--Larry Robert Little, Penticton Public Library, BC
The Masters: Golf, Money, and Power in Augusta, Georgiaby Curt Sampson
The Masters golf tournament, known as the toughest ticket in sports, weaves a hypnotic spell over all sports fans. But a cold heart beats behind the warm antebellum façade of the famous Augusta course, belonging to the man who killed himself on the grounds two decades ago. See more details below
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The Masters golf tournament, known as the toughest ticket in sports, weaves a hypnotic spell over all sports fans. But a cold heart beats behind the warm antebellum façade of the famous Augusta course, belonging to the man who killed himself on the grounds two decades ago.
--Lee Eisenberg, New York Times Book Review
The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
"Sampson has put together a great story of a powerful institution."
"[Curt Sampson's] fine new book, The Masters, is the only way we mortals are ever going to gain entrée to the hallowed Augusta National Golf Club." The Dallas Morning News
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The MastersGolf, Money, and Power in Augusta, Georgia
By Curt Sampson
Villard BooksCopyright © 1999 Curt Sampson
All right reserved.
Cliff Roberts is our Bible.
--Augusta National chairman Jackson Stephens
Echoes and anticipation filled Penn Station. The intermittent slam of dropped suitcases mingled with the hail of shouted greetings, and the nasal loudspeaker drone of announced departures added counterpoint to the music of New York City's cavernous train terminal. But after the stock market crashed in October 1929, the railroad song was hushed. As the Great Depression deepened, people did less of anything that cost money, including travel.
Clifford Roberts stepped into this traveling buyer's market in January 1933. As he explained to the representatives of the revenue-hungry Southern Railroad System, he required comfortable conveyance for one hundred New Yorkers to and from Augusta, Georgia. At a discount. "Business was so bad," Roberts wrote in his history of the club, "that the railroad promised not only a special low rate, but all new Pullman equipment with two club cars for card players and two dining cars." Roberts accepted, and the big party for the grand opening of the Augusta National Golf Club began in a railroad station in New York City.
No event in the history of the club--not even the Masters--would be more important than this first gathering.
Eighty gentlemen had joined the new club by the eve of its formal opening; remarkably, about sixty of them lived in New York. The very idea seems bizarre in retrospect: a private enclave for rich Yankees in the heart of the South, just sixty-eight years after the Civil War? But Augusta spread its arms in welcome for the National, largely because it was Bobby Jones's club. No Southern man had been so admired since Robert Edward Lee, the heroic but defeated Confederate general in the War of Northern Aggression. Another important factor in the civic embrace had to do with empty hotel rooms. Augusta was a resort town. But Northern tourists in recent years had begun to remain seated when their trains pulled into Union Station in Augusta; they'd discovered Florida. The Depression, of course, slowed commerce even further. Thus for one hundred dollars each, Cliff Roberts's New Yorkers--exactly one hundred of them--got three days' accommodation at the Bon Air Vanderbilt Hotel, local transportation in Augusta, and a round-trip ticket on the luxurious magic carpet of the rails, the Pullman.
Roberts took care of everything. He wrote and distributed an itinerary, organized a bridge tournament and made up the teams, made sure there was plenty of bootleg whiskey aboard (Prohibition's repeal was still a month away), and assigned bunks, giving the younger or more athletic travelers the uppers and the heavier or more mature gentlemen the lower beds. White-jacketed, black-skinned porters accompanied each Pullman sleeper. They made up the berths at nine or ten o'clock and helped those who needed a boost or a ladder up to the second story. The porters, living on tips, smiled a lot and called you "Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Jones" and were customarily and carelessly called "George" in return--after George Pullman, the manufacturer of the Pullman car.
The three-foot-wide beds had curtains on one side, a window on the other, and a little hammock above, for holding wallets, jewelry, shaving gear, whatever. A sink and a toilet that flushed directly onto the tracks occupied a tiny room at the front of the car. No shower. Some found the clickety-clack sound track soothing at bedtime and nodded right off, but for most, the axiom "You can't sleep the first night on a train" held true. The trip from New York City to Augusta took eighteen hours.
Lawyers and investment bankers predominated among the southbound one hundred. Among them were Walton Marshall, the president of the Vanderbilt Hotel chain, who had arranged the sharply reduced room rate at the Bon Air Vanderbilt in Augusta; Walt played cards with Cliff in the Two-Cent Bridge Club. Marshall also knew Bobby Jones and his father, because both liked to stay at his hotels; he had, in fact, introduced Cliff and Bob. Another important passenger, dark-haired, handsome Melvin Traylor, the president of First National Bank of Chicago, had saved Roberts's financial bacon by warning him in 1929 of the impending crash on Wall Street. A former president of the United States Golf Association, Traylor had presented the 1928 U.S. Amateur trophy to Bobby Jones.
A third key figure on the train was Grantland Rice, America's most-read sportswriter. Tall, bald, and fifty-two, "Granny" Rice knew everyone, and everyone knew him. In those pre-TV days, the top writers of the perspiring arts enjoyed a considerable celebrity; Rice's name instead of the athlete's often made the headline, as in RICE PREDICTS TENNIS UPSET. He led a now-legendary story on a Notre Dame football game with "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode again." He filled his column with similar classical allusions and with verse: "When the One Great Scorer / comes to mark against your name / he marks not that you won or lost / but how you played the game." Rice liked to tell stories, which made him a great guy to drink with: "Hey, Grant, what's Dempsey really like? ... Have you talked to Babe Ruth lately? ... What's the story on Tilden?" Roberts wisely made Rice his assistant in organizing the grand-opening party.
