The earth-shaking news this past year in the world of golf was that Augusta National purchased property from its neighbor, the Augusta Country Club, with plans to possibly expand Amen Corner.
While that announcement didn’t necessarily change things much here locally, it made headlines all over the world because the property is on the northwest boundary of Augusta Country Club, adjacent to Augusta National’s 13th hole.
For those who don’t know, there has been a great deal of speculation over the past several years that Augusta National might be looking to lengthen the iconic par 5.
“It’s fair to say, as is always the case, we are always looking at certain holes, certain other improvements to the golf course, and we talked about some of those, and I think they are all pretty obvious,” former Augusta National chairman Billy Payne told the Golf Channel this past April. “We have a great opportunity now in that we own the old Berckmans Road. It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand … lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review.”
Augusta Country Club President Jay Forrester explained in a memo to club members this past summer that, “as part of the arrangement that will result in the transfer of acreage to Augusta National, I can confirm that a portion of the eighth hole and a new ninth hole will be constructed at no cost to Augusta Country Club.”
Apparently, it’s a win-win situation for everyone in the golf community.
But over the past few weeks, there have been mounting rumors of Augusta National possibly making another purchase of local property that could affect many residents living in west Augusta.
Speculation is that Augusta National is in the process of purchasing both the Publix and Stein Mart shopping centers along Washington Road.
While a spokesperson for Augusta National declined to comment and there have not been any recent changes to the public records of the two properties in the Richmond County Tax Assessor’s Office, the rumor is out there.
In fact, Jeremy Britton of the The Country Club Dance Hall & Saloon said he had also heard the latest gossip about the Stein Mart shopping center being sold, but he hasn’t gotten any such announcement from the property’s owner, Forum WS LLC, based out of Atlanta.
“We have not received any news, so I can’t confirm or deny any of those rumors,” Britton said. “My rent check went to the same landlord this month as it has been going to for the past several months, which is WS Forum. In fact, I am already booking acts for 2019. So, if there is a new landlord, I haven’t met them. I don’t know who they are. But the rumor mill has started, and I’ve heard that someone has purchased it.”
Of course with rumors comes all kinds of speculation, Britton said.
“Somebody told me just the other day, ‘The shopping center has been purchased and they are going to relocate y’all,’” Britton said. “But I just told them, ‘That’s the first I’ve heard about any of it.’ Of course, I know the rumor was that the property owner may sell. But anybody in their right mind would sell to the Augusta National if they own property on Washington Road.”
Lori Collins and her roommate live in an apartment off Berckmans Road, and she said nothing surprises her about the Augusta National anymore.
“We lived through the construction of the new Berckmans Road, and that was crazy,” Collins said. “So, hopefully if they really did purchase Publix and Stein Mart, it won’t affect too many residents and those businesses can relocate nearby like Jiffy Lube did further down on Washington Road.”
Having open green spaces around the Augusta National that the private club uses for parking is actually pretty nice for nearby residents, Collins said.
“They have done a great job clearing and beautifying the area, but pretty soon everything on this side of Washington Road will probably be gone,” Collins said, as she headed into Walgreens to pick up a few snacks. “Personally, I like having these stores like Walgreens and Publix right by our apartment. I regularly bike to Publix, but I guess we’ll still have Kroger across the street.”
Collins joked that Augustans just don’t know what Augusta National has planned down the road.
“I mean, do they want to buy the property all the way down to I-20? Who knows?” she said. “But I really like shopping at 2nd & Charles and eating at some of the restaurants like the Curry Hut and Vallarta. And I haven’t even gotten to try Metro Diner yet because it’s been packed since it opened. I just hope those places won’t be hurt.”
The Curry Hut, located at 2810 Washington Road right in front of Publix in National Plaza, was opened in September 2014 by co-owners Deshdeep and Ranjeet Singh.
The two owners also operate the Taj of India off Furys Ferry Road in Martinez and currently lease the building that houses the Curry Hut.
