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The Masters

Land Grab

Continued (page 2 of 2)

THE $8.3 MILLION LOT
The club also has been buying up property along Washington Road, the commercial thoroughfare that abuts the club, as well as in the Vineland neighborhood to the east. In early February, the club paid $8.3 million for a 9.8-acre apartment complex just off Washington Road. This acquisition fueled speculation, but Augusta National says the area will be used for parking for tournament support personnel beginning this year. Various LLCs connected to the club have bought commercial property along this busy strip, in some cases relocating businesses to other parts of town.

Displaced business owners haven't made a big fuss. In theory, relocating to another part of town could hurt sales. But with more services available on the grounds, it's already hard to compete.

Despite Augusta National's efforts to keep the sales under wraps, speculators have trickled in over the years. In most cases, the club was already one step ahead of them, Youngblood says. The community, for its part, hasn't put up much of a fight. "Most people who live here love the National. It does nothing but benefit the community," she says. "We don't like the traffic for one week out of the year, but we know to stay away."

Ah, traffic. Those who followed Augusta National's assembly of land marveled at the trouble and cost for a parking lot. In late 2013, it became clear that there's more to it. Now the club is eager to improve the traffic flow in and out of the area. Late last year, Augusta National said it would give the city of Augusta an interest-free loan to expedite the widening and realignment of Berckmans Road, which runs north and south, along the club's original property line. Augusta National will prefund the $20 million project, which will ultimately be paid for by a 1 percent regional sales tax, says Steven Cassell, a traffic engineer for the city of Augusta. Under the new plan, which is scheduled to be completed by the 2016 Masters, the intersection of Berckmans and Washington will be moved about a third of a mile west. It will also improve the grade of Berckmans Road near Augusta National, which could allow for pedestrian underpasses between parking and the club.

Many observers wonder if there will be more to this plan, namely housing for players, members and VIPs to augment the limited housing. As an alternative, visitors rent private homes, stay in nearby communities or pay a steep premium for local hotels.

Housing seems like a natural progression, say industry observers, even if it's used but one week a year. If the success of the new hospitality facility is any indication, it pencils out. Last year's Masters marked the debut of Berckmans Place, a 90,000-square-foot luxury hospitality area near the fifth hole The facility is open to select badge holders, who have access to a private entrance, four restaurants and replicas of three putting greens.

What will Augusta National look like from the inside 10 years from now? As one local observer says, "We probably won't get to see."

WHERE AUGUSTA NATIONAL IS SPENDING MILLIONS TO EXPAND ITS FOOTPRINT

Course Map

Photo: Digital Data Services

Changes at Augusta National:
1. PARKING More than $40 million was spent to purchase homes to expand a parking lot. Berckmans Road will be re-routed west of the lot. Sections of the existing road will be improved, which could allow for pedestrian underpasses.

2. HOSPITALITY An area near the fifth hole was turned into luxury hospitality, including replicas of the greens at holes 7, 14 and 16.

3. PRACTICE The old gravel parking lot is now a practice facility.

4-5. THE FUTURE Land north of busy Washington Road and east of the club has been purchased, perhaps with an eye toward accommodating "on-campus" tournament housing.

Sarah Max is a financial writer who is a regular contributor to Barron's, Entrepreneur and The New York Times.

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