He did not fit the mold of most of the other capitalist Friends of Cliff who were founding members. Rice's connection was to the Jones family. Although they didn't play against each other, Rice had met Bobby's father, Big Bob (a.k.a. "the Colonel" or "Colonel Bob"), through college baseball. A good-field-no-hit shortstop, Rice majored in Greek and Latin at Vanderbilt in the Class of 1901. Big Bob, Class of 1897 at the University of Georgia, played outfield and first base. Rice did better in dead languages than Jones did in prelaw, but Big Bob was the superior athlete. Both were fraternity men and both, not coincidentally, enjoyed a cocktail. They would share quite a few over the years, cooling down after walking together in Bobby's gallery at scores of golf tournaments. Rice's pretty daughter Florence dated Bobby for a time, and they remained friends all their lives. Rice often featured young Bob in his nationally syndicated column, "The Sportlight." He'd been working in New York since 1911, for the Evening Mail and later for the Herald, but the big city never took the Tennessee out of his voice.
In his memoir, The Tumult and the Shouting, Rice recalled dozens of anecdotes involving Bobby and Colonel Bob, but neither Roberts nor Augusta National got a mention. The omission seems blatant for a founding member of the club, but is understandable in the context of the privacy and secrecy that enveloped the project from the start. It would have made a good story, but Rice was not inclined to write about a vital bit of deception on the club's first official day. Just a day after the party detrained in Augusta, Granny delivered a seemingly impromptu speech at the first meeting of the membership, an oration that decided the club's direction from that day forward.
The train arrived at Augusta's Union Station on Walker Street between Eighth and Ninth, a columned and ornamented edifice built at the turn of the century. White clouds billowed from under the steam engine's eight big wheels and a prolonged metal-on-metal shriek of brakes resounded in the domed station house. Porters slowly lowered step stools at each of the coaches, and the New Yorkers walked down them, claimed their bags, and tried to get their land legs back. Cars awaited outside in the square, as did, disappointingly, New York weather--a somber rain and temperatures barely in the forties. Some of the travel- and whiskey-weary checked in at the Bon Air and stayed there. Most, however, eager to meet Bobby Jones and see the new golf course, cabbed out to Augusta National.
Their route took them west, up the big hill on Walton Way, past stately houses flanked by big bare trees, still two months from blooming. A local might have informed them that this neighborhood was called Summerville. Wealthy Augustans built summer homes there to catch the cool breezes that were unavailable below in downtown and to escape the diseases that were assumed to float in the humid air by the Savannah River. The caravan turned right and downhill on Highland Avenue, onto Berckmans Road, dark with evergreens. Back up a hill, then right on Washington Road, Augusta National's northern boundary. Washington Road was a country address, bordered by big farmhouses with white picket fences, a dairy, thick stands of oak and pine, and a tree nursery. Cars coming from the west used to get stuck a mile down the road, where Interstate 20 now crosses Washington. Had to be hauled out by mule teams. Country. "You could kill all the rabbits you wanted here back then, with a rock and a stick," an old-timer says. Local historians can't remember if Washington's two lanes were paved in 1933 or not, but everyone recalls the huge flocks of birds flying in and around the trees by the road.
As the cars turned right into a break in a high border hedge and onto Augusta National's bare dirt driveway, a strange intoxication swept over the golfers. For the first few yards, little was visible in the passageway except the curled fingers of sixty eighty-year-old magnolias, and the world disappeared in the shelter and hush. The trees had not quite grown together overhead; a little rain and light penetrated the canopy, like a long, narrow hole in a roof. The rayon tires of the taxis turned a few more times and something at the end of the tunnel came into view, something white and solid. As the 275-yard driveway reached its end, the passengers beheld a symmetrical white mansion, a vision of antebellum glory.
The drama of the entrance suspended the New Yorkers' disbelief; it was 1857 again, and the welcoming arms of the plantation had made time and the Depression disappear. Within the graceful, concrete-walled manor house Master Bobby Jones awaited, and beyond Jones lay the virgin golf course, and the New Yorkers went out into the cold rain to have at it.
For warmth, "two of our local members provided some corn [whiskey] that had a little age," Roberts recalled. Kegs were placed beneath tents on the first and tenth tees. "However, some of those present had never drunk corn before, and did not know how strong it was until, let us say, it was too late."
That night after dinner at the Bon Air, club president Jones rose to his feet and tapped a glass. "But before he could proceed, Grantland Rice was on his feet demanding to be heard," according to Roberts.
Grant explained that he had several times previously become a member of new clubs, all of which had gone broke. In looking back for a reason, he realized that all these promising new clubs ... had made the mistake of holding a meeting, and he didn't, want to see the Augusta National make this same mistake. Therefore, he proposed a resolution to the effect that Bob and Cliff be asked to run the club without the hindrance of meetings. Whereupon everyone stood and yelled "Aye," and Bob could do nothing but join in the laughter and capitulate.... The spirit of Grant Rice's resolution is still in effect.
The implication that Rice acted spontaneously and alone is credible only if you believe that the sportswriter and the Wall Street Machiavelli spent weeks together orchestrating the grand opening, then eighteen hours on a train with a bottle on the table between them, and failed to discuss either the best way and the best people to run Augusta National or their strategy to make the plan happen.
