AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Of all the PGA Tour pros who grew up dreaming of playing in the Masters, only Scott Brown can say he did so just 500 yards from the gates of Augusta National Golf Club. Brown’s grandparents, Herman and Elizabeth Thacker, raised him at 1112 Stanley Drive in a three-bedroom brick home they built in 1959, across from what is now Gate 6-A.
But the neighborhood has changed radically since Brown’s youth. What once was a quaint, modest community of homes has been paved over in the name of patron parking. Over the past 15 years, Augusta National Golf Club has gone on a buying spree, spending a reported $40 million to expand its borders.
Many of the landmarks around the Thacker house have vanished, or will soon. Last October, after 25 years on the corner of Old Berckmans and Washington Rd., Jay's Music sold its 0.73-acre parcel to Berckman Residential Properties LLC for $5.35 million. A few months later Pep Boys auto repair shop sold its property for $6.9 million. Progress has swallowed the neighborhood where Brown, the winner of the 2013 Puerto Rico Open, used to play in the streets. Only one house remains on Stanley Drive and its owners don't plan on moving anytime soon.
"Where are we going to go?" Herman Thacker, 84, said in an interview at his house on Tuesday morning. "This is home. We love it here."
The place is full of memories. It’s where Brown took some of his earliest divots, and where his grandfather set up a four-hole course in the yard for chipping contests.
"I've been watching him play ever since he was knee high to a duck," Herman said.
As Brown grew older, his grandparents began a Masters Sunday tradition of rushing to the 16th hole and setting their green folding chairs behind the green, then coming home and making breakfast before returning to watch the final round. Herman used a clunky camcorder to shoot Brown's first AJGA tournament, and proudly boasts of his grandson's Division II individual titles while at University of South Carolina Aiken. Not long ago, Thacker bought a computer so he could follow his grandson on the PGA Tour. He holds out hope that someday soon Brown will qualify to play in his first Masters.
"He's going to be over there one day, I just know it, but I don't know if I'll be around to see what he's done," Herman said.
Herman is even more confident that his home, where he has built a new patio and deck in the past 10 years, will remain intact, even as the club increases efforts to make sure it disappears. Less than six months ago, the club hired a crane and crew and planted a dozen holly trees and an oak tree along Berckmans Street that block the Thackers home from view. The trees look like they have been there for 25 years.
Herman and Elizabeth aren’t the only Thackers who have felt the impact of Augusta National’s eagerness to expand. When the club looked to redirect Berckmans Road, loaning $17 million to the city, to improve tournament traffic flow, the new route was expected to pass directly through the front yard of Jerry Thacker, Herman's brother. The club bought his two-story white colonial and two other properties the family owned for $3.6 million. (Augusta National spokesperson Steve Ethun declined to comment on any figures cited in this story. “We don’t discuss club business publicly,” he said.)
Despite the seven-figure sale prices, Herman says he isn't tempted to sell.
"I told my wife the other day that we need to jack the price so high that they can't help but refuse it," he said.
A few years ago, though, he did unload another of his properties, in which Brown lived for a short while after getting married. One day, Walton L. "Buzzy" Johnson, the senior director of the tournament, called to see if the Thackers were interested in selling. Elizabeth was baking a cake; Herman was at Lowe's. When he returned home, the couple listened to Johnson present what Herman called "a ridiculously low offer."
"Is that your bottom line?" Herman asked. "He said, 'Yes.' So I said, 'We'll see you then' and we walked out. It wasn't long before he was calling to ask if we could talk again."
The Thackers eventually sold for $1.2 million.
Living in a sea of parked cars for one week a year is only a minor hassle, the Thackers say, and it doesn’t prevent them from going about their daily routines. Come Masters week, Herman still fires up the grill while Elizabeth rakes the pine straw in the yard and keeps her landscaping immaculate. The other 51 weeks they enjoy their privacy.
Every so often, Johnson stops by to remind the Thackers that the club still is interested in the last house standing on Stanley Drive.
"The last time he came by he said, 'What if I could build you a house just like the one you have, only better with nine-foot ceilings and extra-wide molding?'" Thacker said. "I told him, 'Where are you going to put it? There ain't any land available, not in Richmond County.' He said, 'We can work that out.' We told him we'd give them first choice if we ever decide to sell."
But the club shouldn't hold its breath. Especially if the home eventually is passed down to another owner.
"If they give it to me," Brown said, "Augusta will never have it."