Why the Masters has ‘most special sand on Earth,’ with price tag to match

Sand in Augusta National’s traps is mostly quartz and costs up to $10,000 a ton

Five hundred times more — that’s how much Augusta National Golf Club has to pay to fill its sand traps. Usually, a ton of sand would set a buyer back around $20. The “most special sand on Earth” found at the Masters? That costs up to $10,000, and science has a fascinating reason why.

“The Masters golf tournament is one of the most famous events in sports, but the sand traps at Augusta are unlike any other golf course on Earth,” PBS Digital Studios’ Be Smart host and science communicator Joe Hanson explained on YouTube.

“That shockingly white sand might be the most special sand on Earth. Here’s why: This sand comes from the spruce pine mines of North Carolina. It’s almost pure quartz.”

Back in 2020, the LA Times reported that Augusta’s iconic golf club has been filling its 44 bunkers with the unique substance for five decades. Tiger Woods even had several truckloads of what he called “the brightest sand there is in the world” shipped to his home.

It’s a substance made possible only by the crushing weight of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Almost 400 million years ago, that piece of Earth’s crust was buried and transformed by the heat and pressure of the mantle,” Hanson said. “Unlike sand that forms near Earth’s surface, that let this quartz form with almost no impurities. Later, the Appalachian Mountains lifted that quartz to the surface where it can be mined.”

In its purest form, the sand is often associated more with Silicon Valley than golf course bunkers.

“The purest grades have only 80 molecules of impurities per billion molecules of silica,” he said. “This super clean quartz is essential for purifying silicon to make today’s cutting edge solar cells and chips in your computer or mobile phones.

“The stuff at the Masters is spruce pine quartz that’s not quite pure enough for microchips, but they’ll be hitting golf balls out of it.”