But did Roberts and Rice really keep Jones in the dark about their charade? Here, Roberts's account rings true. Bobby lived in Atlanta and wasn't on the train, for one thing. And Roberts's greatest skill and deepest instinct lay in divining ways to get important men what they wanted--usually more wealth, less trouble, and more privacy. Furthermore, those close to Jones had been "doing for Bobby" all his life. For example, Jones frequently did not appear for the press after his tournament rounds. In a unique arrangement, O. B. Keeler, a sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal, handled radio and the other writers for young Bob. Holding a towel around his waist, O.B. would recite some humorous or classical verse, charming the socks off the reporters in the locker room, then he'd tell them exactly what Bobby was thinking when he hit that niblick to the ninth. Jones, meanwhile, deflated as an old balloon from the stress of the day, would be elsewhere, sitting in twelve inches of bathwater and drinking three inches of corn.
Others competed for a chance to help him materially. The members of his club in Atlanta bought Jones a $50,000 house, which he declined when he determined that it jeopardized his amateur status. The president of Coca-Cola set him up in the bottling business at a time when filling Coke bottles amounted to printing money. Jack Warner pressed $120,000 into Jones's hand to get him to come to Hollywood to film a series of instructional movies. The wonder was that all the help did not spoil him. On the contrary, Bobby remained disarmingly humble.
Whether the result of a conspiracy or not, the Augusta National Golf Club decided on its first formal day of existence to be run by just two men. Jones, the spiritual leader not only of the club but of the game itself, gave Roberts his authority. He'd earned Jones's confidence; Cliff's ability to raise the money to buy the land ($70,000) and build the course (approximately $100,000) during the disastrous economy of the early 1930s impressed Jones enormously. They were quite a pair: the brusque Roberts symbolized the Yankee dollar and Northern, urban values while the modest golf champion embodied Southern gentility. Augusta National was a country of kings, with no confused or impoverished peasants accustomed to following someone else's rules, but the Jones-Roberts combination worked perfectly. The iron fist in a velvet glove has forever been the formula for successful dictators.
The velvet glove part was most important. Jones's courtesy was innate; politeness swims in a Southern boy's DNA.
Compared to the multiethnic, mercurial North, Southern attitudes and culture seemed better grounded and more substantial. Jones obeyed the South's informal code: a gentleman should be a crack shot, a good drinker, and courteous, especially with ladies. He should also cultivate his mind and should not appear too obviously concerned with matters of commerce.
Family matters had a more immediate impact on Bobby, of course, than his cultural inheritance. Two events in particular made him the man he became-the death of his infant older brother and the strange psychodrama involving four generations of Jones men.
Robert Tyre Jones, the grandfather, furrowed his brow and wore a high, stiff collar for his turn-of-the-century photograph. "R.T.," a thoroughly impressive man, mastered vertical business integration before the term was invented. He owned everything in Canton, Georgia, a little burg north of Atlanta: the biggest cotton acreage; the gin (which removed the seeds from the bolls); Jones Mercantile Company, where the cotton was woven into thread and dyed to make denim; and the bank, to loan the money to the growers and the mill. In 1925, R.T. grossed $1.5 million, a fabulous income worth about 100 million of today's inflated dollars. R.T. saw his success as virtue rewarded; he wrote extensively on business ethics and served as Sunday school superintendent at the Canton First Baptist Church for forty years. The church, in turn, named the R. T. Jones Bible Study Class in honor of the biggest man in the city. His life inspired a book entitled A Man, a Mill, and a Town. R.T. stood six feet five, and he must have looked like a giant to his oldest child, Robert.
Robert Purmedus Jones. "He didn't get his father's name, and he wanted it badly," says Jones biographer Sid Matthew. "As a result, he always struggled with his identity." Purmedus--the accent is on the second syllable--also did not inherit his father's stern look or outlook, and he led the faintly rebellious life of a preacher's son. He drank white lightning with his college and Canton friends, who took to calling him "Colonel," a nickname that stuck. The young Colonel's big hands and sturdy legs helped him rip into a baseball for the Mercer University Bears in Macon for three years, and for the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens for his senior season. But R.T. did not approve. Once someone told him of his son's great ability as a ball player. "You could not pay him a poorer compliment," he replied.
R.T.'s own father had been murdered. On December 1, 1888, when R.T. was thirty-nine, William Green Jones, sixty-six, a well-off farmer of about a thousand acres in Covington, Georgia, took a walk and never came back. He was alone on the road with $300 in his pocket, money intended for a further land purchase, when someone shot him in the back of the head and robbed him. The killer was never found. This tragedy could help account for R.T.'s stiff-backed morality and for his disdain of trifling activities involving sticks and balls.
R.T. never watched his son play a game. When a major professional team, the National League's Brooklyn Superbas (the successor of the Trolley Dodgers and the forerunner to the Brooklyn Dodgers), got his son's signature on a contract, the patriarch forbade him to fulfill it. You'll be a lawyer, not a playboy, R.T. said. Robert Purmedus obeyed his father.
"I can picture the Colonel saying to himself right then, 'I'll never be this way with my kid,'" says Matthew.
He wasn't. The Colonel moved to Atlanta, took a law degree at Emory and in 1900, at age twenty-one, a wife, Clara Merrick Thomas. Their first child, William, lived only three months. He couldn't keep food down, suggesting esophageal reflux--a sort of chronic vomiting--or pyloric stenosis, a narrowing of the end of the stomach. The Jones's second baby appeared to have the same digestive disorder. The Colonel gave the child the name he himself had wanted--Robert Tyre--and the attention and approval he'd craved. He carried his infant son around on a pillow and had no more children.
