The crazy phenomenon that is the yes, Masters garden gnome

AUGUSTA, Ga. – They move the little, ceramic elfin guy around the store. It’s a game played by the folks working in the quaintly named “Golf Shop’’ at Augusta National Golf Club. (The Golf Shop is bigger than the Garden Center at Home Depot.) If you want a “Gallery Guard Gnome’’ you better be willing to look for him. Consider that quest the patrons’ version of trying to read a Masters green.

“It’s kinda like a scavenger hunt,’’ one employee told me. What he didn’t tell me was his name, because he wanted to keep his job. We’ll call him Bobby Jones. “It’s crazy,’’ Bobby said Friday.

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Everybody wants a Masters garden gnome. Nobody can tell you exactly why. They know that it’s a little weird to be standing outside the gates in the chill at 6 in the morning, an hour before the gates open. They know, too, that if they run even a step or two toward The Golf Shop, their patron day will end before it begins.

But they have to have this.

Forget glassware, coffee mugs, beer glasses, rocks glasses, wine glasses, head covers, polo shirts, T-shirts, wind shirts, blouses, sweaters, socks, belts, posters, prints, playing cards, golf towels, ball markers, pin flags, bag tags, divot fixers, key chains, candles, koozies, calendars, caps, visors, baby clothes and folding chairs. They’re all meaningless in the face of the garden gnome.

Psychologists would have a field day. Marketers would want to study the phenomenon, bottle it and label it, “How to create an irrational desire for a frivolous item.’’

People who love bourbon understand this. Acquiring certain bourbons can become an obsession. How they taste is immaterial. Bobbleheads, too. The Reds sell lots of tickets on bobblehead nights, to people who get the bobbler, turn right around and walk out of the ballpark.

“This was the hardest gnome to get,’’ John Boyette said Friday. Boyette is the executive editor of the Aiken (S.C.) Standard and a veteran of 35 Masters. His quest this year started last week, at the Women’s Amateur, also at Augusta National.

He tried one day and the gnomes were already gone. He tried the next day, arriving at the gates by 7, and again he was too late. Early this week, he was told by a Golf Shop security guard that patrons would be getting first crack at the shop’s treasures. Media heathens would have to wait their turns.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that Boyette scored. “My long gnome nightmare is over,’’ he announced on his Facebook page.

The gnome is a foot tall. He sells for $50. You can get a shorter gnome, but nobody wants that one. Bobby Jones said they’re gone each morning in 15 or 20 minutes. “They only have like 350 of them,’’ he said. Like everything else in the shop, you can only get the gnome in the shop. Unless you want to get scalped on eBay. The gnome is going for $399.99 there.

The Irrational Desire Factor is on full display here. The lines entering the shop are so long, you could spend 10 minutes weaving through those Kings Island-style snakelines before even reaching the merchandise. They have hand-held baskets for holding your treasure. They should have grocery carts. Or U-Hauls.

I don’t know. But I’m guessing half the patrons here would rather score at the Golf Shop than watch the golf. You can always catch Tiger Woods making history. That’s what televisions are for. You can’t always buy a Gallery Guard Gnome.

John Boyette already has “four or five’’ of them, he said. They’re on his mantel at home, trophies no less stalked than a lion on an African safari. Meantime, Bobby Jones spends notable time apologizing to patrons, for the one item among thousands they can’t buy.

He shrugs. “They need to get here early,’’ he says.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Paul Daugherty on Masters phenomenon the Gallery Guard Gnome in the massive gift shop