Bells and whistles ring hollow at Augusta

HE will be familiar to regular Irish visitors to the Masters but for the purposes of this article he will remain incognito.

It’s not that the individual, whom we will call ‘Paddy’, is doing anything illegal, but the manner in which he acquires his Masters badges in an effort to make the trip viable would be extremely embarrassing to his sources.

Paddy has been coming to Augusta for 20 years and has helped many leading members of Irish society enjoy a memorable week among the azaleas, dogwood and cathedral pines.

His genial personality has also endeared him to many Augusta National ‘green jackets’ who in turn have, shall we say, helped him find suitable accommodation for his clients in Masters week.

The relationship remains as cordial as ever and this week, Paddy is willing to help those who need a bed and a badge. Trouble is, though, that times have changed. Money is scarcer than ever, and lots of little perks and bonuses have become a thing of the past.

So Paddy’s little activity, like so many others in so many different walks of life, has taken something of a hit. We won’t know for sure how many Irish actually turn up this week until we stride the fairways tomorrow with Pádraig, Rory and Graeme. That’s when the Irish always show their faces, sometimes in remarkably large numbers and indeed it is unusual for a Harrington gallery not to include at least one individual sporting a county GAA jersey.

However, it is a near certainty that the numbers will be down this week. If the Irish aren’t coming, you can rest assured that the same applies to other nationalities and especially the Americans, who are also feeling the pinch of the credit crunch.

The Double Eagle club is located across Washington Road from the golf club. It is a business that organises corporate hospitality for its clients that includes meals, accommodation, tournament badges along with tee times for those who wish to play on other courses in the area throughout the week. Those tee times can range from $1,500 to $2,000 for a fourball.

“I booked about 50 people last year, this year it looks more like 20,” says Sissy Boulus, director of the Double Eagle club.

“We’re hoping this is no more than a bogey for our business. Things aren’t as bad as they appear. Companies are still entertaining but they’re not doing it openly. That’s been the case among financial institutions that have taken federal bail-out money.”

THERE’S a well-known guy in Augusta called Danny Williams, a director of a carpet company who, in a very lucrative sideline, has been running a business similar to that of the Double Eagle. He estimates business is down 50% and yet he also speaks up for Augusta when insisting that “it’s not as bad here as it is in other places. This is a sleepy little town but we have the military and other businesses and, of course, the Masters for one great week every year”.

He’s right on the money where the Masters is concerned. They reckon it’s worth millions to the local economy and certainly there’s been up to an hour’s waiting time for a table at most restaurants off Washington Road over the past couple of nights.

! Then there are the big corporations that rent multiple homes, shuttle customers in and out of town on corporate jets and use the tournament to generate business.

Corporate Quarters rent the many magnificent homes in the better-off parts of Augusta to the players and their management companies. They’re still doing okay — after all world-class golfers and their agents are hardly vulnerable to recession — but even their President, Diane Starr, has admitted that “last year we rented 400 homes, this year it’s 300. Prices vary but some of the bigger ones are going for $50,000”.

That is serious money, although Starr still warns: “This is an economy like we’ve never seen. I’ve had calls from people wondering if I could rent at the last minute. They’ve been renting to the same people for 10 or 15 years but they aren’t coming back”.

And she signed off: “You know what they say? Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered … you can get a little too greedy?”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?


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