Despite his illness, life dealt Bobby Jones an unusually full deck. Handsome, articulate, and a genius with a golf club, Jones's accomplishments so impressed a New York publisher that he was invited to write his autobiography at age twenty-four. The resultant book was a rarity in two ways: it's readable and the athlete-author actually wrote it. Rice penned the foreword to Down the Fairway and Keeler served as coauthor, though he didn't do much; Jones wrote better than his writer friends.
His first memory, Jones wrote, was of "Camilla, our fat cook and nurse, and her fat brother, who was also blacker than Camilla, and her beau." The Colonel's successful law practice not only made the employ of servants possible, it enabled the family to rent summer homes by East Lake, a new country club that really was in the country, five miles out of Atlanta. In the summer of 1908, just a year after the six-year-old Bobby ate his first solid food, the Jones men took up golf. Within another five years, the doting Dad and his once-sickly son were traveling to tournaments together, tournaments young Bob soon began to win.
Their love was unmistakable. The Colonel--often in the company of, as Bobby put it, "a lively group from Atlanta"--rarely missed a chance to watch his son compete, and he agonized or exulted according to the results. They played together, too, most memorably in 1915, when thirteen-year-old Bobby beat his father in the finals of the club championship at East Lake. The Colonel idolized his son and was as much his friend as his father. Bobby repaid the tribute. Although he graduated from Technological High School;from the Georgia School of Technology (now known as Georgia Tech), in Mechanical Engineering at age twenty; and from Harvard with a degree in English literature a few years later, he shucked whatever career path those credentials might afford in favor of following his father into law. He needed just two years of law school, incidentally, to pass the Georgia bar. In another salute to his father, at about age eleven, Bobby began to refer to himself as Robert T. Jones, Junior-although, of course, he was not a junior. He did it to please his father. He obviously felt the Colonel's pain at the snubs and remoteness of R.T.
"Bob Jones was a quiet man," recalls Charley Yates, eighty-four, an Augusta National member since 1940. "But his father was the greatest extrovert God ever put on this earth. I was a locker room tenor, and he sang bass. 'O-o-o-ld Man River-r-r ...'"
The foreword to Jones's last memoir, Golf Is My Game, reads "To my father, to whom I owe all this-and a lot more." The book was published in 1960. Robert Purmedus Jones had died four years earlier.
Bobby's personality presented a complex blend of the fun-loving Colonel and fun-shunning R.T. Like his father, he charmed everyone he met--"the kind of man," as British historian and Augusta National member Alistair Cook once said, "who sought out the stranger in the corner of the room and included him in the conversation." And just as his father had, Jones liked to drink. While serving as assistant manager for the Harvard golf team--his eligibility as a player had been used up at Georgia Tech-Bobby was once asked to take care of the whiskey supply for the postmatch celebration. He took care of it, all right; he drank it himself. ("Jones was not an alcoholic," Matthew says, although "his tolerance declined later in fife.") Despite such frolics, Bobby was, like his grandfather, perfectionistic and stern with himself and fiercely but politely competitive. And like the patriarchal R.T., he enjoyed the solitude and mental engagement of putting his thoughts into writing.
In 1918, R.T. shocked the family by coming down to Atlanta to watch his sixteen-year-old grandson play in a World War I Red Cross exhibition match. Was this a thaw? R.T. began to send his grandson messages from on high: "If you must play on Sunday, play well" and, on the eve of Bobby's first U.S. Open win in 1923, a telegram that read, "Keep the ball in the fairway, and make all the putts go down." Again, in 1926, at the first of his two New York City tickertape parades, R.T. was there. The show of support touched both Bobby and the Colonel, and the generational conflict gradually resolved.
Happy endings cropped up everywhere in the twenties. During the pleasantly crazy bridge between World War I and the Great Depression, Charles Lindbergh flew his single-engine plane from New York to Paris, alone, and was anointed a hero on two continents. And if sportsmen slipped into speakeasies for a cup or two of Prohibition brew, no one told. Sportswriters in the 1920s did not debunk, they glorified.
Harold Grange, for example, a very good college halfback, became mythic when a sportswriter rechristened him the Galloping Ghost. A loutish young man named George H. Ruth drank and screwed and ate to mindboggling excess. But he pitched brilliantly and hit home runs at an astonishing rate, so everybody loved the Sultan of Swat. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey's nickname, the Manassa Mauler, hinted at his savagery, but the shorthand for tennis champion William Tatem Tilden II--"Big Bill"--gave no inkling of his private demon, homosexuality. "Emperor Jones" seemed appropriate for Bobby, who stood regally in the center of the stage in golf's sunlit theater.
But Jones protected a secret, too: the game had ceased to be all sunshine. The more he succeeded, in fact, the less he enjoyed the whole adventure. More friends bet increasing amounts on him to win and were decreasingly shy about telling him of their wagers. His galleries grew exponentially each year. "With his fans--and he played in championships when spectators could reach out and touch him--Jones' patience was monumental," wrote Charles Price in his 1986 book, A Golf Story. "He took them all in good-natured stride--favor-seekers, storytellers, party-crashers, name-droppers, social opportunists, self-promoters, kissin' cousins, drunks, and other assorted pests." Jones suffered stomach pains and occasionally burst into tears in private, but only his intimate friends--Keeler, Rice, and the Colonel--knew about it. While Bobby hid the effects of the mounting pressure and uninvited interaction, the Colonel grew so nervous that he often couldn't watch his son's tournaments and relied on word-of-mouth reports from the battlefield. Bobby could hardly have missed his father's agitation. Another clue that big-time golf was becoming a big-time drag for Jones was. his atypical spat with another competitor, Chick Evans.
