AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | Masters week means many different things to people. To some it’s pristine green and pastel azaleas. To others it’s pimento cheese and Georgia peach ice cream sandwiches. It’s Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on Thursday morning and Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson on Sunday afternoon. It’s players casually skipping balls on the 16th hole in practice rounds before intensely sweating bullets through Amen Corner on the weekend. It’s catching up with old friends in little green chairs and shopping for logo merchandise.
To 99-year-old patron Sherry McGinty, Masters week means only one thing.
“It’s homecoming,” she said.
Homecoming 2021 may be the most meaningful yet. In her cozy little home tucked between large hospitality houses that have grown up on Magnolia Drive and parallel Azalea Drive, McGinty has waited too long for another Masters homecoming. The pandemic robbed her of seeing her grandchildren and great grandchildren last year with no patrons allowed and nobody wanting to risk passing along a deadly virus to the family matriarch. When you’re pushing 100 – even as spry and gracefully as Sherry is pushing it – “wait ’til next year” is not a welcome refrain.
As for the Zoom family gathering they settled for last April on Easter Sunday when the final round of the Masters would have been played, she found it unsatisfying: “I don’t like it. I’d rather have one-on-one.”
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When she became the oldest person in Augusta to be vaccinated in January, McGinty offered a simple one-word assessment of the previous year – “Bad.” The vaccine offers the opportunity to reconnect, and shortly after receiving it she got even better news – she would be among a precious few invited to use her two Masters badges in April. So precious, it seems, that nobody in town knows any other regular local patrons who have gotten them this year.
“The vaccine is everything for her because it lets her see grandchildren and great grandchildren and hug them,” said Johnathan McGinty, her oldest of three grandkids. “That’s the most important thing right now is being able to spend time with her. It definitely changes the calculation for some folks in the family.”
The Masters announced in January that it would once again operate without the full complement of patrons in April. It began notifying badge holders within weeks – almost entirely regrets. But McGinty, who lives 200 yards from the club’s main entrance to Magnolia Lane, was told she would be getting her two badges.
“I’m sort of treated as a unicorn of sorts when I tell people that, ‘Oh yeah, my family has tickets,’” said Johnathan, who grew up in Augusta and usually serves as the gatekeeper in charge of coordinating the family tickets.
The tournament has been the heartbeat of the McGintys’ spring since before the rest of the world was let inside the gates of Augusta National via television in 1957.
Just watching the people, visitors. Back then we just went to see what the women were wearing and what the new styles were. I was not interested in golf, just the social.” – Sherry McGinty
Hodgie Shearin moved from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to Augusta in 1946. After serving as an Army nurse during World War II, she came to work in Oliver General veterans hospital and later for decades at the Medical College of Georgia. She married Herbert McGinty in 1948, and he called her “Sherry” from her maiden name. While Sherry and the kids were visiting family in North Carolina, Herbert bought the small duplex on Magnolia Drive in 1955 for $12,500.
“Was I mad? Not for long,” she said of the home she’s lived in ever since, including the last 41 years alone since her husband died in 1980.
Sherry can’t recall the first time she walked up the block to go to the tournament. “Gosh, it’s been so long I don’t remember,” she said. When Augusta used to hold parades downtown in an effort to promote the Masters, she never bothered with the crowds on Broad Street: “I saw all the parade I needed up there going in and out across the street.”
When she did attend through the years, the golf was the least of her interests.
“Just watching the people, visitors,” she said of the attraction. “Back then we just went to see what the women were wearing and what the new styles were. I was not interested in golf, just the social.”
Her kids and grandkids, however, grew up with Masters week as a centerpiece of their lives. Her two boys, Gene and Don, and youngest, Carol, have attended as long as they can remember. Getting inside was never an issue. As a young teenager in the early 60s, Gene would just walk up to the gates on Sunday and ask patrons leaving early for their tickets when they walked out so that he could go in and see the finish of the tournament – typically from the 16th hole where all the rest of the young kids in Augusta would hang out.
“The days we first went it was mostly attended by Augusta people,” said Gene McGinty, Sherry’s oldest son who was 5 when his parents moved onto Magnolia Drive.
Other neighbors might get tickets as well and share when they weren’t using them. The McGintys started getting four tickets in the 60s as the tournament started growing in notoriety in the peak era of the Big Three – Palmer, Player and Nicklaus. They tried to up their ante to 10 or 12 tickets at some point, but Augusta National decided that it was getting too popular and cut back their allotment to two tickets instead.
