A Columbia County businessman hired to provide about 100 Masters badges for corporate clients killed himself Friday morning after it became apparent he could not meet his obligations.
Allen F. Caldwell III, 40, of Rabun Valley Lane, Martinez, was found dead at his residence by his wife, said Deputy Coroner Vernon Collins. Police say Mr. Caldwell shot himself once with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Mr. Caldwell's company, The Concierge, was in a partnership with Atlanta-based World Golf Hospitality, which specializes in golf packages for corporate clients.
The companies recently opened The Clubhouse on Washington Road, an upscale hospitality center where corporations lease tables during Masters for $22,000 apiece.
Tim Stoesz, an attorney and spokesman for World Golf Hospitality and The Concierge, said things went awry when tickets Mr. Caldwell had planned to buy were sold to someone else apparently willing to pay a higher price.
"We at World Golf handled the corporate hospitality and marketed packages to corporations and individuals," Mr. Stoesz said. Mr. Caldwell's role was to acquire the coveted badges.
"We contracted for a certain number of tickets," he said. "Allen was unable to provide them. We continued working with Allen to do everything we could to help Allen - and fulfill our obligations to our clients - up until late evening Thursday."
Glenn Greenspan, the Augusta National Golf Club's communications director, issued a statement Friday reminding people that selling badges violates club policy and the credential agreement with badge recipients.
"Consistent with our previous policy, individuals attempting to use stolen, lost, counterfeit tickets or tickets purchased in the secondary market will be denied admission," the statement said.
Friday morning, after hearing of Mr. Caldwell's suicide, World Golf president Brendon Lillis informed a disappointed group of corporate clients there would no tickets. And they weren't happy.
"It's the most bizarre thing I've ever seen," said one client, an Atlanta telecommunications executive who paid World Golf in advance for the badges. "I wouldn't even believe it if I hadn't been through it."
The client, who spoke on the condition he and his corporation not be named, paid several thousand dollars in advance for badges that were to be included in a costlier package with lodging and rounds of golf at local courses.
"They were supposed to deliver the tickets Wednesday," he said. "Then we were told to wait til 7:30 Thursday. After that, we were told there was a problem and we'd have to wait 'til today (Friday)."
Mr. Stoesz said he was unaware of any situation, other than the ticket problem, that could have led to Mr. Caldwell's suicide.
"We did not know Allen's exact business circumstances, but we did have a large number of clients and Allen was our provider," he said. "We were happy to have him as our partner. We're all very upset. It's a hard thing to go through during the biggest event of the year."
The problem, according to one broker familiar with the lucrative street trade of Masters badges, is that buyers for several corporations in town this year offered much higher street prices.
"They basically doubled overnight, and whoever he (Mr. Caldwell) was supposed to be getting them from sold them to somebody else for more money," the broker said.
Tickets that had been selling for $3,000 have been sold for $7,000 or $8,000 this year, causing many badge scalpers - and badge holders - to abandon scalping relationships established over many years, he said.
Mr. Stoesz said efforts are under way to rectify the situation with World Golf's clients. "We'd like to see the Masters event be completely untarnished. We'll start dealing with the aftermath next week."
He would not say how much would be refunded to purchasers of the packages, but promised the clients would be satisfied. "We're in the hospitality business and we intend to satisfy every one of our clients."
Capt. Bill Probus of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office said the death is under investigation "as an apparent suicide," but added that no final conclusions have been reached.
He would neither comment on nor discuss the situation involving the sale of Masters badges.
Patrons visiting The Clubhouse Friday found a somber atmosphere and a sign on the door:
"All of us at World Golf Hospitality and The Clubhouse are saddened at the death of Allen Caldwell. He was a good friend. We remember how much he loved Augusta and the Masters Tournament and how excited he was with his new business opportunities here.
"That only makes it more difficult to understand why this happened. We will miss him greatly. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family during this difficult time." - The Clubhouse.