‘I had to bring in a scientist’: Paving Magnolia Lane might be the most intense job in golf
AUGUSTA, Ga. — It is the most famous driveway in golf, if not in all of sports, and surely one of few, if any, that required the expertise of an asphalt scientist.
“It was a process,” Michael Caudill told GOLF.com. “I went out there once. Only once during the work. I had my phone out to take a picture of the roadway, and some worker came down and said, ‘What are you doing here? You can’t have photos,’ and I said, ‘We’re doing the road.'”
From 2010 to 2015, Caudill was the owner of Aiken Augusta Paving, a local shop just over the South Carolina border that conducted much of its business in and around Augusta.
Around a decade ago, Caudill said Augusta National called him with an unusual request. They needed someone to repave Magnolia Lane but only on the condition that the club would retain control over the equipment, materials used and even the eventual color of the asphalt.
Caudill said he accepted the first two of the club’s stipulations but not the third. The green jackets wanted Magnolia Lane to give off a worn, gray look — a request the paving specialist knew was impossible.
“They wanted it to look original like any other building,” he said. “They wanted it to look like it’d been there forever, so they wanted us to make it gray. I said, ‘You can’t make new asphalt gray.'”
An Augusta National spokesperson declined to comment for this story, citing the club’s long-standing policy of not discussing its business publicly.
Ever detail-oriented, the club sought a second opinion, Caudill said.
“I had to bring in a lab scientist from an asphalt facility down here to meet with [Augusta National],” Caudill said. “To have them say, ‘We cannot make the asphalt gray, it’s got to oxidize, it’s got to look fresh. Especially under the magnolia tree canopy, we cannot make the asphalt gray.'”
Eventually, the asphalt scientist won out. Caudill said the club hired his company and instructed work to begin almost immediately. But the new contract came with a warning: avoid those iconic, low-hanging magnolias at all costs.
“They had all the trees lined up intravenously,” Caudill said.
Caudill said the club instructed his crew to use special equipment to dig up and clear the previous layer of asphalt, and imposed strict limitations on behavior; club officials inspected and approved each magnolia root before it was removed from the ground.
“We got into the root system, and my partner actually puked behind one of the magnolias because he was so nervous,” he said. “We would be working and if we saw [members], we’d back up our vehicles and equipment behind the tree line and let them go through.”
Days later, the crew completed the driveway to Augusta’s specifications using a unique, 18-foot-wide paver. As a token of the club’s gratitude, Augusta National offered Caudill a tee time, which Caudill said he declined.
“They have vendor appreciation day, and [Augusta National] called me and said, ‘Come play a round,'” Caudill recalled with a laugh. “I called them back and said, ‘I appreciate your business, but I would rather not play the course.’ He goes, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘I think I’d just prefer to have your work for my men and women,’ And he goes, ‘No one’s ever told me no. I don’t know whether I’m impressed or [ticked] off.”
Caudill said Augusta National worked with Aiken Augusta for a handful of years after the Magnolia Lane project before the two parties split.
“It was just not profitable, it was causing turmoil with my clientele,” he said. “And [Augusta National is] important, they’re a very important part of Augusta. They brought in $30-40 million per year before the virus, but it just wasn’t something I could maintain.”
Caudill’s version of Magnolia Lane has been paved over in the years since he was first contracted by Augusta, but his original work still exists beneath a new layer of asphalt.
“To me, it was just another week,” he said. “But afterward, as I got older, I realized, we paved the most famous driveway in the world.”