Sun, April 21, 2024

Gearing up for two busy weeks

There are three sure signs of spring in Augusta. Azaleas are blooming, yellow pollen covers every surface, and golfers and golf fans are in town.

Although Masters Week is officially April 8-15, the addition of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition for young golfers and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) expanded the number of days Augusta plays host.

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While businesses and local governments can make it appear to be a seamless transition, weeks and months go into the preparations.

One hub of activity is Augusta Regional Airport. Lauren Smith, Assistant Director of Marketing and Public Relations, told ABD they have been in prep mode for weeks.

“Airport-wide, including our tenants and ourselves, we get additional staff to make sure that we have enough people to accommodate the needs,” she said. “We make sure we have enough supplies. The airlines make sure they have enough airline equipment to handle the additional flights. It’s a kind of organized chaos. We know what’s needed and make sure that we have everything in place and make sure everything goes off without a hitch.”

Preparations extend beyond the airport terminal and parking areas. The Eastern FBO (Fixed Base Operation) will again be available for private pilots. It provides direct access for their passengers and car services with an entrance at 3006 Lock and Dam Ct. Passengers can be picked up and dropped off there rather than being shuttled to the main terminal.

“We actually started it, I believe two years ago,” said Airport Executive Director, Herbert Judon, Jr. “What that does is, it allows access on Lock and Dam Road for our corporate jets. And we also have some amenities. We have some trailers and everything set up over there.”

Masters visitors will also be the first to enjoy two new passenger bridges to board and leave aircraft. Those are part of the re-configuring of Gates 3 and 4. Construction on the expansion project will not be finished, but the area will be available.

A special cadre of airport employees will also greet visitors. Passengers Assistant Liaisons (PALs) will stand ready to assist travelers.

“They are our customer service representatives, and they stay in on the curb primarily,” Smith explained. “They will help the passengers with their luggage and overall wayfinding, help those that need wheelchair assistance. They will be staged throughout the terminal for Masters.”

Augusta put its Masters traffic plan into effect on Monday, April 1 to give local motorists the chance to adjust, particularly for two new provisions.

The first is a temporary traffic light installed at Washington Road and River Ridge Drive, near the National Hills Shopping Center. The Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC) purchased the former Electrolux building and turned it into a venue for patrons. The light is to assist pedestrians walking from the venue to the course.

The second is a QR code developed by ANGC. It will help patrons navigate to the parking lots at the course. The QR code was included in the packet of information sent to patrons with their tickets. Once activated, it will give the user the option to choose Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze for navigation to the parking lots.

The 5th Annual ANWA is already underway. Practice rounds began on April 2 at Champion Pines in Columbia County. First and second rounds are played there on April 3 and 4. The field of 43 will be culled to the best 30 golfers. They will have a practice round at the Augusta National on Friday and final round play will be on Saturday.

North Augusta is welcoming the golfers to the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Tourism Director, Karl Waldhauer said elected officials paired up to be on hand to greet the arriving golfers.

In Columbia County, Kyle Titus of the Engineering Department told ABD Champion Pines is not near the county’s busiest traffic areas, so ANWA does not have a major impact. Additionally, schools are out for spring break.

“The increase in traffic volume generated from The Masters Tournament is offset by the reduction in school and work traffic during spring break,” he said. “That said, the County will have Traffic Engineering Staff working normal business hours, as well as have on-call staff available during nights and weekends should any issues arise.”

The 10th Annual Drive, Chip and Putt competition will be on Sunday, April 7. Eighty junior golfers, representing 31 states, one Canadian province, and Australia, will compete. This is a partnership with the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America.

The focus may be on golf, but as any good host, Augusta airport will also have special ways to greet visitors.

The Airport’s Art Program will display pieces from local artists in the main terminal. Local musicians will perform in the baggage claim area. And therapy dogs from Paws for Pax will be on hand to provide a warm, furry welcome.

Smith said, for her, this is an especially magical time.

“I love going down there and hearing all the different people coming to our area and hearing them say, ‘Oh, I love this airport. Look at this cute little airport. Oh, it’s so sweet. Everybody’s so nice, look at the southern hospitality.’ So, we’re very happy to be able to check that box and make sure that we are welcoming everybody.”

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