AUGUSTA, GA. — If there was any question of how visible Condoleezza Rice would be this week at her first Masters Tournament since becoming an Augusta National Golf Club member, it was answered Monday morning.
Rice, who joined Darla Moore as the club’s first female members, greeted early arrivals at the official opening of Berckmans Place, the club’s new hospitality venue on the Augusta National’s property in an area behind the fifth green.
"We turned the corner to the entrance to Berckmans Place, and there was Condoleezza Rice standing there welcoming all the guests in for the morning," said Jay Caldwell, of Conway, who had a Berckmans Place badge for the day.
Caldwell, who said he arrived about 8 a.m., described the experience of meeting Rice as "incredible. We took a picture with her and she introduced herself to all of us. It was over the top.
"She was really just there as a gracious host," Caldwell added. "A pretty memorable welcome."
As was the visit to Berckmans Place, which had a soft opening last year but wasn’t completed until this year. According to Sports Business Journal, a Berckmans Place badge, good from Monday through Sunday of Masters Week, goes for $6,000 and is all-inclusive for food and beverages. It is available to Augusta National members, tournament sponsors and other friends of the club, according to the magazine.
Jamie Gates, a fellow Conway resident who joined Caldwell on Monday, said Berckmans Place has three restaurants, all named after famous Augusta National and Masters figures.
There is Ike’s (named after former president and Augusta National member Dwight Eisenhower), Calamity Jane’s (named after Masters and Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones’ putter) and Mackenzie’s, a Scottish-themed restaurant and bar named after course co-designer Alister Mackenzie. There is also outdoor dining, Gates and Caldwell said.
They also noticed a merchandise shop that they said offers items not available at the on-course shops.
Outside the building, Caldwell and Gates said, there are replicas of three Augusta National greens — Nos. 7, 14 and 16 — that badge holders can putt on. Clubs and balls are provided, as are caddies, they said.
The bentgrass greens are not full-size replicas, but the slopes are true to the originals.
"It looked like Disney World or Las Vegas," Caldwell said of Berckmans Place. "The interior was immaculate. It seemed like you were in a different country. There were rock walls and rock floors. It was incredible."
Said Gates: "For a brand-new facility, it already has an overwhelming sense of tradition, which is pretty impressive when you think they just took the shrink-wrap off of it. You’re overwhelmed by the sense of tradition built into the new facility. I don’t know how you pull that off."
When entering Berckmans Place, they said, the first thing you see is an oversized reproduction of a July 15, 1931, article in The Augusta Chronicle announcing the creation of Augusta National. The headline is "Bobby Jones to Build His Ideal Golf Course on Berckmans’ Place."
There are also shadowbox displays of memorabilia from Augusta National and Masters co-founder Clifford Roberts and Eisenhower, and a tribute to Jones’ Grand Slam year of 1930.
Caldwell said Berckmans Place "just flows right into the normal part of the course. We just walked right out and walked right into the normal stream of everybody else."
The Augusta Chronicle is owned by Morris Publishing Group and a sister paper to the Log Cabin Democrat.