When local residents dial 911, Katrina Dent is one of the highly trained operators prepared to handle any emergency call at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office E911 Communications Center.
She absolutely loves her job and takes her responsibility to the public very seriously.
But when Masters Week rolls around each year, Dent takes a vacation from her regular duties at the sheriff’s office and works for a private hospitality company to help out-of-town patrons enjoy their week in Augusta.
“During Masters Week, I work for Executive Marketing Services as a dispatcher for the drivers,” Dent said. “I actually work nights and the drivers will call in when they are either going on or off duty. But I also do running for whatever our guests need. Almost like a little gofer.”
The guests in town during Masters always keep her busy because Executive Marketing Services wants to make sure patrons have everything they need for the ultimate tournament experience, she said.
“I’d probably say the craziest request I ever got was we had to go and get a specific mattress for a house one time,” Dent said, laughing. “But usually it’s something like a guest likes a certain type of drink or beverage and we’ll go find it and bring it to them.”
This upcoming Masters will be Dent’s third year working for Executive Marketing Services, a local company that specializes in offering corporate clients complete turnkey packages for the tournament.
In fact, Executive Marketing Services has two private hospitality venues, The Executive Club and The Foundation Club, which are located directly across from the Augusta National off Washington Road.
“I usually start work around 4:30 or 5 p.m. at Executive Marketing Services and I’ll leave around 7 or 7:30 in the morning,” Dent said. “It’s a long day, but it actually works out great for me working nights because the traffic is completely off the road by the time I head home in the mornings.”
While Dent has to battle the traffic on Washington Road coming to work around 4:30 p.m. right before the gates close for the day, she actually enjoys leaving at 7:30 a.m. because she sees all of the excited patrons anxiously waiting to get onto the course.
“I get on I-20 westbound going home in the mornings,” Dent said. “So I get to see the cars lined up for miles and miles on the interstate to get off on the exit to get to the Masters.”
Dent said that she began working for Executive Marketing Services during Masters Week because the pay is extremely good for only one week of work.
“I think the best part of working the Masters is, it offers some very long hours and you are able to make a nice amount of money in a short period of time,” Dent said. “But I also enjoy it because you are able to be in the midst of it all. It is just a different feeling when Masters time comes around.”
“The who’s who of the golf world and the who’s who of everything from everywhere are all in town that week. The atmosphere is just exciting.”
Unfortunately, Dent joked that she has yet to meet anyone famous while working Masters Week. In fact, she doesn’t typically get the opportunity to attend the actual tournament.
“I am a huge sports fanatic,” Dent said, laughing. “I would absolutely love to help out Grant Hill because he is my favorite basketball player of all time and, of course, a Duke alum. He would probably be the person that if I ever got to meet him I would be like, ‘Are we serious right now?’”
While Grant Hill would be her first choice, she has a list of sports heroes that she would enjoy having the opportunity to meet.
“When it comes to baseball, I would love to meet Chipper Jones. That would be incredible,” Dent said. “But, unfortunately, no, I haven’t gotten the chance to meet anyone famous. I’m sort of holed up working the dispatch for the drivers, so I don’t really see any of the famous people.”
However, Dent’s brother is quick to remind her that he has met his fair share of celebrities.
“My brother used to work there as a valet, so he was able to see more of the people who were walking through and going to get their vehicles,” Dent said, adding that he was lucky enough to meet basketball legend Julius Erving one year. “He saw Dr. J one year, and he saw (former NFL quarterback) Donovan McNabb one year, too.”
And even though she doesn’t regularly get to visit the course, her father — who happens to be Mike Leverett, the Harlem High School softball coach who, in 2016, led the Lady Bulldogs to their first state championship in 30 years — always takes good care of his daughter and brings her back items from the tournament.
“My dad drives for a different company and he gets to go on the course, so whatever I need I will just get him to get it for me. But other than that, I don’t get to go on the course. I know, it’s so sad,” Dent said, chuckling. “But even though I don’t get to go out there, I’m still making some good money so it’s totally fine. It’s a fun week to be in Augusta.”
A TIME TO APPRECIATE AUGUSTA
For Allison Cunningham, Masters Week is an opportunity for a complete change of scenery from her normal duties at work.