Later, they got in the patron lottery to add two more tickets, which they put in the name of McGinty’s youngest daughter, Carol Redfern. So in normal years they have four precious family badges.
When the Masters got major, the McGintys would park 30 to 40 cars in their small yard that was the closest lot to the main patron walk-in entrance. Little Don would run up to the corner at Washington Road and wave people in while Gene would try to organize them all in the yard. That role was passed down to the grandsons, Johnathan and Stephen (Redfern), and granddaughter, Neely (Westbrook).
“It was spring break in Augusta and I was 10 years old in the yard with a little flag waving people in and charging $5 a car,” Johnathan said. “She knew how to fit every single car in there. She used to keep first day proceeds to pay a lawn man to fix the yard and she would divide the rest among grandkids and kids after that.”
“Dream on,” Gene laughed at the princely fee the grandkids got in the 80s and 90s. “We charged 25 cents, all parking all day. If you’d given me $5 for every car back then, I’d have thought I was J. Paul Getty. We had fun.”
That parking thing turned the McGinty home into what Johnathan calls “the original hospitality house.” It became the hangout for not only family but familiar friends they acquired through the years. They stopped parking cars before Augusta National turned a nearby neighborhood into a parking lot.
“At some point momma was protective of her grass and as people grew up this just became our homecoming,” Gene said.
“We decided we didn’t need to (park cars) to be together,” Johnathan said. “We would all come and share tickets among family and friends and go over there for a little bit during the day. There were people we’d only see that one week out of the year. We were doing a hospitality house before there were hospitality houses because we were offering everyone to come over there to come to the back patio and drink, cook out. One guy from Charleston stopped by every Friday or Saturday and brought us fresh shrimp and we’d have a boil.”
Said Sherry: “Our friends from everywhere, they might be staying somewhere else, but this is headquarters in the daytime.”
“The best part of the day was that 3:30-to-4 range when we’d migrate out to the back patio and see people who are guests or had been to the tournament already and are tired and come back and get a beer and watch the last few holes on TV,” Johnathan added. “It really is the best week of the year and leads to a lot of great memories and great times.”
“A lot of it is less the tournament and more the family now.” – Johnathan McGinty
Some years they’ve packed close to 20 people into the small three-bedroom, two-bath house. “My husband would sleep on the floor in the dining room with his head under the table because he didn’t want to be stepped on,” Sherry said.
Its proximity to Augusta National has always made Magnolia Drive a relative hive of activity, even when it wasn’t Masters week. Word would always spread when first lady Mamie Eisenhower was in town shopping at the grocery store while her husband played golf. When a man broke through the gates and took hostages to speak to President Reagan in 1984, police helicopters circled overhead.
During the Masters, Chi-Chi Rodgriguez and “an English golfer” stayed in houses down the block. For a while when he’d come to town hawking merchandise up Washington Road at Hooters, John Daly used to park his motorhome and sleep across the street from their house in an empty lot.
They also can’t quite remember when all their neighbors’ houses started getting bought and torn down to erect giant hospitality venues that surround her. “I remember watching all those houses over there fall one by one and become hospitality houses over the past 25 years or so,” said Johnathan.
“It’s a blur,” Gene said. Sherry often gets cards in the mail requesting consideration if she ever decides to sell her prime real estate: “I’ve not given anybody any encouragement,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll be bidding on it if the word got out.”
As long as she’s around, it will always be homecoming central for her three kids, three grandkids and five great grandchildren scattered in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. They take a family photo on the front steps every year and it keeps getting more crowded (Sherry usually sleeps at one of her sons’ homes in town during the week, leaving her house to all the grandkids for generational bonding).
“A lot of it is less the tournament and more the family now,” said Johnathan, who hasn’t taken his wife and 13-year-old daughter to visit his grandmother in person since the pandemic started.
For Sherry McGinty, family is all that matters. She hasn’t walked across Washington Road to shop or people watch in years. “I’ve seen it so I don’t need to,” she said. “I can’t do all that walking.”
But that precious badge is the ticket to another family homecoming she’s waited two long years to host again.
“They’re all full of life,” she said of her descendants. “The 2-year-old thinks she’s a movie star and she’ll sing and dance and everything she sees on television.”
That’s the tradition she lives for.
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