Augusta National Has Quietly Made a $200 Million Land Grab

The home of the Masters has expanded its territory by more than 75%, paying massive sums for surrounding properties

More than half a century after it opened, the Lakemont Presbyterian Church last year was eyeing a move. But all it had to sell was an outdated building on 1.7 acres bordering a sea of empty lots.

Needing cash for a new facility, the church appealed to a higher power: Augusta National Golf Club, the nearby host of this week’s Masters tournament. Within months, they had a deal. Just before Christmas, the club bought the church for $1.65 million.

.. Last year alone, a corporate entity connected with the club spent a combined $41 million on a pair of adjacent strip malls whose tenants include a Hooters restaurant and a Publix supermarket. In February, the club filed plans with the city to dig a large tunnel under the area’s main commercial thoroughfare, Washington Road, that will connect its primary land with other lots it has acquired.

.. The extent of the land grab, which vastly exceeds any previously reported estimate, has been obscured by the club’s use of limited liability companies. Rather than buying land in its name, the club has instead done so using more than a dozen LLCs, which have no other known purpose.

Though their names—such as BC Acquisition Co. and WSQ—are not overtly related, all have used Augusta National as their registered address. Some have listed the club’s general manager, Will Jones, as their registered agent. Several people who have sold to the club said it represented itself as Augusta National throughout negotiations, using the LLCs only on paperwork for the sales.

.. With no claim to eminent domain, Augusta National has expanded its territory by more than 75% using its foremost instrument of power: mountains of cash. In a city where, according to Zillow, the median listed home price is around $125,000, the club often pays several multiples of the assessed property value. That, combined with the millions of dollars the club has donated to area charities, has helped keep community opposition to a minimum.

“They’ve made quite a few homeowners millionaires,” said Venus Griffin, a prominent Augusta realtor.

The Questions About Trump’s Businesses That Are Still Unanswered After the Mueller Report

The key period begins in 2010, when Trump and his businesses were suffering a series of many watershed crises. All major banks except for Deutsche Bank refused to lend him money, his television program was sinking in the ratings, his casino business was in the midst of a humiliating collapse, and the lifeblood of his company—the steady transfer of cash from his father and then his father’s estate—had run out. Yet, that same year, Trump began an unprecedented spending spree, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into several money-losing golf courses, particularly Doral, in Florida, and two courses in Scotland. At this moment, the Trump Organization is seeking approval to spend nearly two hundred million dollars to develop housing and amenities for his course in Aberdeen.

This sudden windfall has never been clearly explained. Eric Trump once told a reporter that the funding came from wealthy Russians who love golf. He subsequently denied ever saying this, and instead claimed that it came from “incredible cash flow.” This is confusing. The Trump Organization is best understood as a series of unconnected high-risk bets and schemes, most of which have lost money. Much of its cash flow came primarily from the legacy properties in Queens and Brooklyn developed by Trump’s father, Fred, and four office towers that Trump, quite accidentally, found himself co-owning. There is nothing that Trump was doing in 2010 or the years afterward that suggests a sudden increase in his “incredible cash flow.” So where did the money come from? Barr’s summary does not address this vital question.

It is no small matter for the President of the United States to have had a dramatic and unexplained increase in cash during the financial crisis and in the years leading up to and including his Presidency. As I have written in the past, it is notable that Trump began spending this money at the same time that he befriended several oligarchs in the former Soviet Union, notably the Mammadov family, of Azerbaijan, and the Agalarovs, originally from Azerbaijan but now based in Moscow. Both families are likely money launderers with a penchant for spending fortunes on money-losing golf courses. We know that Trump was paid millions by both families for a failed 2012 luxury apartment building and for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow—and that he and his children stayed in close contact with them for years afterward.

There was a hope—perhaps held in vain—that Mueller would recognize that it would not be possible to draw conclusions about the President’s relationship with Russia without understanding how Trump made so much money in recent years—and, most important, how much, if any, of that business came from oligarchs from the Soviet Union. The investigation into the President’s businesses will now be the work of Congress and of local, state, and federal prosecutors. The President will accuse them of being sore losers, of ignoring the seeming vindication described in Mueller’s report. They will be told that they are politicizing the Presidency. But a simple fact remains: we have no idea who gave our President hundreds of millions of dollars and what he might owe in return. We have a right to know.

“We Have All the Funding We Need Out of Russia.”

“Trump was strutting up and down, talking to his new members about how they were part of the greatest club in North Carolina,” Dodson says. “And when I first met him, I asked him how he was — you know, this is the journalist in me — I said, ‘What are you using to pay for these courses?’ And he just sort of tossed off that he had access to $100 million.”

$100 million.

“So when I got in the cart with Eric,” Dodson says, “as we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’

.. None of the big US banks have done business with Trump for going on two decades. DeutscheBank is the only big bank that will touch him. And, of course, they’re not even a US bank. The point is, none of it mattered. The Trump’s had the Russia money. That’s all they needed.

Wrecking the Ship of State

as insurers themselves have been explaining, the problem is the uncertainty created by Trump and company, especially the failure to make clear whether crucial subsidies will be maintained. In North Carolina, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has filed for a 23 percent rise in premiums, but declared that it would have asked for only 9 percent if it were sure that cost-sharing subsidies would continue.

.. So why hasn’t it received that assurance? Is it because Trump believes his own assertions that he can cause Obamacare to collapse, then get voters to blame Democrats? Or is it because he’s too busy rage-tweeting and golfing to deal with the issue?

..Or take the remarkable decision to take Saudi Arabia’s side in its dispute with Qatar .. there are no good guys in this quarrel, but every reason for the U.S. to stay out of the middle.

.. So what was Trump doing? There’s no hint of a strategic vision; some sources suggest that he may not even have known about the large U.S. base in Qatar and its crucial role.

.. The most likely explanation of his actions .. is that the Saudis flattered him — the Ritz-Carlton projected a five-story image of his face on the side of its Riyadh property — and their lobbyists spent large sums at the Trump Washington hotel.

.. it’s worth considering that Trump apparently ranted to European Union leaders about the difficulty of setting up golf courses in their nations. So maybe it was sheer petulance.