‘Drop the guns’: Augusta backdrop a far cry from stately pines and luscious azaleas

America at large: local socioeconomic problems shroud the Masters in cloud of inequality

Four weeks ago, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office executed 18 search warrants all across Augusta and arrested 19 members of Tyrone “Pit Stick” Guy’s drug-running outfit. It was the culmination of a two-year long undercover investigation known as Operation 513. The extensive haul of contraband from the various houses included cocaine, molly, methamphetamine, oxycodone, guns and cash.

“Unfortunately, this is just something that’s been going on for quite some time, but I’m glad our law enforcement professionals have been on the job making sure we have safe neighbourhoods,” said James Johnson, a local politician. “We have teenagers dead on the streets. We have blood on the streets. That’s 20-year-old blood, 21-year-old blood, eight-year-old blood, so at the end of the day, we have got to figure out what measures we can support to prevent folks from going into this style of life.”

In a town where, just a Bryson DeChambeau drive down the hill from Amen Corner, one in five residents go to bed hungry every night, too many are attracted to a life of crime. In eight separate shooting incidents in the month of January, five Augustans were killed, including Arbrie Anthony, an eight-year-old girl, who took an accidental bullet to the head in a drive-by. That bout of bloodshed prompted some in the town to make a plea that hoodlums “Drop the guns” for February because it was black history month.

Too intoxicated by nigh-on pornographic coverage of the spectacular botany on view, the drone cameras of CBS will never pan out far enough to show the viewers that just the other side of the stately loblolly pines and blushing azaleas is a very, very different world. A blighted town riven by poverty and pockmarked by crime. There’s a reason some who live there colloquially refer to the place as ‘Disgusta’.


Shortly after Hideki Matsuyama donned his first green jacket last year, the local constabularies swept up 77 members of the Ghostfaced Gangsters in Operation Kibosh, a determined effort to stop the spread and limit the impact around the city of the fastest-growing white supremacist gang in America. With a litany of charges including drug-dealing, human trafficking and racketeering, the takedown was such big news that governor Brian Kemp came down from Atlanta for a press conference at a police station just off the highway named for Bobby Jones.

Problematic history

As the legions around the world who regard the tee-off of the Masters every April as some sort of quasi-religious holiday will testify, Jones and his confrere Clifford Roberts founded Augusta National Golf Club and its flagship event. From the day it formally opened in 1933, the institution was unashamedly and avowedly racist. For decades, Roberts, Jones and their cohorts fought to keep their tournament and their membership roll exclusively caucasian.

“As long as I live,” said Roberts, “there will be nothing at the Masters besides black caddies and white players.”

Apologists for Roberts dispute he ever spoke those words but the repeated refusal to invite Charlie Sifford, who met all the qualifying criteria in the 1960s, except, crucially, skin colour, summed up his approach. For all its genteel reputation, Augusta National was where young African-American men, including a teenage James Brown, were paid to step into a boxing ring and fight blind-folded in a battle royal against five of their peers. To the delight of the southern gentlemen.

In their own ways, the members embraced the same brand of bigotry today espoused by a reprobate like Rex Allen Stewart Jnr, a high-ranking Ghostfaced Gangster with ties to the Aryan Nation, he shot it out with cops before being arrested.

As unctuous as they may be, the men in green blazers are not responsible for the social ills besetting the town where Jones and Roberts happened to locate their club nine decades ago. However, that the toniest and most pompous event on the golf calendar takes place against a backdrop of gang-banging and families on the breadline has always been a rather troubling anomaly.

Down Magnolia Lane, they spend a small fortune on private security guards watching for serious breaches of etiquette like clandestine mobile phone use. Elsewhere in town, many are searching for their next square meal. The two issues are related because the membership of Augusta consists of some of the wealthiest and most powerful men (and the few token women like Condoleeza Rice) in America. Scions with the financial wherewithal and political clout to potentially transform any beleaguered society.

Sycophantic reporters will gush this week over the fact the on-course Pimento cheese sandwich remains just $1.50. Indeed, it was reported just the other day that the club leaves $200m in revenue on the table each April because they refuse to charge full whack for many items and can’t be bothered fulfilling their commercial potential.

Two years ago, Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National, announced that the club, IBM, AT&T and Bank of America would each donate $2.5m to help the communities of Harrisburg and Laney Walker neighbourhoods, describing them as the “historically underserved portion of the city’s urban core”. Laudable. Yet, charging patrons (as they painfully insist on calling spectators) properly for everything on the course could allow them to donate 20 times that sum each year to help the poor and needy. They might even create the type of socio-economic conditions that would discourage the desperate from joining the Crips and the Ghostfaced Gangsters.