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
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For Nick Faldo, he of the iron chest and steely demeanor, the Masters was all about winning, and he went about his business with authority and austerity during his playing days in Augusta.
“For the longest time I took rooms at the Courtyard Marriott,” says Faldo, now the lead commentator for CBS at the tournament. “When I won in 1989 and 1990, we were staying there, Gil [his first wife] and the kids and a nanny. We’d go out to eat, places where the kids would eat, maybe to Michaels, Olive Garden. I really don’t remember that much. I was playing in the tournament and wrapped up in that.
“After I won I said I should buy a house. It would have made things bloody simple, same place every year, but didn’t do it. I have been renting houses over the last maybe 19 years, and certainly since I’ve stopped playing and been with CBS, I have been able to be much more social about things. I love having my friends come now and enjoy the tournament with them, have a few laughs.”
And now Faldo, meeting his friends at the club most days, gets to see things he never allowed himself to see before. “We now sort of meet up in the morning at the club, on the back terrace there for breakfast. My son Matthew usually comes and brings a friend. I get to sit back and watch the people go by, which is pretty cool, actually.”
There is a considerable amount of corporate schmoozing going on at the Masters and most of it is off the property. There are a few discreet hospitality “cabins” at Augusta National, mostly out of sight off the first and 10th fairways. Like so many companies, Callaway Golf rents a house. “It’s a small town and the house brings that small-town atmosphere to what we are doing,” says Callaway spokesman Tim Buckman. “It’s a very rich experience for our retailers, customers and our own staff. Being able to come back to the same place every year, there’s just something extra special about it. The town is so happy to have us there. Everyone wants to go. If you asked our 2,500 employees if they wanted to go, every single one of them would raise their hand. It’s a family kind of thing.”
Tom Lehman always saw the Masters as a family affair, and one that he was personally involved in. “We would probably have upwards of 20 people, my wife and children, my father and mother, my in-laws, my brother, friends,” says Lehman, who last played in the Masters in 2006. “When the kids were young, not in school, they would come. And a nanny.
“I have an assistant that made the housing arrangements. I took care of the tickets, my brother took care of managing the tickets once I had them. He ran to the will call all the time, leaving tickets, dropping them off. It’s a real shuffle.”
Just to throw a little reality into this idyllic world, Lehman’s last trip to Augusta in 2006 was out of the ordinary. He was on his way to the Augusta airport to pick up his family on Tuesday night after a practice round, driving his courtesy Cadillac. A car pulled up along side him, and the next thing he knew, he heard a pop—the driver of the car had fired a shot at him, the bullet passing through the rear passenger door just in back of the driver’s seat.
“When I picked up my family they said ‘you can’t believe what a terrible trip this was,’ ” says Lehman. “So I say, ‘well you won’t believe what a bad trip this was to the airport’ and I show them the bullet hole in the car.” Their complaining stopped. A man was later arrested and imprisoned for the crime.
Nick Price’s experiences were far less eventful but no less memorable. “For me, the Masters was always an extra special tournament, coming back to the same course, seeing the same people, having relationships with the waiters and the locker-room staff and the security guards, and the members,” says Price. “When you stop playing there, it’s not so much that you miss the tournament, especially since you are not being competitive anymore. It’s the people you miss, the sort of family experience of it all.”
Lehman, like all other players who earn that coveted invitation from Augusta National, relishes his time at the Masters and knows that everyone around him did, too.
“To everybody, it was the best, the best, the best,” he says.
Just listen to what Jhonattan Vegas, a native Venezuelan, had to say after he won the Bob Hope Classic this year, qualifying him for the Masters and giving him his in.
“I know it’s a dream that my dad and my American friends have, to go to the Masters, just to walk around,” Vegas says with a broad smile. “That’s what they told me. It’s like, ‘Before I die, just please get me to the Masters.’ ”
Jeff Williams is a contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.