Their feud came to a head during the finals of the U.S. Amateur in August 1927. Jones versus Evans drew tremendous interest; if the planets aligned correctly, Chick might actually beat Bobby. The match took place at Minikahda Country Club in Minneapolis, where Evans had won the U.S. Open eleven summers before. A special train brought scores of Evans boosters up from his hometown, Chicago.
Sparks often fly in the hand-to-hand combat of match play, and any number of things might have set Evans off. Perhaps Chick resented Bob's breeding and relative wealth or his success. Maybe he disliked the precise part in Jones's hair. Evans sold milk, wholesale, to restaurants and institutions and had a salesman's grin and showmanship and memory of first names. Jones, on the other hand, maintained a polite reserve. After muttering privately about Bobby for years, Evans went public with his complaints in an Associated Press interview, which was published widely on his seventy-third birthday, July 18, 1963.
Jones clobbered Evans 8 and 7 in their big match. But "it wasn't the beating so much as the way it was done," Evans said. "On the first tee, Jones told me I had teed my ball in front of the markers. Later he called me for putting my finger into the grass.
"On what became the last hole of our match, I putted two inches from the hole. I thought he might concede the two-inch putt. ... I looked at him and he just stood there, about a yard from me, and stared at me. I went up to my ball, and when I put my putter head down, it touched the ball.
"I looked up at Jones. 'The ball didn't move,' I said. 'It sure did,' Jones replied." Game, set, match Mr. Jones. Evans congratulated him sarcastically.
Jones, Evans said, used twenty-two clubs to his own seven (fourteen clubs were not the maximum allowable until 1938) and thus "developed his game with his clubs rather than his skull." The best part of Jones's game "was his ability to sink long putts. He had to, because from fifty yards out he was pitiful." Evans also hinted at flaws in Jones's character, from getting to be too big for his britches to dishonesty about his status as an amateur.
Jones responded gently. "Mildly amusing," he told the AP. "If he really meant to say these things, then I'm truly sorry he said them." His private reaction contained a lot more heat. Evans's accusations were "tripe," Jones wrote in a letter to United States Golf Association executive director Joseph Dey four days after the Evans interview was published. Jones played the first nine holes in thirty-one and began the second nine with two threes. This put him six up; Chick didn't have the wherewithal that day to make up such a huge deficit to the best player in the world.
Jones contradicted everything Evans said, especially his version of the contentious ending to their match. Already beaten, Jones told Dey, Chick "preferred being the apparent victim of a misfortune to playing the long twelfth hole up the hill away from the clubhouse.
"I do not recall that I have ever said anything about this thing before, and certainly do not intend at this moment, or ever, so far as I know, to make public any of these circumstances."
Whatever the particulars of the spat, Jones had an enemy, and he knew it. And though he obviously thrived in the formalized battle of a golf tournament--as he would prove for all time in 1930--conflict upset him terribly. Grantland Rice described him as having "the face of an angel and the temper of a timberwolf." Just before or soon after the Evans match, Jones decided to retire from tournament golf. He had tired of controlling the wolf.
Moreover, there was no money in amateur golf. While he was far from destitute, Jones was not wealthy, either. Bobby was twenty-eight, married, and a father of one child (a boy, Robert Tyre Jones III), yet he still lived in his parents' home.
On a sunny September afternoon in 1930, on the eleventh green at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, a man named Gene Homans missed an eighteen-foot putt and extended his hand to Jones. Jones shook the hand. "All at once I felt the wonderful feeling of release from tension and relaxation I had wanted so badly for so long a time," Jones wrote later. He had defeated Homans 8 and 7 to win the U.S. Amateur, thus sweeping all four of golf's then-major championships in one year. No one had done this before, or has since. Inspired by Jones's feat, people around the country picked up golf clubs in increasing numbers. "Augusta has gone golf crazy," the Chronicle reported a week after Jones's slam. Duffers were seen practicing on the Richmond Academy hall fields, on the lawn in front of the Arsenal, and "wherever there are no windows."
Two months later, Jones quit the game.
Dr. Alister Mackenzie, M.D., had the shanks.
In the finals of the Yorkshire Medical Cup in 1926, Dr. Mackenzie lay two on the eighth hole of the second round, and his ball was nearly on the green. But the golf architect--medical doctor lateraled his next three shots, circumnavigating when he only wished to land. He lost the hole and the match in a humiliating continuation of sockets, the absolute worst shot in golf. Afterward, as he recalled in his book The Spirit of St. Andrews, "a friend buttonholed me and said, 'Mackenzie, do you mind me giving you a bit of advice? You are just off to Australia to lay out golf courses. For God's sake don't let them see you play golf or you will never get another job."'
Mackenzie doubtless told this story many times and would have punctuated each telling with his booming, operatic laugh. He loved golf, but couldn't play it worth a flip until the last few years of his life. Like most hackers--but unlike most golf architects--he abhorred long grass, narrow fairways, small greens, and water hazards. "I am by nature a revolutionary," Mackenzie said.
He was also a bit of a rogue. "Being a Scotsman, I am naturally opposed to water in its undiluted state," he wrote. His rich Scottish burr hinted at haggis and single malt, but Mackenzie grew up in Leeds, in Yorkshire, England, and while his father was a physician from the Scottish Highlands, his mother was English. Still, Mackenzie always represented himself as being Scottish, for the same reason chefs so often hail from France and watchmakers are Swiss, or say they are. Alistier Mackenzie, born Alexander Mackenzie, made a gift to each of the courses he designed of a photograph of himself in a kilt, looking pleased.
