Masters 2014: The Gossip Under the Oak Tree and Down the Street

Thursday April 10th, 2014

Tree A live oak tee outside the Augusta National clubhouse. (Getty)

In the shade of the giant live oak behind the clubhouse at Augusta National, the chatter is non-stop. Deals are brokered, friendships renewed, stories shared. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve heard under the tree and beyond.
The Mechanic
My favorite restaurant story this week came courtesy of longtime Augusta scribe Ward Clayton. Apparently Miguel Angel Jimenez’ top choice in town is Rae’s Coastal Café—and with their Caribbean-style jerk chicken wings, I can see why. Last year, he phoned the establishment to let them know he was bringing in a big party of Spanish countrymen—12 in all—and wanted to secure a reservation. “Yes, we can do that,” came the response, “but aren’t you supposed to be at Augusta National today?” Jimenez whispered, “Yes, I am here.” Replied Rae’s, “You know you can’t have cell phones out there?” “Why do you think I’m calling you from the bushes?” explained The Mechanic.
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TBonz is a beehive all week, every Masters. Five minutes from Augusta National on Washington Road, its steaks, service and scene have folks camped out the door. Tom Watson, Peter Jacobsen and Brandel Chamblee are among the sightings this week. My medium-rare T-Bone was perfect.
Also perfect after all of these years is Luigi’s. Situated in downtown Augusta, not far from the town’s James Brown statue, Luigi’s is a favorite of Ben Crenshaw, who craves the toasted ravioli with meat sauce, but is equally content with the lasagna. Proprietor Chuck Ballas Jr., whose family has owned Luigi’s since it opened in 1949, told me that Crenshaw asked him if he would open an Austin, Texas branch, but Ballas told Gentle Ben that one in Augusta was plenty for him.
Caddie Genius
Cayce Kerr has looped for Fred Couples and Fuzzy Zoeller among others. This week, he’s got Vijay Singh’s bag, but what a tale he told at TBonz restaurant last night. Seems Kerr was the man who brought rangefinder technology to American golf. Working with an Austrian entrepreneur, Kerr took the latest in lasers and made it accessible to all, at least those who could foot the bill. In 1996, Kerr was a one-man rangefinder shop.
“For one year, I was the only source,” says Kerr. “I closed every deal.”
Sandy Lyle, at the Tucson PGA Tour stop, was the first to step up and pay Kerr’s asking price of $3,300 for the device. In short order, Kerr sold rangefinders to Ping’s Karsten Solheim and to architects that included Tom Fazio and Ken Kavanaugh. Arnold Palmer bought three of them. Somehow, Kerr talked his way into an NBC party and dazzled those in attendance with his wares. Tommy Roy approached Kerr with one question: “How did you get in here?” Kerr’s clever response was to tell Roy how his team could point the device at a player and his ball, and at the flag, and instantly calculate the yardage. Another done deal.
Kerr kept $2,300 from each of the 350 units he sold in 1996. You do the math. He mined the gold for exactly twelve months, until Bushnell emerged with a similar product that was priced at one-tenth the cost. Cayce Kerr’s monopoly had ended, but not before changing golf forever.
Where the World Meets and Greets
Under the oak tree I met Masters invitee Laze “Les” Perchevski. As president of the Macedonian Golf Federation, Perchevski is a special invited guest, who will be among the officials presiding at the 18th green when they award the trophy and green jacket on Sunday night. What’s cool, if slightly problematic, is that Macedonia has no golf courses. Perchevski’s mission is to change that.
“We have practice facilities and junior programs,” said Perchevski. “However, Macedonia has never had a golf course. We’re hoping to build a nine-hole course by the end of the year.”
Perchevski was born in Macedonia, a small Balkan republic that’s situated just north of Greece and east of Bulgaria, then lived in Australia for 20 years and in the U.S. for another 20. He moved back to his birthplace five years ago. Is there cause for optimism? “Absolutely,” beams Perchevski. “It is my dream.” He tells a story about the 2012 Eisenhower Trophy, also known as the World Men’s Team Championship, an event on the calendar since 1958, where individual winners have included Jack Nicklaus, Hal Sutton, Jerry Pate and Ryan Moore.
“One of our teenage players, Peter Stojanovski, placed 134th (out of 215 individual golfers) and we don’t even have a golf course!”
Welcome to Augusta National and the Masters—where the world meets to grow the game.
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