<
>

Augusta National seeks more land for expansion

While Augusta National GC has been busy the last few years making
significant changes to the storied course, its most ambitious work has
taken place beyond the club gates. To accommodate a new practice
facility and parking lots, and possibly for further course expansion and
buildings to house corporate hospitality, the club is engaged in an
unprecedented buying spree of neighboring commercial and residential
properties.

Since 1999 Augusta National has purchased -- either directly or through
surrogate corporations -- 53 lots for $22.9 million, according to a recent
survey of real-estate records by Golf World that examined sales along
Washington Road and neighborhoods bordering the club's western edge. The
land acquisitions will allow the club to move vast parking areas off its
current property into the surrounding vicinity, affording it the space
to build an expanded, state-of-the-art practice range by 2011.

Currently the range for Masters contestants is 250 yards long, capped by
a 100-foot-tall fence that attempts -- sometimes in vain -- to keep balls
from being hit onto Washington Road, the street fronting the club's main
gate. While much of the land acquired by the club or its surrogates the
last couple of years is in adjacent residential neighborhoods along
Berckmans Road and west of it, a significant portion is on the cluttered
Washington Road commercial strip.

The Washington Road acquisitions will allow the club to transform
portions of the gaudy thoroughfare into a more sedate -- some might say
more appropriate -- approach to perhaps the most famous golf course in the
world. In late December, demolition began on a 2.6 acre shopping center
in the 2700 block of Washington Road that once was home to a dry
cleaners, barber shop and carpet store.

"We're like a little island," said Myles Anderson, a minister and member
of the board of directors at Whole Life Ministries, a church located at
2621 Washington Road directly across the street from the club since 1991
with no immediate plans to sell. "We're just going to be here until we
outgrow the facilities. We're not ready to sell now, and they [Augusta
National] seem to understand that, so we have no problem with them."

A city of 191,000 people, Augusta receives up to $150 million in
economic impact from The Masters. According to mayor Deke Copenhaver,
there is mixed opinion about the club's reach into adjacent land. "It
helps increase the tax base," Copenhaver said, "and it is a situation
where they are negotiating with the private owners for the property, so
it's not like they're stealing property from anybody. I think ultimately
it will be a good thing for Augusta. The National has always done things
in a top-notch fashion. I'll be interested to see the improvements they
make [on Washington Road]."

Augusta National's plans for a new practice facility were delayed after
the club released its television sponsors of their financial obligations
for two years (2003-'04) in the wake of protests by Martha Burk and the
National Council of Women's Organizations. When the sponsors returned in
2005, the club moved into action for an expansion plan that will
increase its total land area by more than 60 acres.

"We could go on indefinitely without sponsors," Johnson said at last
year's Masters. "However, we do have a huge project under way in moving
3,000 cars off our grounds onto properties adjacent to the club -- and
then preparing that land for those 3,000 cars and building the practice
facility we think the Masters Tournament deserves. This will be pretty
demanding financially. It would stretch out a long time without the
sponsors."

Citing its longstanding policy of refusing to discuss club matters,
Augusta National declined comment for this story. But a source familiar
with club thinking confirmed Augusta National has bought land with the
intent of relocating parking to accommodate a new practice facility.
"When people get there in 2010, or 2011, at the latest, they are going
to see the best practice range ever," the source said. Sources also
confirmed the club is intent on improving the cluttered commercial strip
but denied knowledge of any plan to create off-course corporate
hospitality facilities. The club currently has several structures tucked
away to the right of the first fairway that are used for corporate
entertaining.

The property in the 2700 block of Washington Road was bought by a
Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) linked to Tom Blanchard, an Augusta
National member. Other LLCs involved in recent purchases are linked to
club member Boone Knox and one to the club itself. Additional commercial
property -- formerly occupied by Mally's Bagels and Grits, the Comedy
House Theater and Steak and Ale restaurant -- purchased by Blanchard and
Knox also has been torn down.

According to public records and sources familiar with the situation,
various LLCs connected to the club began purchasing homes about five
years ago. In 2005 the buyers offered the seller the opportunity to stay
in the home for approximately two years rent-free and to receive two
lifetime badges to The Masters. Now, the LLCs are offering one year of
free rent and two lifetime badges.

In a city where real-estate prices are reasonable, families and
businesses have been able to accept generous offers from the LLCs and
relocate easily while still walking away with a handsome profit -- and
those two Masters badges. According to real estate records, one of the
LLCs, Berckman Residential Properties, purchased five residential
properties between Nov. 28, 2005 and Jan. 13, 2006, for a total of more
than $2.4 million, or about $488,000 each. In a recent transaction, a
1,400-square-foot home at the corner of Berckmans Road and Hillside
Lane, facing Augusta National, was purchased for $520,000. Such a
property normally sells for approximately $100,000, according to a
rental agent speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Some folks are for
it and excited to see it happen," Copenhaver said of the flurry of
sales, "but some feel like it's driving up property values too much in
their area."

Purchases along Berckmans Road could allow further lengthening of the
par-5 second hole, currently 575 yards, to beyond 600 yards. There is
speculation among local residents that when the club has finished buying
property, Berckmans Road will become a private street owned by the club,
with traffic rerouted from Heath Drive to Stanley Road, which connects
with Washington Road west of Berckmans. "There are still a lot of houses
along Berckmans that are in private hands," Copenhaver said. "When and
if they acquire all the property, that's when I would be willing to
address that issue. It's premature."

In 2003 the Augusta Chronicle reported the club also had purchased 33
undeveloped acres behind 2816 Washington Road about a half-mile west of
the club and a 17-acre parcel at the end of Eisenhower Drive, about a
mile north of Augusta National.

The club's clout in Augusta was evident in February. Augusta National's
opposition to a proposed high-rise condominium development at the
National Hills shopping center on Washington Road was a key factor in a
zoning board's denial of a height variance to exceed the county's
six-story maximum. The club cited safety and privacy concerns,
contending that condominium residents would be able to see onto its
property.

"I don't think it would have been turned [down] without the strong
objection of Augusta National," Rick Martin, president of the developer,
Kennedy Capital Group, told the Augusta Chronicle.

The newspaper, which is owned by William Morris, an Augusta National
member, called the project "Paparazzi Towers" in an editorial commending
the zoning denial. "We don't need to build a monument to peeking," the
editorial said. "You may not have much sympathy for celebrities who
frequent the Masters, but Augusta National is privileged to host some
pretty special guests each April -- and should be allowed to offer them
minimal amounts of decency and privacy."

"They put a lot back in and give a lot of money to charity," said
Copenhaver of Augusta National. "They are a good community partner."

Albeit one that owns an ever-growing part of that community.

-- Additional reporting by Bill Fields