“My regular 9 to 5 job, as you would call it, is I work at Savannah River Site doing radiation protection,” Cunningham said. “So that’s what I do the whole rest of the year. But during Masters Week, I use some of my vacation time at SRS and I work for Sean Wight, who owns Frog Hollow, Farmhaus and Craft & Vine.”
For more than a decade, Cunningham said she was consistently working in the local food and beverage industry while also going to college and earning two degrees.
“Between the ages of about 20 and 32, I got to work at great places like D.Timm’s, La Maison, Toast Wine and Beverage and Frog Hollow,” said Cunningham, who will turn 38 later this year. “I remember when I went back to school, I contacted Sean (Wight) because I knew him through the business, and he agreed to let me work a couple of extra nights to help pay for school. Getting to work for him was a really good experience for me because he was very understanding that I was going to school and had to have a flexible schedule.”
While working at Toast Wine and Beverage and later at Frog Hollow, Cunningham said she really experienced what it takes to host guests during Masters Week.
“I worked with Sean Wight during Masters at his restaurant for a couple of years,” Cunningham said. “So, after I earned my second degree and it was time for me to start my career, he asked, ‘You are coming back for Masters, right?’ So, as soon as I built up enough vacation time at SRS, I called him back and said, ‘Do you still want me?’ And he was like, ‘Heck yeah.’ So, it’s been awesome.”
Instead of working at one of his restaurants during Masters, Cunningham said she has been asked to be a server and occasionally pour wine at Wight’s weeklong catering event for Mercedes-Benz.
“His catering event for Mercedes-Benz is a really ornate deal,” Cunningham said. “They bring in professional decorators, they change the lighting each night, they have live bands, and they’ve even done interviews on stage with the people from SportsCenter. It’s crazy, but it’s really neat and fun. And it’s a break from what I regularly do each day.”
While she really enjoys her job at SRS, Cunningham said there is a special camaraderie among people who work in the food and beverage industry.
“Sean has got several of the people who used to work for his restaurant and who have moved onto different things to come back for Masters because we still enjoy that service industry banter and fun that we have,” Cunningham said. “And the bonus is you get to make extra money while you are using your vacation time. I really enjoy it.”
Cunningham said she also likes the reaction she gets from guests when they ask her what she does for a living.
“People are usually surprised when they ask me, ‘Well, what do you do the rest of the year?’ And I tell them I do radiation protection,” Cunningham said, laughing. “I get a few weird looks like, ‘Are you radioactive?’ But it’s a lot of fun.”
Masters Week is definitely a special time in Augusta that shouldn’t be missed, Cunningham said.
“I feel like it is a time when the whole city kind of comes to life a little more than normal,” she said. “Even though there is so much going on and it seems like there is so much on the line, people seem relax and enjoy their own city.”
Augustans need to appreciate the beauty of their own hometown, she said.
“For the most part, those of us who live here, we are working our regular lives and getting caught up in the day-to-day activities and we’re not actually enjoying what our city has to offer,” Cunningham said. “Then, come Masters Week, it’s almost like everybody takes a pause to enjoy our city.”
Locals should treasure that experience, she said.
“It’s not like living in Orlando or Miami where tourism is your day-to-day life and you don’t really get to enjoy it,” she said. “Masters, since it happens once a year and every year, we get to celebrate it, too. I think that’s something pretty unique.”
MASTERS WEEK IS A ‘STAY-CATION’
While talking to a client in her studio last year, 32-year-old local hair stylist Hope Key came up with an idea that would help her friends and clients truly celebrate Masters Week.
“Last year, a client and I were joking and saying, ‘We don’t rent,’ and talking about all the people who were stressed out about the whole renting their house process,” Key said. “We were laughing about how it’s so much fun to just stay in town during Masters Week and hang out like it’s spring break.”
As they were talking, Key thought it would be fun to create a T-shirt design celebrating locals who choose to remain in the Augusta area during Masters Week.
She came up with the slogan, “I Don’t Rent. I Stay Fore the Party.”
“So I ran to the mall and got all the white tank tops that I could and found a screen printer that could do them,” Key said. “This was the week before Masters Week last year.”
Key, known as The Augusta Hair Stylist on Facebook, made a dozen T-shirts with her slogan and a golf logo on it. She sold all of them to her clients for $25 each in less than a week.
The T-shirts were so popular that Key decided to make about a dozen more and sold several of them before the end of the tournament.
“So, this year, I planned ahead and ordered my shirts from a wholesaler and I went ahead and ordered like 40 shirts,” Key said.
However, this year, her clients who actually rent their houses for Masters Week wanted a second T-shirt with a different slogan.
“Some of my clients were saying, ‘Well, we do rent, so you need to make a shirt for someone who does rent their house,’” Key said. “So I made a design this year that I wanted it to have a double meaning. That shirt says, ‘Renter Fore The Green.’”
Key explained the slogan could refer to people who come to Masters and rent other people’s house to attend the tournament or it could refer to locals who rent their house for the extra money.
“So the people who are in town and renting, they can take the T-shirts home as a souvenir. But it can also be for the people who are renting their houses for the ‘green,’ as in the money,” Key said, chuckling. “When I showed the shirts to my mom, she didn’t get it. She was like, ‘I don’t understand it.’ I said, ‘It can go both ways, Mom.’”
So far, Key mainly sells her T-shirts to clients, friends and people at her gym.
“I don’t really make a profit on it,” Key said. “By the time I buy the shirts and pay the screen printers, I barely break even. It’s really just for fun.”
“I am the kind of person who likes to wear holiday-themed stuff. I like to get in the spirit, so I just wanted a spring break, fun-type shirt that I could wear to Rock Fore! Dough and places like that. I just wanted a shirt that says, ‘I’m an Augusta local. I’m here to party because it is so much fun.’ For me, Masters Week is a stay-cation.”
Possibly starting next year, Key said should would like to partner with a charity and produce the shirts with the goal of raising money for a good cause.
In fact, with her original slogan, “I Don’t Rent,” Key is considering possibly teaming up with an anti-prostitution charity that helps stop human trafficking.
“When I became single, my girlfriend and I were joking about how we didn’t want people to think that they could rent us but we wanted to get dolled up and go out for Masters Week. Our message was, ‘Money can’t buy us,’” Key said. “So, there’s another meaning behind the message, ‘I Don’t Rent.’ You’d be amazed the offers that you get during Masters Week. Some people think they can buy anything. Well, I don’t rent my house or my body.”
A SWEET WEEK FOR AUGUSTANS
When Jamey Sprowls opened up her local business, The Sweet Suite Bakeshop in Grovetown on CDP Industrial Boulevard, she didn’t intend on selling cookies.
“We opened in 2015, and our business has really grown through word of mouth,” Sprowls said, adding that she had a full-time job when she decided to take a chance and open the bake shop. “We owned the space that I’m in, so it was a minimal investment. My husband said, ‘We have a renter who has vacated, do you want to try a cake supply shop?’ But the whole goal was to be cake supplies only. That’s it.”
But a wonderful accident happened, Sprowls said.
“We started the first couple of weeks offering treats for walk-ins, and it just exploded,” Sprowls said. “We were supposed to be just a cake supply shop, but now we are kind of becoming known for our Masters cookies.”
Over the past several years, Sprowls’ delicious cookies with golf themes have been a huge hit during Masters Week.
“Last year, we did almost 2,000 cookies for Masters Week,” Sprowls said, chuckling. “That’s a lot of cookies. But we kind of depend on those companies that have house rentals and then, of course, on caterers. We have lately been getting a lot of companies that are out of state that have been contacting us a month in advance about corporate cookies.”
The demand has grown so quickly that Sprowls said the bake shop is having to prioritize its orders.
“We got a little overwhelmed, so we recently moved into corporate orders only,” she said. “But we still offer three sales a month to the public. And then if it’s like Easter, Masters, Christmas or Thanksgiving, we always offer special cookies and special items for order around those times.”
Not only are the cookies beautifully decorated and neatly packaged, but the bakeshop also avoids using any of the Augusta National’s trademarks.
“We are very careful because of the Masters trademarks and copyrights,” Sprowls said. “We want patrons to love our cookies, so they are mostly golf themed and we have a ‘Welcome to Augusta’ cookie, as well.”
The Sweet Suite Bakeshop’s cookie business has grown so much during Masters Week that they have even supplied some of their treats to professional golfers staying in Augusta.
“We’ve done cookies for a caterer that does some famous golfers’ homes each year,” Sprowls said, laughing. “But of course, we can’t mention the names of the golfers. That’s a secret, but we are thrilled that they are enjoying our cookies.”