AUGUSTA: Arron Oberholser was in no rush on Monday as he leaned against his locker, soaking up the atmosphere of Augusta National. This is his first Masters, an invitation made possible by his inaugural U.S. PGA Tour victory at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

"This is unlike any tournament I've been to in my life," he gushed. "Everything is understated. Nothing is grandiose. You're not treated like you're bigger than you are. They treat this like a golf tournament."

Making this week even sweeter is his guest list.

Joining him at his Masters debut is his 84-year-old grandfather, Bill Oberholser.

"He has been watching this on television ever since television was invented," Oberholser said. "He's here for the first time, and it's a big thrill for him. And it's a big thrill for me, being able to provide that."

Land acquisition

Augusta National continues to buy up land around the club to accommodate a world-class practice facility and create parking lots for those who come to the Masters.

Golf World magazine studied real estate records and reported in this week's issue that the club has purchased 53 lots for $22.9 million (euro18.9 million) since 1999. It said the driving range could be open by 2011.

The current range is only 250 yards long, and the club has tried to keep tee shots off Washington Road by erecting a net 100-foot (30-meter) high at the back end of the range.

The club's plans for a new practice facility was stalled in 2003 when Martha Burk protested the lack of female members at the private club, and Masters chairman Hootie Johnson responded by dropping television sponsors for two years.

But everything is back on schedule for an expansion plan that will increase Augusta National's total land area by more than 60 acres (24 hectares).

How has the club been able to buy so much land?

According to the magazine, Limited Liability Corporations linked to club members are making the purchase. Golf World said the buyers offered the opportunity for sellers to stay in the home for two years without rent, and they would get two lifetime tickets to the Masters. Now, the magazine said, the LLCs are offering one year of free rent and two lifetime tickets. AP

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