It was rumored that he ate roast beef for lunch every day and washed it down with a tumbler of scotch. His ruddy face and beefy body--and his death of an apparent heart attack at age sixty-three--hinted at high living. His golf courses were equally exuberant, but unlike the man who made them, they do not die. Some of the roller coaster greens he designed were dizzying even to look at and might be fun to ski; although most of his greens were quite reasonable, Mac often designed a surface that could require a five-yard putt to travel twenty yards to reach its target. The typical Mackenzie bunkers looked like reproducing amoebae or a wallpaper pattern popular in girls' bedrooms in 1970.
How and why did Jones hire a doctor who'd given up medicine to play in the dirt? Why not Alfred Tillinghast or George Thomas? Most of all, why not Donald Ross, the most popular and prolific golf course architect of the day, a former golf pro who really was from Scotland? Jones could have had his pick.
In the standard telling of the tale, Jones first got to know Dr. Mackenzie in 1929, in California. Bobby had just lost in a stunning upset in the first round of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, and with time on his hands and his lodging reserved for the week, he played a round at a new course down the street from Pebble on the headlands above the Pacific, Cypress Point. Mackenzie had designed it, and Jones loved it. Mac, age fifty-nine, was then employed at laying out another course on the Monterey Peninsula and at romancing a local widow, Mrs. Edgar Haddock. Mackenzie interrupted these duties to spend the next several days with Jones, discussing what should go into a great golf course and what should be left out. Jones would have been pleased to be reminded that Mackenzie, the consulting architect at the Old Course at St. Andrews, considered the Old to be a sacred place, subtle, complex, and by far the best golf course on earth. In this, Jones agreed wholeheartedly.
While Bobby may have mentally chosen Mackenzie in 1929 as the architect of Augusta National, he had become susceptible to the man two years earlier. Mackenzie had written a book published in 1920 entitled Golf Architecture. On the half-title page of the copy Mac sent to Atlanta he wrote:
TO/ Robert T. Jones (Jun)
The World's finest
sportsman and greatest
With the author's
compliments. A.D. 1927
Here Jones, already thinking about the golf course he would build some day, could read what amounted to the resume of a brilliant prospective designer of his course, combined with the man's thoughts on construction, deception, Bolshevism, bunkers, and the fine art of manuring (don't put it in too deep, Mackenzie advised). In Golf Architecture, he also mused on a profound and difficult subject:
Beauty means a great deal on a golf course; for even the man who emphatically states he does not care a hang for beauty is subconsciously influenced by his surroundings....
All the famous holes and greens are fascinating to the golfer by reason of their shape, their situation, and the character of their modelling. When these elements obey the fundamental laws of balance, of harmony, and fine proportion they give rise to what we call beauty [which is] more felt than fully realized ... and in course of time [the player] grows to admire such a course as all works of beauty are eventually felt and admired.
In this, Mackenzie spoke directly to Bobby Jones's heart. Jones considered himself an artist and golf an art rivaling the aesthetic appeal of ballet. While Sam Snead and other American pros looked around St. Andrews and saw random hills in need of mowing or excavation, Jones saw an intriguing series of solvable puzzles. The Old Course looked and felt as much like public sculpture as public golf course to him, and in its undulations and bumps he felt the breath and character of the men who'd built it over many centuries.
Part of his art appreciation had to do with myth, and with myth's first cousin, illusion. Not the myth of "Old Tom used to hit it up there" or "Vardon made a two here once" but the emotional force of imagination set free. For example, the ideal landing area for the drive (or the second shot) on the fourteenth at the Old is known as the Elysian Fields, which in Greek mythology was a paradise assigned to virtuous people after their deaths. But to reach this heaven, one must clear a yawning sand bunker called Hell. The idea of the heroic but optional carry to paradise enthralled both Jones and Mackenzie. As Mac put it, "What pleasurable excitement there would be in seeing one's second shot sailing over Hell!"
Jones hired Mackenzie to design his course because Mac was Bobby's educational and intellectual equal, as Donald Ross was not, and because they agreed on a hundred little things and on one big thing: the spirit of St. Andrews.
The subtitle to Mackenzie's Golf Architecture hinted at another factor in his favor: Economy in Course Construction and Green-Keeping. The Depression was raging by the time Bobby was ready to build his golf course, and he needed to have it done on the cheap.
To get his own financial house in order, Jones signed a contract on November 13, 1930, with Warner Brothers to star in a series of ten instructional movies, costarring a score or more of movie actors playing themselves as fair-to-poor golfers. Since taking money to teach golf on celluloid might technically make him a professional, Jones simultaneously renounced his amateur status and retired from competitive golf four days after accepting Jack Warner's check for $120,000. He and 0. B. Keeler took the train to Hollywood in February 1931, and Keeler, apparently concerned about the booze situation in Southern California, brought along eleven typewriter boxes filled with bottles of Georgia corn whiskey.
"In the foist place ... this little shot ... oughta be played... like a long putt. Stand up ... fairly erect ... comfortableh ... then knock it up ... close to the hole." For clarity, Jones often spoke in short phrases in the films, in his North-Georgia-meets-Harvard accent. "Swing nice and easileh," he said, showing a rare understanding of adverbs. "My aim isn't to make a few average golfers out of their class but to make the average of the whole somewhat bettuh." But what Jones said and how he said it was less remarkable than his grace and command in front of the camera. Movie stars such as W. C. Fields, Joe E. Brown, Harold Lloyd, Walter Huston, and Guy Kibbee hung on every word. He looked faintly silly in makeup and lipstick, but the stars--America's royalty--worked for free and treated him with obvious deference.
