Kiss.” He even led attendees in a sing-along of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” a perfect way to end the Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience before heading back home the next morning.

Charles Kelley of Lady A performance

Charles Kelley (center), co-lead vocalist and founding member of Lady A, performed on night one of the experience.


Sponsorship Strategy

2024 marked the 17th year of Mercedes-Benz’s Masters sponsorship, but the 16th time it has brought customers for its Masters Experience because there were no fans at the tournament in 2020. Along with AT&T and IBM, the brand is one of three global sponsors, the tier above international partners Delta Air Lines, Rolex and UPS—bringing the Masters’ total sponsors to just six.

But for a tournament that doesn’t allow sponsor logos and signage to be displayed on the course, how do sponsors get their messaging across and drive brand awareness among golf fans? Nick Emma, senior manager-brand experience at Mercedes-Benz USA, told EM that the main component of the global sponsorship is the TV commercials that run throughout the tournament’s airing, and Mercedes-Benz pushed five different commercials during this year’s broadcasts showcasing its EVs, Maybachs and AMG performance vehicles. Social media also plays a big role in the brand’s Masters campaign, incorporating brand ambassadors and vehicles driving around renowned Augusta National locations.

Mercedes vehicles are seen all over town during the Masters each year, from VIP airport runs to golf course shuttles. Every player receives a Mercedes, as well as partners who use the vehicles for their own hosting of executives and customers. Back at River Island, the brand offered Masters Experience attendees the chance to participate in “Dream Drives,” in which they could test drive a top-of-the-line Mercedes vehicle.

“We never want it to be pushy or salesy; it’s just giving people that opportunity to really experience the product, like G-Wagens or Maybachs,” Emma said. “It’s more of a loyalty customer program and something we’ve done over the years, but this year, we leaned into it a lot more and really focused on electric.”

G-Wagen on display at Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience

During the evening cocktail receptions, attendees explored a variety of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, including a custom G-Wagen.


Attendee Demographics

Treats at the house for Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience

When attendees walked into their assigned homes, they were welcomed by treats and snacks.

Throughout the week of the Masters, Mercedes-Benz, along with its agency partner Engine Shop, is busy hosting a variety of groups and quickly turning around houses and venues. Even before the Masters, they started with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, held April 3-6 at Augusta National.

While 90 percent of its Masters Experience attendees is customers, the brand sets aside Monday for employees from Mercedes-Benz USA’s Atlanta headquarters. Departments receive a number of tickets that are distributed to recognize and reward deserving employees for a one-day Masters Experience.

A COVID-era idea that has been kept on the itinerary, Mercedes-Benz on Tuesday brings in nearby “daytrippers,” customers who are willing to drive in to Augusta for the day. Internal sales partners and dealership general managers look at loyalty and ownership histories and recommend customers to participate in the Masters Experience. Monday and Tuesday attendees get access to pre-tournament practice rounds and the Firethorn Cabin at Augusta National.

Then, for the extended Masters Experience, the brand hosts two waves of customer groups with a few executives, dealer owners, brand ambassadors and special guests also in attendance from Wednesday to Friday morning (we joined wave one) and Friday afternoon to Monday morning, which is more focused on West Coast customers. Previously, the Masters Experience was much longer, Emma said, but the brand found that trimming the experience to two or three nights was a sweet spot that allowed for more customers to participate. Attendees we spoke to agreed, saying two days offered just the right amount of time at the course.

“This is the event where we get the immediate yeses,” Emma said. “You could have never played golf, never watched golf, and you step out on the course and are like, ‘Oh, I get it. I get why people are constantly talking about this, why everyone’s excited.’ You see it, how it’s pristine and perfect, and I think that’s just so cool. So it is a very easy invite process, whether it’s customers or dealers. Unless it’s someone’s wedding, they’re generally not turning this down.”

Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience cocktail reception

Each year, the team strategizes to maximize the “fixed space” it occupies in the River Island neighborhood.


Creating a Luxury Experience

The Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience wasn’t always as big as it is today. It has grown and evolved over the last 17 years, and with so many groups flying in and out, there are a lot of details swirling. Mercedes-Benz is thinking of everything, from menus and décor to shuttle schedules and car availability to housemate and tablemate pairings.

“You want people to bond over something, whether they’re from a similar part of the country or have similar interests. If this person works in sports media, and we have guests from the Atlanta Falcons with us, maybe that’s a good fit so they can have interesting conversation,” Emma said. “For the houses as well, we would never want to put a party crowd in a house with a couple looking to relax on a kids-free weekend, so it’s caring for every point of that.”

Dinner at the Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience

Guests enjoyed dinner from local chef Sean Wight.

The Mercedes-Benz team also pays attention to personalized touches to make attendees feel valued. When guests approached the Pavilion for dinner, greeters addressed them by name and ushered them to their tables—no need to identify themselves because the team already recognized each attendee.

With such care for the small details, the team is already moving onto next year’s event soon after the Masters wraps. In the planning cycle, reserving houses at River Island starts in the summer, and they’re usually contracted by Thanksgiving. It helps that a lot of them are repeat rentals, some spanning the full 16 years, but new residences come on each year.

In late May/early June, Mercedes-Benz internally puts in an order for the fleet of vehicles needed for the next Masters. With cars manufactured all over the world, this step requires a long lead time, and the vehicles will start arriving at the local Mercedes-Benz of Augusta dealership in late December through mid-March, at which time they’re handed over to the Masters for distribution among players and partners.

Dinner decor at Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience

The Pavilion’s décor for dinner changed from night to night.

Menus are finalized about six weeks out. Chef Wight has been working with Mercedes-Benz for more than a decade, and Emma said having the same chef run the dining at River House has created an invaluable consistency to the event. Wight and his team prepared and plated the dinners in a tent near the Pavilion. Local interior designer Wesley Cadle has also been an integral part, reimagining each evening’s décor at River House.

“We have such a great client that is evolving as a brand and pushes us to never do things the way we did them the year before,” said Megan Rice, vp-client services at Engine Shop, lead agency partner on the sponsorship experience. “We want this to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and make sure that all of these people who are VIPs feel like they are VIPs, and so the challenge is getting creative with [River House]; it’s a fixed structure, and so we think about how to add space creatively and what we can execute differently.”

Even with the perfect plan, unexpected curve balls happen. One such example being the rain delay on the first day of the tournament on Thursday. The Engine Shop team moved quickly to rework shuttle and vehicle schedules, but mainly, they were concerned with how they could smooth over the delayed start and gloomy weather with guests. Enter: baskets of pastries, fresh fruit and mimosa ingredients. Wednesday afternoon, the team went out to acquire the goods from local bakeries, assembled the baskets and delivered them to all the River Island houses just in time for the next day’s breakfast.

“It’s modern luxury in everything. That’s how we select the homes, the food, the wine, making sure that all of it is on the same level of this brand, that it’s deserving of that luxury without being unapproachable,” Emma said. “It’s that loyalty, that special access. If we can make a lifelong impression because of a great experience, that’s what we’re trying to do every day.”

Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience nighttime car display

Neon elements heightened the vibes around the main venue, River House.

Agencies: Engine Shop (sponsorship strategy and execution); Czarnowski (fabrication and installation of River Island car displays, platforms and greenhouse).

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