AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Augusta National, home to the U.S. Masters, may be one of the most exclusive and powerful golf clubs in the world but even its mighty coffers do not hold enough money to convince two neighbouring homeowners to relocate.
A residential community once bordering Augusta National is now a free parking lot after the club, in a bid to accommodate patrons for the one week each year that it hosts the Masters, enticed homeowners with prices that were too good to turn down.
The two remaining homes in the area are modest, red-brick bungalows that sit in the shadow of Augusta National’s towering pine trees and the owners of each house have no desire to appease the interests of Augusta National.
“We will just continue to be right here and Augusta National can put no kind of money in front of us that would change our minds,” Herman Thacker, who together with his wife Elizabeth has lived in their home since 1959, told Reuters during an interview at his house this week.
“We raised our family here, and we can go out and buy a new house but we can’t buy a home. This is home to us.”
Augusta National, which declined to comment, reportedly spent more than $40 million to expand its borders and ultimately swallow up what was once a quaint community.
As a result, the Thacker home, which is modest in size and surrounded by pine trees, holly bushes and flowering dogwoods, sits across from a sprawling, empty green field for all but one week of the year.
But this week, with the world’s best golfers in town for one of the most revered tournaments on the PGA Tour, which starts on Thursday, the house sticks out like a sore thumb outside Gate 6-A amid a sea of vehicles glistening under the Georgia sun.
The Thacker’s house is so close to the Masters action that roars from patrons are easily heard from the property, and they also get a heads up on severe weather thanks to the horn that sounds at Augusta National in such an instance.
A few years ago the Thackers sold their other property in the area to Augusta National for an undisclosed sum but only after the club improved an original offer that the octogenarian couple would only describe as “ridiculously low.”
For the Thackers, their home is where they watched their two children grow and where they helped raise their grandchildren, including Scott Brown, a 34-year-old professional golfer who is ranked 150th in the world and yet to compete in the Masters.
“We just don’t want to go,” Elizabeth Thacker said as she watered the grass in front of her lawn with curlers in her hair. “My kids, when they were little they loved going to the tournament and talking to golfers. Ben Crenshaw was very nice.”
The Thackers said that while the club is well aware of their position not to sell, an official from Augusta National stops by every so often to remind them of its interest.
Across the street from the Thackers is the only other home whose owners have stood firm in their decision to stop Augusta National demolishing a house that has been in their family for generations.
Jimmy Richards, whose late parents purchased their house in the 1950s, said his sister now lives there and it has become a gathering place for family during holidays and sporting events.
“We’re not looking to sell. We enjoy this place, we really do,” said Richards. “Everybody’s grown up here, (my parents’) grandkids grew up here. It would be tough to part with it.”
Richards called Augusta National “good neighbours” but said there was no figure his mother would have ever accepted from the club and that he and his nine siblings all feel the same.
During a Masters practice day this week, the Richards clan gathered on the back deck of the house with music playing, beer on ice, while collecting $50 from patrons looking to park on their property.
The Richards say the traffic outside the front door of the family home on Berckmans Road during Masters week is not a big concern and would not cause them to change their mind about selling up.
Just like the Thackers, Richards said nobody can put a price on their memories, not even the mighty Augusta National Golf Club.
“We all have kids,” Richards said of himself and his siblings. “If we were to part with this property they would be highly devastated because they’ve got a lot of memories here too.”
Editing by Ken Ferris