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At the beginning of his 15-hour day, Keith Gagnon stood on the hollow grounds of Augusta National Golf Club and felt a sense of thankfulness as he watched the sunrise into the cool morning air above Butler Cabin and Eisenhower Cabin and eventually above the tree line.
Receiving an invitation to Augusta National during the week of the Masters Tournament is beyond most golfers’ wildest dreams. Being inside the ropes with exclusive access to many of the club’s facilities and grounds takes it to another level.
To Gagnon, Augusta National not only has an unmatched venue, its staff hospitality and professionalism really sets it apart. And it’s through hospitality that he has been invited to work as support staff for every Masters week since 2015 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19).
“It’s just a fantastic experience and a complete honor to work at the Augusta National to be an employee and to be on property,” Gagnon said. “There’s nothing about Augusta that ever allows you to be set up to fail. The whole place is a walking, living, breathing Best Practices session.”
Gagnon, a PGA Golf Professional who has served Mass Golf as the Manager of Course Rating since 2017, recently returned from his sixth Masters week.
Being at the Masters as an employee often raises some common questions:
Have you played the course?: No, but “no reasonable offer will ever be refused.”
Do you get to watch any of the Masters?: Yes, we have some time to go around and walk the grounds.
Most famous person you’ve interacted with there?: Can’t say. That’s secret.
Best food item: The “lifechanging” Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich.
The experience of representing Augusta National may be rewarding, but it’s also a taxing week. Support staff arrive around 5:30 every morning and often don’t return until after 8 p.m. Staff also leave phones and other electronic devices behind for the day.
After going through a detailed staff orientation upon arrival, Gagnon typically has received two main assignments.
At the start of Masters week, he assists with the operations of the Drive, Chip & Putt (DCP) National Finals, a junior golf competition for girls ages 7-15. This year’s event featured Sudbury native Champa Visetsin.
Gagnon has been a standard-bearer during the DCP, sometimes standing aside some of the noted members and dignities spotted at Augusta National, such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On April 4, Gagnon could be spotted on Golf Channel wearing the Augusta National caddy coveralls the standard-bearer for the Girls 7-9 age group.
For the rest of the week, Gagnon is primarily stationed inside Berckmans Place, a 90,000 square foot multilevel clubhouse, located near the 5th green that is reserved for members and tournament sponsors and also paying members during Masters week.
In addition to its exclusive restaurants and viewing areas, Berckmans has a putting experience area where one might see Gagnon during Masters week. This amenity allows patrons inside to putt on replicas of holes No. 7, No. 14, and No. 16, with tournament speeds.
“It’s as authentic as you can possibly get without actually being on the golf course,” Gagnon said.
The opening of Berckmans in 2013 actually coincided with Gagnon’s initial interest in working at Augusta National. Then an assistant professional at The Club at New Seabury, Gagnon was trying to find ways to build upon his golf career and thought any opportunity at Augusta National would be welcome since, as he says, there’s no better place to learn.
“I wanted to find out if you reached out to them whether or not they would reach back,” Gagnon said. “I basically laid it out there, how much I wanted to be involved with that in any capacity, so they were very willing to give me a shot.”
Sure enough, Gagnon got a response and was told a new support staff position following Berckmans’ opening. While the role for 2014 was already filled, in early 2015, Gagnon was offered a chance to join the support staff.
“I went from not knowing what was going to happen to having my feet on the ground at the Augusta National Golf Club scared out of my mind,” Gagnon said of his first year. “They say if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”
Most near to Gagnon’s heart is the people he’s met over the years, especially the young players and their families.
“You see the looks on their faces, and it’s better than anything,” Gagnon said. “If you’re doing the experience right, you make them immediately feel comfortable, which is not easy to do, especially when a lot of these people have never been on the property before and never been through something like this. The kids are usually fine, it’s the parents that are so nervous.”
In addition to meeting golf professionals from across the country, there’s always been a familiar face or two to pop up while he’s down there. In 2018, Gagnon met Mike Sullivan, an assistant golf professional at Oyster Harbors, and the two have worked together.
That same year, Brockton native Matt Parziale was invited to the Masters after winning the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. To Parziale’s surprise, he spotted Gagnon while walking outside the Golf Shop. “We had a nice exchange and he’s like, ‘Oh wow, you look like you’re like you’re a caddy,’” Gagnon recalled.
Nothing can be certain on how many more years Gagnon will get to work at Augusta National during its biggest week on the calendar, and it’s certainly something he’s not taking for granted.
“I always pinch myself when they tell me they want me to do it again,” he said. “I just still can’t believe it.”