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The Mystery Behind Magnolia Lane

The Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf club is one of the most special weeks in all of sports, and even pro golfers want to make the most of it
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 1)

For those players who are past champions and those who qualify regularly through tournament wins and positions in the world rankings, coming back to Augusta every year truly is a rite of spring. And it’s one that every player wants to get in on. Who hasn’t heard a player, flush from a win on the PGA Tour, say, “And now I get to go to the Masters?”

What has made the Masters so special, beyond its recognition as a major golf championship, is that it is played on the same course every year. The other majors, the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, move around annually. The British Open has a closely defined rota of courses with the Old Course at St Andrews at its center, and has the longest history of any major. But every year, every second week of April, the world’s best players head for one destination: Augusta.

In a very real sense, Augusta has become the second home to many of the players privileged to play the Masters. For decades now it’s become a gathering place for family and friends, a place of abiding familiarity. And though the action takes place inside the ropes, the Masters outside the ropes has its own charm, its own special place in the lives of the players; in a sense, no matter where you stay, you are wrapped in the aura of the week’s events.

Gary Player, a three-time winner of the Masters, has been coming to Augusta since 1957. He last played in the tournament in 2009, but he continues to return every year to revel in the Champions Dinner and be part of an event in which he played so large a part.

When he first came, he took a modest house, then a larger one as his family expanded and his business associations started to grow. Now, 54 years after he first came, his family and business requirements require the renting of up to five houses, a large catering operation and the arrangement of corporate outings, largely handled by his son Marc who heads up Black Knight International.

“It’s funny, but back in the ’60s [super agent] Mark McCormick told my father, Jack and Arnie that they ought to buy houses in Augusta because they would be coming here every year. Spend $50,000 for one,” says Marc Player.  “My father said ‘You’re crazy.’ Well now 50 years later and everyone has spent at least 10 times that on rent, and that $50,000 house would be what, a million?”

Now Player’s Black Knight International is shelling out big bucks every year to rent houses at a development known as Champions Retreat, where Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have designed the golf course. Now that Player has stopped playing the tournament, he can do nine-hole corporate outings for his many sponsors such as Rolex, SAP and Mercedes.

“Last year at Champions Retreat we spent about $120,000 on renting five houses, catering, maid service and such,” says Marc Player. “Every Wednesday night we have a big barbecue, in South Africa we call it a braai, for 250 people. Ever since my dad stopped playing, we can have more time with him. We have a quick nine holes first thing every morning at Champions Retreat with our corporate guests. He’s really relaxed now and doesn’t have to focus on how he’s going to play the tournament.

“The Masters week really has become a family ritual, part of our lives. The [British] Open Championship is a wonderful week, but it’s always someplace different each year. The Masters is always at Augusta, you come back to the same places, see the same people. It is a very family sort of thing.”

It’s family and it’s familiarity. “You get to know a lot of people over the years,” says Player. “We’ve had the same chef for 15 years, a Southern cook who we say wraps everything in bacon. We call him ‘Doc.’ He’s a great character and we all love him. We have copious amounts of red wine and Belvedere vodka.”

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