Masters 2015: Outside the Gates of Augusta National

April 10, 2015

When Tiger Woods leaves Augusta National, he makes a left off of Magnolia Lane onto Washington Road and heads west, to the city’s modern suburban developments, on the far side of I-20. But if he made a right out of the club, he’d be heading for downtown Augusta, and that’s another world.

Every now and again, you see a player downtown, and more often you see caddies, but it’s not a regular occurrence. Washington Road flows right into Broad Street, the downtown’s main artery, and along it there are vestiges of old, faded river wealth. You also see signs of urban renewal here and there, but that’s been the case for decades.

Any single turn in Augusta gives you the opportunity to drill deep. If you’re heading downtown and make a right on Milledge, the next thing you know you’re at Augusta Country Club, bastion of Old South wealth, dinner-dances, bright pants, good times. On the other side of Washington Road from the country club is Lake Olmstead Stadium, home of the Augusta GreenJackets, Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. Tomorrow’s journeymen today, if they’re lucky.

Go straight on Broad and you come upon a residential neighborhood called Harrisburg. There’s a restaurant there named the Blue Collar Bistro. Churches are about as common as fire hydrants, including one called Greater Central African Baptist. Plywood fills its windows. Many of the homes are one-story wood-framed structures with rusted tin roofs.

During the Masters and along various Harrisburg streets—Greene and Ellis, 14th and 13th—you are apt to see children hanging out on porches and playing on the street. That’s because the Augusta schools are always closed during Masters week. Many of the parents of those children, some of them otherwise unemployed or off for the week, can get 50 or 60 or more hours of work at Augusta National during the Masters.

They work in the club’s many kitchens or as security guards or perhaps cleaning bathrooms. They are not glamorous jobs and the pay is low, but the check will clear, there’s no question about that.

To generalize, they are a remarkable group of people who, either by instruction or temperament, take it upon themselves to make visitors to the club feel welcome. Talk about southern hospitality, from a group of people making about $8 an hour. It’s amazing, really. It’s part of what makes the Masters the Masters.

Patricia Hall was on her porch on Greene Street the other day, wondering what was going on a few miles up the street. Not so much the golf, but all the activity around it.

“I was supposed to work this week,” she said. She’s in her mid-50s, with paw prints stamped on her chest in blue ink and a half-dozen grandchildren and other kin hanging out on her porch. “I was gonna work cleaning bathrooms. Seven-twenty-five an hour. But I got sick and couldn’t do it.” She made arrangements for a relative to take her slot.

Hall has three children and 12 grandchildren and affords her house with government support. She is out of work on a disability. She’s been in Augusta all her life, was done with school in the eighth grade and speaks in a dialect you do not hear on network TV, at least not in prime time. (POW-lease for police or secure for security). One of her daughters, one granddaughter and her granddaughter’s boyfriend are working at the Masters.

“She’s the executive chef,” she said of her 19-year-old granddaughter, Makia Hall. “She works with a white hat on.” Patricia’s pride was obvious.

A Harrisburg tourist asked the kids on the porch if they had a favorite golfer. They all said Tiger Woods. A few moments later, a seventh-grader among them, Tonasia West, offered Bobby Jones.

“Where’s you come up with that?” the visitor asked.

“The internet!” said her cousin, Jaquantez Hall, a young teenager with a high flat-top.

But Patricia Hall was offering another name: Jack Nicklaus.

“As long as I was coming up, he was winning all those Masters tournaments,” she said. “A good player and a sweet man.” The kids on the porch did not know that name.

She was watching the kids while others close to her were working the tournament, smiling at the patrons, helping to make the Masters the Masters.

“I wished I could be there,” she said. “I never been out of Augusta. I like to see some different people. If I couldn’t meet ‘em I could at least look at ‘em.”

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