For almost 25 years, that same building on Washington Road housed Thai Jong.
One of the reasons Deshdeep and Ranjeet Singh chose the Curry Hut’s location was because Washington Road is a main artery in Augusta.
This week, the Curry Hut owners told a Metro Spirit reporter that they “haven’t seen any notices,” and their “landlord hasn’t told us anything” about any possible purchase of their location or the Publix shopping center.
But it takes only a few seconds for longtime Augustans to clearly see all of the major changes that have occurred over the past several decades surrounding Augusta National.
Entire neighborhoods are gone. Many hospitality houses are history.
And no one is ever going to make any money parking cars in their front yards during Masters Week again.
From 1999 until 2006, the private golf club purchased more than 50 lots surrounding its property for approximately $23 million.
Golf World magazine called the purchase of the properties one of the most “unprecedented buying sprees of neighboring commercial and residential properties” it had ever seen.
More than two years ago, Augusta National loaned the city of Augusta the necessary money, interest free, to advance the construction of the first phase of the Berckmans Road’s $16 million project in order to get it moving ahead of the state’s schedule.
Basically, the Augusta National bypassed Georgia DOT using its own money to get what it needed done in less than half the time.
So, for Augusta National, nothing is impossible.
If the rumors are true and Augusta National has purchased property stretching all the way down to the Washington Square Shopping Center, which includes the stores Stein Mart and 2nd & Charles, many wonder what they have planned.
Off the record, some sources close to the club insist they are simply planning to use the land for parking and to beautify the area around the golf course … at least for now.
But it will be interesting to see how much Augusta National paid for the two shopping centers if the rumors turn out to be true.
Most recently, the Augusta National, under the name Berckman Residential Properties LLC, purchased the former Jay’s Music & Sound Super Center located at 2702 Washington Road for a whopping $5.35 million.
The purchase of the music store, which had been located on the corner of Washington Road and the old Berckmans Road for 25 years, made national headlines in 2016 because Augusta National paid eight times what the 0.73-acre piece of land and 5,600-square-foot store was assessed for, according to Richmond County real estate records.
Golf Digest reported that Augusta National had spent an estimated $55 million to purchase 100 acres around the club from 1999-2014.
“The land has been used for parking during the Masters, hospitality areas during the tournament, a new practice facility, and most recently, a new constructed media center,” Golf Digest reported, adding that it estimated that Augusta National spent $27 million on the small piece of land that it purchased from the Augusta Country Club.
The truth is, if Augusta National wants it, most likely they are going to get it.
In fact, many locals weren’t surprised when Augusta National paid more than $4.5 million for the The Lodge on Heath — the spacious 12,000-square-foot hospitality house located less than 150 feet away from Gate 9.
For eight years, Robert Williams, the owner of Roux’s Catering in downtown Augusta, made Masters Week at The Lodge a real occasion for all of the patrons who walked through the doors.
The Lodge was the ideal location for Masters guests to congregate, relax and enjoy everything from outstanding food to a hand-rolled cigar to even instruction from a PGA professional golf swing analyst.
These days, Williams said it is almost impossible to even find the spot where The Lodge once stood.
“There were a couple of landmarks as far as trees, so I knew where essentially it was,” Williams told the Metro Spirit after attending the 2016 Masters. “It was kind of a heavy feeling. … To see it go was kind of like selling the house you grew up in. Most people can still go ride by their childhood home, but, within a month, it was gone. It went from a living, breathing facility to sod in a matter of weeks, and that’s what’s hard, not to just be able to have some sort of connection.”
As a result of The Lodge being sold, Williams bought the former CVS on Boy Scout Road, completely renovated it and opened The Foundry at Rae’s Creek just in time for the first week in April of 2016.
Williams said it was inevitable that The Lodge would be purchased by the Augusta National.
“We knew our days were numbered,” Williams told the Metro Spirit.
