To the world, it might be Masters Week in Augusta, but for Augusta Municipal Golf Course, it’s just another week.
Interim Course Manager Ed Howerton said tourists, some of whom have already reserved tee times, can expect to pay the city’s regular nonmember rate – $20 for 18 holes, with cart – to enjoy all that Augusta’s “Patch” has to offer.
Howerton, who was grooming the 14th tee Friday afternoon, said that means decent fairways, with some questionable greens and a few scruffy tees.
“The fairways are getting a little better,” said Brian Penvose, who was golfing Friday. “It’s good enough for me.”
For their $20, tourists will see reminders of a year’s worth of tribulations for the municipal golf course, with a first hint in the hydrilla-clotted dry pond on the 14th near the course entrance.
Howerton said weeds overtook one of the course’s two water features awhile back, while the pond itself has sprung a leak.
The city has done little for the course besides replacing locks and some minor repairs since a firm led by Aberdeen, Scotland, businessman Brian Hendry had a go at leasing the course last year. Hendry, who promised improvements, new rules and Scottish touches honoring course designer David Ogilvie, quit paying rent shortly after last year’s Masters Tournament and hasn’t returned any phone calls. He had hoped to make a $1,000 monthly lease of the course profitable by raising rates and hosting international tourists during Masters Week.
Then-Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, an advocate for privatizing the unprofitable course, tried to quickly replace Hendry’s crew with a trio of Augusta brothers, all longtime Patch players. But, negotiations with Dennis, Pat and Brian Kelly fell apart because Augusta commissioners would not agree to fund improvements the brothers said were vital.
With Howerton and two other recreation staffers reassigned full-time to the course, the city sought bids to run the course, receiving an enthusiastic response from Virginia Beach Golf Management, a team that includes Augusta native Andrew Menk.
That plan went awry as commissioners, still divided mostly along color lines over whether to privatize the golf course, wouldn’t agree to the lease.
Besides having a place in Augusta golf history - Ogilvie also designed the original Augusta Country Club course, where he worked as golf pro - the Patch has significance as the city’s first golf course to integrate, giving many black Augustans their first opportunity to learn the game.
A community partnership now appears to have the most favor among commissioners long unable to agree on the future of the course, and though it won’t be in effect by Masters Week, there is a Masters connection.
The partnership, proposed by Augusta businessman Paul Simon, is to partner the course with nearby First Tee of Augusta, a national youth golf program that seeks to introduce underprivileged youth to golf and benefits from the charitable contributions of Augusta National Golf Club and other golf organizations.
Simon said sharing resources and expertise between the two courses – First Tee has six holes that adjoin the Patch – will help both, while growing the sport that has transformed Augusta.
“Think what golf brings to Augusta,” he told commissioners at a recent meeting. “Millions in economic benefits. Then we’ve got a city-owned golf course that looks awful. You could have a showcase up there.”