The day before the first round of the Masters, Brad Faxon
remembered he was missing something he would desperately need
for the first major championship of the season. In a panic he
screeched out of the Augusta National players' parking lot,
drove to a Target store about five miles away off Wheeler Road
and bought a 16-quart pot. Crisis averted. A dozen guests were
joining him for dinner that evening at the house he had rented
for the week, and now the pasta could be cooked.
Most players rent houses in Augusta to get away from the crowds.
Faxon rents one so he can have as many friends and family members
with him as possible. "What a treat the Masters is for people to
come see," he says. "There's such a positive, exuberant energy,
and I want to be around that."
Every year Faxon invites several couples to spend Masters week
with him. Though most golfers and tournament officials rent on
the Hill, the enclave of pillared mansions and ranch-style
houses bordering Walton Way, just south of Augusta National,
this year Faxon and his friends stayed at Jones Creek, a
development several miles northwest of the National favored by
corporations that entertain at the Masters. Faxon's house was
lovely, if you like high ceilings and plastic plants. Standing
behind the island cooktop in the kitchen on the eve of the
tournament, sweating over the new pot, was Faxon's accountant,
Bill (Pitch) Piccerelli. Their friendship dates to Faxon's
youth, when he caddied for Piccerelli at Rhode Island Country
Club, in Barrington. Now they have switched roles. "He does my
taxes and the cooking in Augusta," Faxon says. "That's the
deal." This year Piccerelli brought with him a Styrofoam box
full of imported tomatoes and pancetta (Italian bacon),
delicacies that he can't find in Augusta, as well as five quarts
of a mushroom pasta sauce that is Faxon's favorite.
Renting a house in Augusta is as much a part of the Masters
experience as the color green. Part of the reason is simple
arithmetic: The tournament attracts tens of thousands of visitors
to a metropolitan area that has only 7,000 hotel rooms. What
began decades ago as Southern hospitality has evolved into big
business. No one knows how big, because Augusta National doesn't
release attendance figures for the tournament, and even if it
did, the numbers would be irrelevant, because the same people
don't attend the event every day. "People walk out the gate and
hand the badge to the next guy on the list," says Rebecca Rogers,
marketing director at the city's convention and visitors bureau.
Likewise, no one can pinpoint how many houses are leased by
players and fans. The Masters Housing Bureau, which is operated
by the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce and sanctioned by
Augusta National, leased more than 700 houses last week,
according to bureau director Jane Fuhrmann, but there are private
companies in the same business, and other deals are struck
without leasing agents.
Though Augustans bask in the spotlight for one week every spring,
civic pride has little to do with why they rent their houses.
Even in a year like this one, when the market turned soft because
of Sept. 11 and an uncertain economy, houses went for as much as
$27,000 for the week. Augusta's is no doubt the only federally
subsidized housing program for the granite countertop set. Thanks
to an IRS loophole as big as Amen Corner, every penny of income
from rent is tax-free. Section 280A(g) of the Internal Revenue
Code instructs home owners that they need not report rental
income if their house is leased for less than 15 days a year. Not
for nothing is this provision known as the Augusta Rule. In a
1995 op-ed piece in the New York Daily News, Bill Bradley, the
former U.S. Senator from New Jersey, decried this provision of
the Tax Reform Act of 1976 as a prime cut of federal pork and
blamed the Masters. "I've heard the story that Cliff Roberts got
Gerald Ford or somebody to put the rule in," says Jim McCrery, a
U.S. Representative from Louisiana and the chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. "We can't find any
evidence of that, and we've asked. I'm somewhat suspicious,
though, that this rule is a legitimate way to curb abuse."
Players are considered prize tenants, and not solely because of
prestige. It's a good bet that a players' guests won't break
furniture or throw up on the Oriental, although it's not a sure
thing. "We had a party every night until five in the morning,"
Lee Trevino says of the years he rented a house at the only major
he never won. "People would come in off the street, and we'd look
at them and ask, 'Who you with?' They'd say, 'I'm nobody. I saw
you were having a good time, so I thought I'd come in.' That's
why I never played very well. I'd try to go to bed at midnight
but never could." However, Carla Owen, who rented her six-bedroom
house just off the Hill to Mike Weir last week, says, "I've had a
really good experience. I used to think, I can't imagine wanting
people you've never laid eyes on in your house, using your
dishes, sleeping in your beds."