Jones apparently did not take advantage of his intimate contact with movie people, one of the few classes of American Depression society with any money, by asking W. C. Fields or the others to help underwrite the construction of his new golf club. Fund-raising was Cliff's bailiwick, anyway, and he seemed to have it in hand. But the new golf course had to be on his mind; when Jones returned to Hollywood later in 1931 to make a second set of instructionals (for another $120,000) after the success of the first, Mackenzie came down from his home on the Monterey Peninsula for a visit. Perhaps he showed Jones some holes he'd sketched or a routing plan. For by this time, a site for Bobby's dream course had been selected: a former indigo plantation and defunct ornamental-plant nursery in Augusta.
Augusta was Cliff's idea. Just after Jones won the Slam in 1930, "I suggested to Bob that Augusta was the logical place," Roberts reported in his club history. It was warmer than Atlanta, Cliff pointed out (it is, by a few degrees), which was important because the club they contemplated would be open only in the winter. The members simply didn't need a summer place; they already had their Winged Foots or Shinnecock Hills, their primary clubs back up North. Augusta also had rail lines, plenty of hotel rooms, and other healthy golf courses, which Jones had played and liked. So, according to Roberts, he called slick-haired Thomas Barrett, Jr., the future mayor of Augusta, to ask if he knew of a likely site. And Barrett immediately recommended the old Berckmans place, Fruitlands. Cliff looked at it, then called Bob. Jones confirmed this chain of events, but some dispute it.
"Baloney," a long-time Masters employee and Augusta resident says today. "They searched everywhere in Cobb County [Jones lived in Atlanta, which is in Cobb]. The club is only here because this was the best acreage they could find. They didn't care about Augusta then, and they don't care now."
Whether Jones and his scouts ignored his own backyard or looked only to Augusta remains in doubt. What is known, however, is that Jones met Roberts in Augusta soon after his return from Hollywood in the spring of 1931. "This is the place," Brigham Young said when he came over the Wasatch Mountains and saw the Great Salt Lake; Jones drank in the very different beauty of vernal East Georgia and expressed the same sentiment. "Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course upon it."
The Berckmans nursery did already resemble a golf course, an astonishingly beautiful one. But it wasn't just the vista of rounded hills and oaks and pines and blooms that floated Jones's boat. This place was private. Jones felt the same seductive sense of enclosure the New Yorkers would feel at the grand opening a year and a half later. None of the adoring, annoying crowds he'd been drawing even for casual rounds could easily breach these green walls. Jones could laugh and swear and drink and helicopter his mashie on this side of the pearlbush and photinia, and who would know except the other guys in his foursome and their caddies? "I don't throw clubs any more, in public, though once in a while I let one fly, in a friendly round with Dad and Chick Ridley and Tess Bradshaw," Jones admitted in Down the Fairway. "And [I] get a great deal of relief from it, too, if you want the truth." But for several years, almost all of Jones's golf had devolved into exhibition matches, and he was sick of it.
Privacy in golf was a distinctly American idea. Lord knows Bobby needed it, and the executives who joined him in investing in Augusta National thought they did. "Our aim," Jones wrote, "was to develop a golf course and a retreat of such stature, and of such excellence, that men of some means and devoted to the game of golf might find the club worthwhile as an extra luxury where they might visit and play with kindred spirits from other parts of the nation."
Exclusion contradicted the St. Andrews model, of course. Golf is a melting pot in Scotland--except at the country's two private clubs, both owned by Americans. Anyone with the necessary pounds and pence could play the Old Course, and still can (although you'd better have a starting time nowadays). Townspeople pause and watch the play or walk their dogs across the nearly treeless links to the sea, and hotel guests hang their heads out of their windows and comment on the golfers and their shots. Come play, says St. Andrews. Stay away, says Augusta National. Unless you know a member.
Two days after Bob and Cliff announced their intent to build Bobby's dream course, Roberts wrote a letter to Olmsted Brothers, a golf course construction company. He already had some letterhead, which showed the Augusta National headquarters address as Suite 201, The Vanderbilt Hotel, New York City. Roberts wrote that he and his partners planned to immediately construct a golf course on a portion of their 364 acres in Augusta. The rest of the ground would be used for a second course (never built) and for building lots for Northern members.
The construction of the course was a financial high-wire act, a dangerous race to get the thing built and producing income before the underwriters' money ran out. Construction started late in November 1931 and was completed 124 days later, on May 27, 1932. Subtract Sundays, when no one worked, and thirty days when rain prevented progress. Incredibly, Augusta National was built in seventy-six frenzied working days.
After Mackenzie and Jones settled on the routing, a contract for clearing and grubbing the land was given to a local firm, and the first part of the race began. Prosper Berckmans and his crew sprinted in front of the men with axes and mattocks, and transplanted over 4,000 small trees and shrubs from fairways into roughs and around certain greens. Berckmans had been born on the property and would remain as the club's first manager; his grandfather had started the nursery seventy-three years before.
One hundred thousand dollars had been budgeted and borrowed to build the course, but a variety of factors enabled the project to come in at least $15,000 below that. (The "extra" money was spent on facilities not in the original estimate.) Not including the land or any buildings, Augusta National was built for $85,000. "One thing in our favor was the opportunity to make each dollar do double duty as the result of so many business people wanting to be identified with 'Bobby's course,'" Roberts wrote. About all some suppliers got out of the association was a muted trumpet blast: an ad (a free ad, by rights) in the first Masters program, in March 1934.