“It was something that, as that process started happening, it happened fairly rapidly but, for us, the road construction was going to be something that was going to have a major impact on our business. And when the Augusta National wants something, they tend to get it.”
Over the past several years, Augusta National also purchased the former Jiffy Lube property at 2730 Washington Road for $1.05 million and the former National Hills Tire and Service at 2718 Washington Road, as well as the former TGI Fridays location at 2800 Washington Road right next to the new Berckmans Road.
For the larger lot that used to be home to the Augusta Comedy House Theatre at 2740 Washington Road, the Augusta National paid $3.5 million back in 2001.
The golf club also bought the smaller lot next to it at a price of $506,000 in 2004.
And then there is the matter of the property listed as 2830 Washington Road, which is basically 30 acres of land behind the Washington Square Shopping Center that the Augusta National paid $946,000 to purchase.
In addition, the golf club owns the two lots next to Walgreens.
Piece by piece, Augusta National has been expanding its property along Washington Road.
But not everyone is selling.
One house, a brick ranch at 1112 Stanley Drive, is still standing not far from Augusta’s National’s Gate 6.
Herman and Elizabeth Thacker found themselves in the national spotlight in April 2016, after sports columnist Steve Politi of NJ Advance Media and The Star-Ledger interviewed them about the house that they have lived in since 1959.
The story was picked up by several national golf magazines and business publications.
“Augusta National has an incredible way of making things disappear. Trees. Houses. Roads. If the most powerful golf club on Earth wants something, it buys it, and it has spent the past 15 years gobbling up the property around its borders,” Politi wrote. “An entire neighborhood once sat across from Gate 6-A at the Masters. The golf club spent more than $40 million to bulldoze it into a free parking lot, and now all that remains is the simple three-bedroom house at 1112 Stanley Drive that Herman and Elizabeth Thacker built in 1959.”
The Thackers told Politi that they had raised two children in the home and, since that time, have expanded their family to five grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.
“We really don’t want to go,” Elizabeth Thacker told Politi.
But a representative from Augusta National is still trying to purchase the house.
“He’ll come by here every so often and he’ll say, ‘Just want to let you know we’re still interested in your property,’” Herman Thacker reportedly said. “And we’ll tell him the same thing again.”
But the Thackers have another reason why they love their brick home on Stanley Drive.
Folks may recognize their grandson, professional golfer Scott Brown.
Brown, who learned to play golf with his dad at 3 years old at Goshen Plantation in Augusta, is a graduate of North Augusta High School and USC Aiken.
He joined the PGA Tour in 2012 and won the Puerto Rico Open the following year.
Brown is still trying to qualify for his first Masters, but the Thackers told The Star-Ledger that they will happily walk to the tournament from their home on Stanley Drive when he does.
“Money ain’t everything,” Herman Thacker reportedly said.
The Thackers aren’t the only ones who feel that way.
Before Berckmans Road was rerouted, a number of residents living near Augusta National were worried about how it may impact their lives.
“We’ve raised five children in this home,” said Mechone Williams, who has lived with her husband in their house just off Wicklow Drive for more than 15 years. “We were drawn to this neighborhood because of the energy. It’s a very quiet, nice, clean neighborhood that was a safe place to raise children.”
But residents living the near the Augusta National simply have no idea about their future because the Augusta National is so secretive about its plans, she said.
“They are giants. We are like David, and they are Goliath,” Williams said of the Augusta National. “Honestly, a lot of people feel powerless.”
Lori Collins, who lives in the apartment off Berckmans Road, said locals will never really know what Augusta National will do next, but the city is still very lucky to have the private club and the Masters tournament every year.
“For me, what they do doesn’t really concern me because I know it’s the most famous golf course on the planet. We really benefit a great deal from them,” she said. “And I can always find another place to live. But I hear it all the time from people who own houses around the National. They used to love it, but it is much different now.”