When the gates of the Augusta National close for the night, the parties begin.
And as in recent years, many parties are not being held in large venues. Instead, companies sponsoring these affairs are opting for smaller parties in rented homes, particularly on the weekends, when the crowds are smaller at the golf tournament, say officials.
"I think it is more popular this year, because the corporate groups are getting smaller," said Columbia County Community Centers Manager Tammy Shepherd. "It is harder to get tickets."
At Savannah Rapids Pavilion -- where Mrs. Shepherd's office sits just inside the front door -- companies have been renting the entire pavilion for private parties most of the week.
But tonight, the $2.5 million center on a bluff overlooking the head gates of the Augusta Canal center will be vacant. Since 1994 -- the second year the pavilion was open -- the facility has been largely vacant Saturday night of Masters Week.
"The only place we would pick up a rental is a corporate party," Mrs. Shepherd said. "And most of them are renting houses and having parties at the houses."
Vera Stewart, owner of Vera and Associates, concentrates her catering efforts on smaller parties. This year she has been working more than 30 parties each night -- offering appetizers on the porch and a buffet in a backyard tent.
"We consider ourselves total-event management," said Mrs. Stewart, whose clients include Ford Motor Co., NationsBank and Club Car. "We provide full service to go with our food. We are not just delivering food."
Mrs. Stewart oversees 147 employees this week, all connected by a network of cellular phones and pagers. The other 51 weeks of the year, she has 15 employees.
"I focus most of what we do on Masters Week," she said.
And so far, Masters Week 1998 has been smooth for Vera and Associates.
"For the first time in two years, I have actually gone to bed," she said. "There have been a couple of years where I did not sleep for three or four days."
But not all parties are small. Maxanne Edmunds, co-owner of Edmunds Bar-B-Q on Washington Road, with her husband, Cleve, has catered several large parties this year. Usually, the larger events feature heavy hors d'oeuvres -- a far cry from a barbecue sandwich and potato chip plate.
"Normally we are in the barbecue business, but during Masters Week, we do a little bit of everything," she said.
The past 20 years, Mrs. Edmunds has catered for the United States Golf Association and the Professional Golf Association.
"Almost all caterers become more than caterers during Masters Week," she said. "Our operation during Masters week is turn-key -- all the way from valet parking to music and entertainment. We even shuttle people back and forth to the airport."
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