Our men at the Masters

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

In what might be the greatest tough gig on the planet, four local men got backstage front-row passes to the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia — and all they had to do was work 13-hour days (or longer), nine days straight.

Peter Aust of Lake George and Larry Weaver of Queensbury were first-timers, hired to work security at Augusta National Golf Club. They joined Ken Baker and Bill Levandowski, who’ve worked this duffers’ dream temp job for six and seven years, respectively.

“My best story,” says Mr. Aust, “I got to follow Freddie Couples, working on the ropes from the 17th green to the 18th tee. Everyone’s saying ‘Hey Freddie,’ and he’d nod his head, keep walking. Then he saw a little boy on the ropes, and he stopped. He handed the boy his ball.

“He said, ‘I hope you use this well.’ That little boy was just so excited.

From left: Peter Aust, Larry Weaver, Ken Baker and Bill Levandowski. Photo provided

“A guy like Freddie Couples; he’s 63, still one of the finest golfers in the world and he is one of the finest gentlemen.”

“You get close to the golfers. Easter Sunday, I got to wish Happy Easter to a number of them who walked right by me at the 13th hole, where there’s a players’ bathroom on the course.”

“I got to watch Tiger tee off, and Rory McIlroy, and I followed Jon Rahm (the eventual winner) for a little bit.”

The four local friends who went down together this year play in a 16-man “Hackers Golf League” on Tuesday nights at Hiland Golf Club in Queensbury.

Securitas Private Security contracts with Augusta National to work the Masters. It’s not a job you apply for. To even be considered, you have to be nominated by someone who’s currently on the job.

“I leapt at the chance when Ken and Bill offered it,” says Mr. Aust. There’s an online application, much vetting and background checks.

“They hired me anyway,” Mr. Aust jokes. He said he was one of about 800 male and female security officers, some local gigs workers and other dedicated golf fans like themselves. A hearty handful of people from here work the Masters.

The original local connection threads back to Bill Evans, Securitas head of security, who formerly lived in the Albany area and had a camp on Cossayuna Lake, Mr. Aust said, adding, “He told me is familiar with the Chronicle!”

Friends of friends in the golf community have been recommending each other for this job, for many years.

Separately, Mr. Baker said Bill Evans “Loves” Stewart’s sodas. “We bring him 2-3 cases every year.” Mr. Aust suggested that friendly connection helped ease his way in this year.

‘Ensure patron experience’

Mr. Aust said, “Part of our duties is to ensure the tournament is safe and enjoyed by all guests and patrons. We were told: It’s not ‘crowds’ or ‘visitors.’ The word is ‘patrons.’”

“Everybody goes through screening as they enter the gates, similar to TSA (airport security). We learned how to effectively wand people.

“You see all of human nature, tens of thousands of people trying to get through a gate, some of them confused or anxious, especially if they’re asked to step aside for the wand. I and the others learned how to put someone at ease.

“We were drilled: It’s important that everyone who comes to the Masters has an unforgettable experience. More than security, it’s a relationship.”

Mr. Aust’s day began at 3:30 a.m. and continued into the evening each day.

They do get paid, “but none of us did it for the money,” he said. “We love the game of golf. It’s quite an experience to see Augusta.”

He said he’d previously applied to the lottery for spectator tickets, but unsuccessfully. “It’s very difficult to get in.”

He said those who have tickets hold onto them like season tickets for hockey or baseball. It’s yours for the future, so long as you follow strict rules: You can share the tickets but not sell or scalp them — “misappropriating,” it’s called. “And they track it!” Mr. Aust says.

Patrons also must behave on the course or risk losing the privilege to attend.

“Some golf tournaments can get rowdy, but people understand how prestigious The Masters is,” Mr. Aust said. “There are very few drunken patrons or people being rowdy. If they are, we were told to approach them professionally.”

He quotes: “Sir, we would love to make sure you still have your ticket.”
“Then we ask them nicely to refrain from shouting. And they comply. You can’t lay down on the grass, and you can’t run on the course.”

The local foursome had different assignments, only meeting up back at the hotel (which was provided).

Fun tidbit: Food concessions are surprisingly inexpensive. The tournament’s signature pimento and cheese sandwich, or a chicken salad sandwich, cost “a buck fifty,” Mr. Aust reports. “It’s $2 a soda, $3 beers.”

They made a trip of it. They stopped in Myrtle Beach to play two days of golf on their way to Augusta.

Besides the Masters which started with a practice round Wednesday, April 3 and ran April 4-7, their gig started with the final round of the Women’s Amateur Tournament on April 1.

April 2 was the annual Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for youth golfers.

April 3, Monday, was the Par 3 Golf Contest, a casual affair for the Masters players, their kids and families.

“Rory McIlroy and his kids were a lot of fun to watch; he just has a great family, two kids. Tiger was there too,” Mr. Aust reports.

