News & Opinion

Augusta’s land grab shapes club’s future

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Now that the spring rite of awarding the green jacket has concluded, Augusta National Golf Club can go about its other major business: acquiring real estate.

For years, Augusta National has been the largest acquirer of land in a city whose claim to fame is a week in April when the entire golfing world focuses on the year’s first major championship. During the other 51 weeks of the year, the city and Augusta National focus on preparing for Masters week.

During his annual news conference Wednesday, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley discussed the construction of a tunnel under Washington Road, the main thoroughfare that borders the north side of the club.

The tunnel, which according to Ridley could now happen with new technology in construction, will be used to access an international TV compound, which will be constructed on land that the club acquired on the north side of Washington Road, or State Route 28.

Left unsaid by Ridley is that the TV compound will occupy only a small part of the vast lands – $200 million in acquisitions, The Wall Street Journal reported – that the club has attained over time. Though the tunnel will help the Masters’ TV production, it also will open access to other areas for club-owned hospitality across Washington Road.

Experiencing the week of the Masters is a highlight for any golf fan, but it’s also a playground for businesses that want to entertain. That’s why, as land has been acquired, changes have been made to support the growing hospitality aspects of the Masters.

Where residential neighborhoods used to stand, the club has built large, easily accessible, free parking areas for the estimated 40,000 patrons who visit the Masters daily.

Berckmans Place, a 90,000-square-foot facility near Augusta National’s fifth green, opened for the 2016 Masters and is the ultimate hospitality center. It is not specifically connected to sponsors’ hospitality, but individuals and smaller businesses can take advantage of the onsite hospitality at fees of $5,000 for the week.

When asked about a potential Interstate 20 exit directly to Augusta National’s parking lots, Ridley acknowledged that he was aware of the discussion but didn’t know much about it.

I doubt that the city or state does anything in the Augusta area without informing – if not receiving permission or tacit approval from – Augusta National.

Ridley conceded that the club has expanded its footprint to create a world-class facility for the competitors, and to that extent, the club will not stop acquiring land.

“We are continually looking out – not just what do we need next year or five years from now, but what’s the Masters going to look like 20 years from now or 50 years from now, and so we'll always look at options.”

So, what can we expect in the next 20-50 years? Let’s start with Augusta National in its current physical condition. The club’s main gate on Washington Road sits about one mile east of the I-20 interchange. The club would like to own all of that land, expanding its footprint to build housing for staff, competitors and possibly even media members who cover the Masters.

Another golf course also would be a possibility, to support the club’s desire to grow the game. An amateur event or even a women’s professional event at a different time of the year – say, in the fall versus the spring, so as not to conflict with the Masters – could be hosted, utilizing much of the infrastructure in place at the club.

One thing is clear: Augusta National Golf Club will continue to acquire real estate. Though it’s uncertain what the area around the club will look like in the future, Augusta National will own most of the land around it. What the club might do with it is for someone other than Ridley or perhaps even his successor to decide.

Since the resignation of the late Clifford Roberts, who served as Augusta National’s first chairman in 1934-1976, the next five chairmen have held the job for an average of eight years. Given that trend, the next chairman – or perhaps even a chairwoman in the coming years – could be the driving force to what the area will look like in 50 years.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli