“I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see.” — The Notorious B.I.G.
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see.” — The Notorious B.I.G.
Big bucks have really been flying around Washington Road this past year.
Just this week, news spread that the Publix shopping center at National Plaza located at 2816 Washington Road was sold for more than $20 million to a company called WSQ, LLC.
So, who is WSQ, LLC?
Well, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Corporations Division, WSQ, LLC’s principal office address is 2604 Washington Road — otherwise known as the home of the Augusta National Golf Club.
The original registered agent name is E. William Jones Jr., but an annual registration that was just filed on Jan. 14 lists Bret Block, a prominent real estate attorney in Atlanta, as the new registered agent name.
It’s no surprise that WSQ, LLC is the same limited liability corporation that last year dished out about $20 million for the Washington Square shopping center that is currently home to Stein Mart and 2nd & Charles.
Now, the same company owns the Publix on Washington Road. That’s a lot of property located within walking distance of the Augusta National’s gates.
But don’t worry Publix shoppers.
It appears Publix isn’t moving anytime soon. The grocery store reportedly has at least another decade at that current location, but everyone in town is wondering the same question: What exactly does the Augusta National have planned for the future of Washington Road?
Of course, Augustans have been trying to figure that out for months now.
Just last year at this exact time, the Metro Spirit warned readers that the ownership of properties along Washington Road was about to change.
“Speculation is that Augusta National is in the process of purchasing both the Publix and Stein Mart shopping centers along Washington Road,” the Metro Spirit reported on Jan. 17, 2018.
As is customary with the private golf club, a spokesperson for Augusta National declined to comment about any of its purchases.
But everyone knew it was coming.
In fact, Jeremy Britton of the former Country Club Dance Hall & Saloon on Washington Road told the Metro Spirit last year that the rumor was the Augusta National had purchased the Stein Mart shopping center and was preparing to relocate all the existing businesses.
“Somebody told me just the other day, ‘The shopping center has been purchased and they are going to relocate y’all,’” Britton said in 2018. “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.”
Unfortunately, the Country Club Dance Hall & Saloon didn’t survive 2018 and closed its doors late last year.
But the face of Washington Road is definitely changing.
Local resident 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 last year. “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. I just hope those places won’t be hurt.”
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 the 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 three 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.
Off the record, some sources close to Augusta National insist the club is simply planning to use the land for parking and to beautify the area around the golf course … at least for now.
A few years ago, 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, 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 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 last year.
“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,” Williams said. “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 apparently 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.”
Buckle your seat belts, Augusta.
Washington Road may soon be changing… once again.