It's considered impolite in Augusta to reveal the identity of
your renter, especially if he's a golfer. A couple years ago,
Fuhrmann says, "I got a call asking, 'Is John Daly staying over
at so-and-so's house? I think I saw him playing basketball with
his kids.' It's not as if it's hard to figure out. The players
have the white Cadillacs [courtesy cars] out front." Daly didn't
rent a house this year. He parked his 45-foot-long motor home
behind a building on Washington Road less than a half-mile from
Magnolia Lane. More surprising was the identity of the owner of
the motor home parked next to Daly's. Davis Love III, purveyor of
Polo, got in touch with his inner redneck and wheeled his own rig
Lucky home owners, like Owen, who's in her second year renting to
Weir, get repeat business. Other matches don't work as well. Last
week two African-American reporters, Damon Hack of Newsday and
George Willis of the New York Post, arrived at their house to
find a Confederate flag on one bedroom wall and a collection of
mammy dolls on display in the living room. "I chose the bed with
the flag over it instead of the one with the gun rack," Hack
The newer houses at West Lake and Jones Creek have at least four
bedrooms and three full baths. Grown-up toys such as big-screen
TVs and billiard rooms are also desirable, as are backyards large
enough to hold a party tent. Corporations that rent multiple
houses in the same subdivision will designate the biggest house
as the party house, at which all meals are served and the bar is
located. (Party houses rent for low five figures.)
Kevin Goldsmith, who runs Pullman Hall catering in Augusta,
brought in 18 chefs this year from as far away as Boston and New
York. Last Thursday night alone he catered nine parties, among
them one thrown by Tourism Ireland for 125 guests in the Benjamin
Hall House, an 1868 mansion built by and named for the first
postmaster in Augusta. Goldsmith prepared 17 hot hors d'oeuvres,
including seared tuna sashimi, lamb and pork tenderloin on
Southern biscuits and boiled shrimp from the South Carolina Low
Country. Goldsmith says there's seemingly no limit to what his
clients will spend to entertain. On Thursday he served magnums of
Caymus Select and Opus One cabernets, each of which retails for
as much as $500 a bottle. "I do in a week what a lot of other
caterers do in a year," he said while standing in a corner of the
Benjamin Hall dining room, swirling a 1997 Chateau Montelena
cabernet. "I call it Christmas in April."
The players don't want caterers and tents, although they love to
have hot and cold running cable TV, a big kitchen and, in the
case of Jesper Parnevik, a monster swing set. "I have four kids,"
he says. "We need swings and stuff in the backyard as well as a
toy room. The kids think it's great to play with someone else's
toys." Weir was delighted that the Owen house, which he shared
with a college friend and his swing coach, Mike Wilson, had a
Ping-Pong table. When Weir played in his first Masters in 2000,
the Owen house was one of two he rented for his parents and
extended family. "I wanted a separate house for myself," Weir
says. "My uncle and my dad are Canadian guys, and they can drink
a lot of beer."
Though Augusta is proud of the Riverwalk--the city's attempt to
retake its decrepit downtown--the majority of the restaurants last
week combined franchise-quality food with mind-numbing waits,
which is why most players prefer to stay in and cook. Or, in the
case of Faxon, have his accountant fly in and do the cooking.
After the Wednesday night dinner at Faxon's house, the kitchen
was rich in bonhomie. Faxon's wife, Dory, was washing dishes
while Brad dried. When he got distracted, his caddie, Tommy Lamb,
picked up the towel. In another corner Faxon's former caddie,
John (Cubby) Burke, who now carries Love's bag, and Bob Rotella,
the sports psychologist, were listening to Memphis basketball
coach John Calipari describe the thrill of ducking under the
ropes that afternoon and walking onto the 13th tee with CBS
analyst Ken Venturi. "When we got to the car," Calipari was
saying, "I hit everyone on my speed dial and told them. Then I
told them to call five people they know."
Later, before leaving with Rotella for a postprandial walk, Faxon
told his guests, "Stay as long as you like." On the eve of a
rainy, gloomy tournament, there was positive, exuberant energy in
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY ELWOOD SMITH
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREG FOSTER Tables for 14 As usual, Faxon (below with Dory) invited six houseguests--and a slew of dinner invitees--to enliven his rental house.
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREG FOSTER Where's the party? At West Lake, where David Duval (right, seated) and Annika Sorenstam's shoes highlighted a Nike soiree.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREG FOSTER Wheeler-dealers Daly and Love shared a backyard this year as more traditional landlords were already looking ahead to 2003.
"I do in a week what a lot of other caterers do in a year," says
Augusta's Goldsmith. "I call it Christmas in April."
Thanks to an IRS loophole as big as Amen Corner, every penny
that homeowners get for rent is tax-free.
"We had a party every night until five in the morning," says
Trevino. "I'd try to go to bed at midnight but never could."