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The Augusta Chronicle (GA)
April 7, 1998
Author: Robert Pavey Staff Writer
For sheriff’s Investigator Harold Clack, Allen F. Caldwell III’s death during last year’s Masters Tournament was an open-and-shut case. “He had experienced financial, personal and professional disaster in a relatively short span of time, and the situation apparently seemed hopeless and he was helpless to turn the tide of events,” the Columbia County investigator wrote of Mr. Caldwell’s suicide. “Case closed.”
But questions still linger about why the Martinez man – facing consequences of a ticket scalping market gone inexplicably awry – put a shotgun in his mouth last April 11 and pulled the trigger. His death spawned a nationwide debate about black-market ticket sales and the unsavory relationship between brokers and the tournament that some call golf’s greatest event.
Mr. Caldwell, 40, was a partner with Atlanta-based World Golf Hospitality, which sold golf packages – including scalped Masters Tournament admission badges – to wealthy clients. Most components of the golf packages were comparatively easy to arrange: a round of golf at Jones Creek Golf Club in Evans, dining reservations at fine restaurants and a place for ticket-buying clients to stay during Masters Week.
Mr. Caldwell’s role as a ticket broker was to come up with Masters Tournament badges, which he expected to buy for $1,000 to $3,000 apiece. But as spiraling prices last year eventually peaked at $7,000 or more, Augusta National Golf Club patrons and other ticket-holders who promised him their badges sold to other brokers bidding higher prices.
The few available badges cost more to acquire. And soon, the available pool of money – more than $440,000 by World Golf’s accounts – was exhausted. Disaster was imminent. Many of Mr. Caldwell’s influential clients were left badgeless – and angry. Mr. Caldwell’s body, slumped sideways in a chair on a deck behind his home, was found the next morning – April 11.
In the aftermath of his tragic death, Linda Caldwell – his wife of 11 years – told the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office how her husband invested $380,000 in Masters Week events. Mrs. Caldwell, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told police her husband and World Golf planned to rent corporate hospitality tables at their business – the Clubhouse on Washington Road, just outside Augusta National – for $22,000 to $25,000 apiece during the 1997 Masters Tournament.
The 30 available tables had the potential to generate more than $600,000. The problem, according to Investigator Clack’s report, was that – contrary to what officials claimed – only six tables had been sold. Mr. Caldwell had already told his wife their comfortable lifestyle likely could not continue. But his suicide was a complete surprise to his friends.
During previous Masters Tournaments, Mr. Caldwell – a liquor store owner most months of the year – made money arranging housing, catering, transportation and other amenities besides tickets, his wife told police.
“Mrs. Caldwell stated that some of these people were prominent people and were very demanding,” according to the sheriff’s report. “The rentals had become very stressful – and very expensive – because of the demands made by the patrons.”
Mr. Caldwell, who attended the University of Georgia but did not graduate, also had a family history of depression, according to police reports. At the time of his death, he was taking Prozac to fight depression, which Mrs. Caldwell said was common in the Caldwell family.
His wife told police he had made two visits to a psychiatrist, choosing a therapist in Aiken because “he was afraid someone here may hear of his problem and he would have been embarrassed.”
Months after the suicide, an Indiana company purchased Mrs. Caldwell’s interest in the Clubhouse and related endeavors, said Tim Stoesz, an attorney for World Golf.
“All of us wish Allen hadn’t killed himself,” Mr. Stoesz said. “But it probably would have shaken out the same way even if he hadn’t. We’ve tried to be good corporate citizens, and we want to continue to do business in Augusta.
“We paid (Mr. Caldwell) approximately $440,000, which included payments for maids, catering, drivers, houses and badges,” Mr. Stoesz said. “These were made in a series of payments, the last of which was made April 4, 1997.”
Since last year’s Masters, World Golf has repaid some bills the company thought Mr. Caldwell had paid earlier, Mr. Stoesz said. “We’re trying to do the right thing,” Mr. Stoesz said. “We’re not bad people. We’re honorable people. And we hope, in the long run, people will recognize this and give us a chance.”
World Golf continues its efforts to resolve disappointments that resulted from last year’s Masters and unfulfilled ticket buyers, Mr. Stoesz said. “We got less than half the tickets we ordered,” he said. “We also did not know he had ticket deals with other people. We thought we were the exclusive people involved.” Although World Golf continues its efforts to repair relationships with clients who never received Masters badges last year, some of those clients still have bitter feelings. “We still haven’t been reimbursed for what we spent,” said one executive, who paid top dollar last year for a package that was to include Masters badges. “We’re still waiting.”
Staff Writer Alisa DeMao contributed to this article.