The mysterious cottage hidden in the trees at Amen Corner is the ultimate VIP retreat
AUGUSTA, Ga. — It was a sweaty day at Amen Corner. Between noon and 1 p.m. local time, three bodies were shuttled out of the landmark area from heat exhaustion. Patrons ducked under the tall pines for shade, squinting out from a distance at the action that rimmed around them.
Resting behind these people is a floral mural. Seemingly just trees. A few pink Azalea bushes. Or are they camellias? Some dense hedges. Wait, is that a window shutter? Wow, it is a window shutter. A dark-green window shutter. The outlines of a building start to reveal themselves through the leaves — a little cottage in the woods at Amen Corner. It’s known as the Member’s Retreat. You could be a Masters vet and never realize it’s there. (You’re supposed to be watching the golf, anyway, and that’s in the other direction.)
Unfortunately for those clammy patrons, the Retreat is invite-only. Or as the official club signs call it, Authorized personnel only. Those are the people wearing the green jackets, families of the people wearing green jackets and guests of the same green-jacket brigade. The people who know people. A security guard waits on each side of this triangle of forest between the 11th, 13th and 14th holes. Does your Masters badge have the right color band printed on it? You’re good. Otherwise you’re stuck peeking through the trees.
“I get to protect the castle,” one security guard said. “But they don’t let me inside. I can’t even take a piss in there.”
The Retreat is Augusta National’s version of event hospitality. While other tournaments prop up massive tent cities sponsored by MasterCard or Tito’s vodka, ANGC builds a secret cabin. It’s classic, muted and seems likely to grow mossy as the years pass by. It’s one of two member-specific hospitality buildings, the other tucked between the 5th and 6th holes on the other side of the property. That one’s called The Spring and is easily three times the size of the Retreat. But it might be overcompensating for something. The 5th and 6th are no Amen Corner.
So, what’s inside this bungalow? Air-conditioning, for a start. Wednesday felt like 90 degrees at midday, and Thursday will be steamy, too. There’s a full bar with all the fixings. Most important, that means liquor. At the concession stand about 100 yards away, beers are the only libation. In the Retreat, a group of square tables are flanked by nearly a dozen televisions streaming the action, and a live player-tracking board to know where everyone is playing all over the property. Usually you won’t have a clue what’s happening on the 4th hole when you’re down in Amen Corner, but inside the Retreat it’s like you’re watching from home — except with the real thing right there in your backyard. (Does this building get used any other week of the year? We can’t be sure.)
The menu sounds like a reprieve, too. One can only consume so much pimento cheese or egg salad sandwiches.
“Whenever [VIPs] come out, they’re always like, ’The fish tacos are great!’” another security guard said. “I’m like ‘Ugh, I just ate a sandwich from concessions.’”
Same here, pal.
The Retreat will only grow in popularity as Mother Nature’s mood swings on the weekend. Saturday is forecasted to barely eclipse 50 degrees. Multiple inches of rain are on the docket for the weekend. Peyton Manning and Eric Church took cover in the cottage last year during a cold and windy third round. In fact, the Retreat became THE place to retreat. So many VIPs arrived hoping to warm up that they ran out of room and had to kick nonmembers out.
Perhaps the nicest aspect of the space is what sits out front: shuttle carts. By the time one downs a couple of pops down at Amen Corner, the path back up to the clubhouse might as well be Kilimanjaro. But at the entrance of the Retreat is a doting staff of shuttle drivers waiting to lift members and their guests in groups of six back up to the clubhouse, a little breeze in their hair along the way.
On Wednesday afternoon, as bathroom lines snaked around corners and concessions lines counted into the hundreds, the curious patrons started to wonder about the cabin in the woods. Some zoomed in on their cameras for a better view. VIPs who had arrived empty-handed were double-fisting on departure. The mystery building was gaining intrigue.
So, what’s it really like in there?
“Ooooh,” one member’s wife said with a hesitant smile. “It’s really nice. But I really shouldn’t talk about it.”
Twenty minutes later, a group of eight millennials piled out of the Retreat, passed through the break in the ropes back into the masses. One member’s daughter and all her friends with mixed drinks in hand. Maybe they’d be feeling loose enough to talk about life on the good side of the ropes.
“Hmm,” she began, pausing for a few seconds. “The drinks are good. That’s all we’ll give ya.”