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McDuffie reaps green from Masters visitors

The best professional golfers in the world have gathered 30 miles east of Thomson to play in the first major tournament of the year.

That fact alone is enough to produce a yearly burst of business activity in McDuffie County. Masters Week 2006 is no exception.

Restaurants are overflowing each evening with golf patrons looking for a good meal after a long day at the tournament. Local golf courses are teeming with amateurs. The airport is a hub for jet-setting golf fans, and hotels along Washington Road are stacked.

"Selling rooms during Masters Week is like selling ice cream in the desert," said Epp Wilson, owner of White Columns Inn. "You never have enough. It's the one week of the year we can count on."

Mr. Wilson said the customers at his hotel seem to return year after year. They enjoy avoiding the crowds closer to Augusta. He said Thomson is perfect for that.

"One week a year, we are a resort hotel," Mr. Wilson said. "People come to Thomson, Ga., on purpose instead of by accident."

Not only is the hotel at White Columns full in the evenings, the restaurant is too. Masters patrons, who don't want to wait in long lines to be seated, can experience the buffet or order off the menu for dinner at White Columns, Mr. Wilson said.

He added that the normal lunch crowd need not avoid the restaurant this week either. With most of the hotel guests at the tournament during the middle of the day, the dining room is a little more empty than normal.

One local fixture that has definitely not been empty is Belle Meade Country Club. Head Pro Gregg Hemann said after being closed last year for renovations, visitors have come back en masse to play the updated course.

"We pre-book many of the tee times this week from the people coming in for the Masters. At the same time, we protect the tee times that our members desire as well," Mr. Hemann said. "So not only is it a big week for us as far as out of town golfers, it's a little bit busier from the standpoint that our members are going to play more this week also."

While this is the busiest week for area golf courses, it also attracts a much higher traffic volume at the Thomson-McDuffie County airport as well. Many visitors with private aircraft choose to land in Thomson late in the week rather than deal with crowded Augusta airports.

"Wednesday afternoon is when we start to see the arrivals of the people coming in for the full tournament," said Keith Bounds, fixed-base operator at the airport. "The best time to fence watch is probably Friday afternoon and then Sunday evening ... when everybody leaves."

And getting to the Augusta National just got a little easier for visitors staying in Thomson as well as for locals not wanting to battle traffic. Elite Shuttle Service is charging $25 per round trip ticket to the tournament.

The shuttle station is White Columns where tickets can be purchased at the front desk. There are five shuttles each day going both ways, and patrons are dropped of right at the front gate of the Augusta National, Mr. Wilson said.

Web posted on Wednesday, April 5, 2006

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