Huntington’s Carroll enjoys his work at ‘happiest place on Earth’

EJ Carroll, of Huntington, stands by a flag for The Masters, one of the most famous golf tournaments in the world, which is held annually at Augusta National Golf Club, in Augusta, GA. In April, Carroll got to fulfill a lifelong dream and go to Augusta National, working in security at The Masters.
EJ Carroll, of Huntington, stands by a flag for The Masters, one of the most famous golf tournaments in the world, which is held annually at Augusta National Golf Club, in Augusta, GA. In April, Carroll got to fulfill a lifelong dream and go to Augusta National, working in security at The Masters. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published May 15, 2017.

Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA, is widely known as the home of The Masters, one of the most famous golf tournaments in the world.

EJ Carroll, of Huntington, has another name for it.

“It’s the happiest place on Earth,” he says. “It really is. Everybody wants to be there.”

Carroll would know. Last month, he realized a lifelong dream of going to Augusta National for The Masters. After years of trying to secure tickets to the event through its lottery system, a chance encounter paved the way for Carroll to attend without a ticket at all. Last summer, he met the individual whose company oversees security at The Masters.

Carroll was presented with a chance to join the security staff. He followed up on the opportunity in January and the rest is history.

“Once we started the process, it went pretty quick,” he says. “And before you knew it, April was here and I was in Augusta.”

While Carroll worked in law enforcement for 25 years, retiring as chief of the Huntington Police Department in 2014, he says having a passion for The Masters helped him land the job as much as anything else.

“It wasn’t a law enforcement requirement to be there … They wanted people who wanted to be there and wanted to know the history and how Augusta worked,” Carroll explains. “So, that’s the crew that we had.”

The Masters started on Monday, April 3, and ran through Sunday, April 9. Carroll stayed at a hotel in Aiken, SC, and commuted to Augusta each morning at 4:45 a.m. aboard a shuttlebus with other security personnel. The shuttle’s first stop was a baseball park just outside of Augusta National, where Carroll and his peers would go through security. From there, they would board another shuttle and proceed to the outer shell of Augusta National to clock in. After receiving their work assignments, Carroll and Co. hopped aboard a third and final shuttle to be transported to their work areas. Every morning, he was on the golf course by 6 a.m.

It marked the start of a lengthy day, says Carroll.

“I could not leave my position until the last golfer putted in on the 18th hole,” he shares. “The good thing about it was, as soon as that happened, I could leave the golf course right away.”

Carroll would then make his way to a shuttle and return to his hotel, typically arriving around 9 p.m. He would head to bed shortly thereafter and do it all over again the next day.

Working security, Carroll was tasked with making sure that all of Augusta National’s strict rules were followed by those in attendance. He kept his eye out for cell phones, in particular, which are not allowed on the course. He also looked for people wearing backwards hats, which is not permitted, as well as individuals ducking under ropes into restricted areas.

One thing that is especially frowned upon is when people make their way onto the course in a reckless manner at the start of the day.

“Every morning, we would take five to 10 people off the golf course for running, pushing, being disrespectful,” he says. “So, those people, they never saw the first second of golf because they had already been removed. Every day that happened.”

However, Carroll says that the bad apples were few and far between.

“The fans were so respectful of what they were getting to see,” he says.

And the fans got to see some terrific golf as PGA players from around the world competed for a major title, one of four in the sport. One of the most memorable moments of the week, says Carroll, is when Matt Kuchar hit a hole-in-one on the 16th hole.

“The ground was shaking from how loud the people were,” he recalls. “I’m going to estimate in that area there was probably 10-15,000 people within those two or three holes that got to see that ball go in. It just never stopped.”

But the really enjoyable part, says Carroll, was getting to hear the delayed reaction to Kuchar’s ace from the rest of the course.

Augusta’s kind of like Wrigley Field, where they don’t believe in new technology,” he explains. “... I believe there’s four different scoreboards across the golf course and after Kuchar hit his hole-in-one, you could hear, all the way up… when they posted the ‘1,’ the crowd just went crazy.”

“It is the neatest sound, to hear those,” he says of the crowd’s blissful howls. “And I’ve been to baseball playoff games. I’ve been to big college football games. I have never heard anything like it.”

For as raucous as the course got for Kuchar, it was the exact opposite when Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose were battling in the final round and the outcome of the tournament hung on every stroke.

“When it got to be Sunday, late afternoon and those two were going head to head, when they were hitting, it was so quiet,” says Carroll.

While he enjoyed walking around Augusta National, soaking in its renowned beauty, Carroll says the best part of his Masters experience was getting to meet all of the people there.

Chatting with two men who had been attending The Masters for 71 and 51 years, respectively, was a highlight for Carroll.

“I would have really liked to been able to sit down with those guys for hours and listen to their stories,” he says.

Carroll also got to meet Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer, for whom he helped navigate the course.

“He was kind of lost,” says Carroll. “And I knew who he was and I said, ‘Hey Charlie! If you’re looking for the way that you came in, you got to come right through here.’ And he says, ‘Hey, thanks!’ He goes, ‘Are you about a Double X?’ And I said, ‘Yup.’

“And he threw me his golf jacket. So, I have a new NBC Golf jacket that I wear.”

It may not have been one of The Masters’ famed green jackets, awarded each year to the winner of the tournament, but it was still special to Carroll, who plans on returning to work security again next year.

“If you’re ever having a bad time and you want to go someplace to get the sails set back up, go to The Masters,” he says. “It’s worth it.”