The Aug. 4 letter circulating on social media from the president of the Augusta Country Club, Jay B. Forrester, to the club membership is a fascinating document that represents the culmination of negotiations between the two neighboring clubs that went on for at least 18 months.
Under its current chairman, Billy Payne, Augusta National has been on a real-estate buying spree, buying up land — and houses and apartment buildings and small businesses — around the perimeter of the club for the past eight years. The piece of land Augusta National is buying from its neighbors will not allow for more parking. The club has already addressed that issue. It will not allow for the construction of a player hotel across the street from club on Washington Road, something that is already on Payne’s wish list. But the new land purchase will allow Augusta National to do three things that Payne values highly: protect the course and protect the players upon it.
(The letter was first reported by Augusta radio personality Austin Rhodes, who posted a photo of the correspondence on his Facebook page. Augusta National spokesperson Steve Ethun declined to comment, referring to the club’s long-standing policy to not discuss club business.)
Payne is already discussing, with Tom Fazio and others, the possibility of building a new back tee and a new green for the 5th hole. The club already has the land for that. The Augusta Country Club purchase would allow Augusta National to build a new back tee for the iconic par-5 13th hole. Payne would like to add roughly 25 yards to the hole and change the orientation of this new back tee so that the longest right-handed players cannot bomb towering draw shots toward the right trees and leave wedge shots into the green. Bubba Watson, a lefty, of course, hits a giant slice in that same direction.
That is an area of intense discussion within the club, because the hole is so beloved and so dramatic as it is, even if it does not play as a traditional par-5 anymore. But Payne’s greater goal with this land purchase is to give the club more of a border that it can patrol, as a matter of security. Right now, with the back part of the 13th tee abutting the Augusta Country Club property, Augusta National does not have the feelings of control that is a central part of its DNA. Payne would like a road behind the 13th tee that can transport emergency, security and work vehicles.
The Forrester letter is revealing because it shows an insight into the working relationship between the two clubs. Years ago, there was a much larger number of local prominent businessmen who were members of both clubs. Over the years, Augusta National has increasingly emphasized the national part of its name, and that has left some hurt feelings at the Country Club. This deal would have happened much earlier but the Country Club was holding out for a number that even Payne, a free-spender, thought was outrageous.
The terms, surely in the millions, are not known, but the Forrester letter indicates that a deal has been reached.