“The energy when Tiger’s playing —it’s true, it’s really elevated. You could see him playing with a slight limp. He’s still so good. He made the cut. He played Saturday until the round was called due to weather. Then he withdrew after the Saturday round. You could see he was hurting,” Mr. Aust said.

“The Masters is not only a test of your golf skills, but of endurance. The course is extremely hilly. It’s a very difficult course to walk,” he noted.

‘Oh yes,’ They’ll be back!

Will they work the Masters again?

Mr. Aust couldn’t answer more quickly, or more breathlessly: “Oh, we’re going back. I’m going back!”

Larry, Bill & Ken on the Masters: ‘On a scale of 10 — it’s a 20!’

Chronicle Managing Editor Cathy DeDe writes: We hear mostly from Peter Aust in the adjacent article. Here are highlights from the other three of his foursome that working security at this year’s Masters:

Larry Weaver: “It was my rookie year, a fantastic time. “On a scale of 1-10 it was a 20. I’ve always wanted to go to the Masters and this was my key to get in. It was a lot of hours to work, and it was worth it.”

“On Sunday, the last day, I worked the 15th green. I got to see every single golfer come through. They didn’t talk but to see them up close, so near….

“Over nine days, I got to walk every inch of that golf course.”

For Bill Levandowski, this was his fifth Masters working security, beginning in 2018, skipping 2020, for Covid.

“It’s very long days,” he said. “You clock in at 5:30 (or some earlier) and go until 7:30 or 8 at night. It beats you up physically, though the work is not difficult. It’s an opportunity to see something you’d never have a chance to otherwise, and a sense of satisfaction.”

At 84, he says, “I intend to keep going as long as the body holds up.”

He was working the 18th hole in 2019, to see first-hand Tiger Woods’ comeback win. “I was in the left landing area, where most of the drives wound up laying down.

“When Tiger won it, it was even difficult to move around. Usually you stay outside the ropes, but I had to get inside. You still have to enforce the rules.”
“This year, with the weather, we had to evacuate the course a couple of times, direct patrons back to their automobiles to wait to come back, or if the round is called, especially if there’s lightning.

“You have a multitude of patrons all channeling down a narrow pathway, quickly. They’re not misbehaving, but it’s a never-ending sea of humanity….

“The sound of the players’ clubs hitting the ball is very impressive. They make such good solid contact every time, what you are supposed to do.”

Ken Baker of Queensbury, at his 6th Masters, said, “There’s no better golf course around than Augusta National. It’s so plush and beautiful. The tournament is very well run.”

He describes the “Amen Corner,” with two picturesque stone bridges between the 11th and 12th holes.

Mr. Baker says, “Every agent has to stay one night late when they switch from the day to the night crew. One Tuesday, I think 2019, I was down there with just my radio, all by myself on the Amen Corner, nobody in the area. The ground crew was gone, no one in the rest rooms, concessions, the pro shop.

“I was just sitting, waiting for the night guy and I wondered, what would happen if I went inside the ropes and ran across those two bridges….

“Nah, there’s too many cameras still,” he decided. “I’ll just sit and wait and enjoy that beautiful view you see on TV.”

This year during a practice round, he was working the 7th green when Fred Couples and Rory McIlroy came through. Mr. Couples took a shortcut on the way to the next shot. “He went under the ropes in with the patrons.”

As security, “I had to rush over and I caught up. I said, ‘You’re walking kind of fast.’ He’s not supposed to be there, but it was only a practice round.

“Then I hear Rory, who followed him: ‘Oh, I see we’re going to take the retired route.’ It was nice, just walking with them and talking.”

Mr. Baker says it’s tough work, too.

“We put in close to 100 hours in an 8 or 9 day period. I’m still hoping to go back. I’m 80. I don’t know how long I can, though he also notes a 94-year-old guard works a chair on a hill every year.

“I’ve seen some fantastic shots over the years,” Mr. Baker said. “It’s amazing how these young athletes with such little effort control the flight of that ball as much as they can, to get the lowest score.”

Peter Aust: When 2 trees came down

Peter Aust was there when two trees came down on Augusta National Golf Course during the Masters.

He reports: I was pretty close. That was a moment that sent some initial panic through me.

I was located at the 17th green and guiding patrons towards the exits as the weather was getting nasty…strong gusts of wind with rain mixed in.

I was looking down the 17th fairway trying to determine if players were in the fairway when I heard a loud crack and then saw the two trees begin to topple over in the area around the 17th tee box.

I immediately started briskly walking (no one can run at Augusta National), towards where the trees came down, and caught up with a few fellow security officers who hadn’t heard if anyone was injured.

Thank God, no one was, especially since a few chairs were located under the trees.

…When cleanup began, about 10 minutes after the trees came down, the approximately 25 grounds crew workers expertly removed all remnants of these two large, tall pine trees and had the tee box area appearing as if nothing had occurred…all in about 40 minutes.

It was truly amazing work and certainly part of the Masters experience

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