We point with pride to the remarkable results obtained at
the Augusta National Course from the use of more than
600 tons of FLORIDA PEAT HUMUS in their soils for greens
and fairways. Humus is the very foundation of
soil fertility and plant life....
Florida Humus Company, Zellwood Fl.
The owner of Florida Humus was the president of the New York Stock
Exchange and, inevitably, a friend of Cliff's. He donated eight freight cars
full of decayed organic matter; the National paid only the shipping cost.
Southern States Phosphate and Fertilizer Company,
Augusta and Savannah
Our Berckmans' Golf Special is used exclusively for
fairways and greens by the Augusta National Golf Club
Scotts Seed was selected for the Augusta National and has
been sowed on one-fourth of all other American courses
O. M. Scott & Sons Company, Marysville, Ohio
Scotts supplied the National with 8,000 pounds of heat-loving common Bermuda, Cynodon dactylon, about the only grass anyone used for a golf course or a lawn in the South in 1932. Bermuda turns tan in the late fall, so for winter color the club planted domestic rye--a winter grass--directly over the dormant Bermuda on its greens and tees.
AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB'S GREENS AND FAIRWAYS
Always in Perfect Condition! 32,000 feet of McWane cast iron
pipe in sizes 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 1/4 inch installed to
provide a constant water supply
McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company, Birmingham, Alabama
Only a few golf courses in the world had underground sprinkler systems, which eliminated the need to pull hoses long distances and made very thorough watering possible. The McWane pipe, "purchased at a price that was below manufactured cost," according to Roberts, was not replaced with modern plastic until the winter of 1970-71.
A City of Augusta raw water line running from the Savannah River to the Augusta Reservoir cut across the property's southeast corner, near the fifth hole. This undrinkable water irrigated the golf course.
You are invited to inspect BUCKNER HOSELESS FAIRWAY
WATERING on fairways of AUGUSTA NA77ONAL GOLF CLUB
Buckner Mfg Co. New York, N.Y.
Buckner plugged its sprinkler heads into quick-disconnect valves in the underground pipe. Little underground heads popped up under pressure to sprinkle greens and tees. Big heads squirted water in 200-foot diameter circles, plenty to cover the 170-foot-wide fairways.
Other things besides discounted raw materials helped keep construction costs down, and first among these was the Depression. Between the irrigation system and a spider web of drainage pipe submerged beneath almost every fairway, Augusta National required a mind-boggling amount of ditch digging. But plenty of out-of-work human mules were available to labor for, as Dan Williams recalls, "ten cent a hour, ten hours a day. Six days a week. And a lot of men standin' right there, waitin' for you to fall out, so they can take your job."
A dime an hour was actually pretty good for such work in Augusta in 1932. "The farms was payin' sixty cent a day, for hoein' or pickin' cotton, and that was all day," the old man says. "Forty cent for women."
Williams, eighty-seven and as comfortable-looking as an old upholstered chair, sits by the window in his nephew's auto glass shop on Washington Road and thinks about the good and the bad of building a golf course. His was the out-of-the-loop point of view from the bottom rung; for example, he and the other black laborers thought Cliff Roberts was the pro at the club. "We didn't know then he owned half of Wall Street." And he believed then and believes now that the Depression was caused by "five big men on Wall Street who froze up all the money.
"Me and Joe King ran a shovel pan. Two mules in the front--I drove the mules--and Joe in the back holding on to the two handles of the pan. We cut that bank out of number thirteen and spread the dirt out on the fairway."
The old swamp at the bottom of the property--what would become the twelfth green--was the main trouble spot. At one point eight mules and two tractors were stuck in the mire there.
Dan Williams and the others transplanted about 4,450 small trees and shrubs and fifty large magnolias and hollies from fairways to rough, according to Contractors and Engineers Monthly of October 1932. Other trees they just cut down. "Sometimes we dug up stumps. Some were so big it might take you two days to do one. It was so hot you could feel the water squishin' in your shoes. And with that foreman standin' over you, it was like slavery again."
A bunch of the workers would chip in to buy a half gallon of moonshine on Saturday after work; usually it cost a dollar, sometimes as little as seventy-five cents. "You shake it up and if it don't bead [form bubbles], you don't buy it," Williams explains. "That bead better stay there, too." Predictably, a lot of mule drivers and ditch diggers started back to work on Monday dead broke and with monstrous hangovers.
Mackenzie's design saved money, too, perhaps as much as the cheap labor. Sand bunkers cost a lot to build and maintain, and Mac was not disposed from a strategic or artistic standpoint to litter the landscape with too many of them; he sketched in only twenty-nine, about a third fewer than average. Mac, a frugal sort of Scotsman, coached the construction engineer, Wendell Miller, in his myriad other shortcuts in carting, drainage, seeding, sanding, labor, and manure. But probably the greatest savers of time and money in the construction of Augusta National were machines. A small fleet of Caterpillar track-driven tractors pushed over trees, graded fairways, and pushed up or hollowed out the heavy clay soil for greens, tees, valleys, and mounds. Georgalina Tractor Company supplied three Cat Sixties (sixty horsepower), three Thirties, a Twenty, and two Fifteens. The big one, the Sixty, looked substantially like a modern earthmover, except that its engine was slung forward, like the hood on a Buick. The unmuffled motor was also loud as hell and was exhausted through a pipe next to the operator's seat. Comfort aside, subtly sculpting earth with heavy metal is akin to doing needlepoint while wearing boxing gloves, but something or someone inspired the heavy equipment shapers of the National.
Roberts visited the construction site just once, on a hot, cloudless day in the spring of 1932. Diesel exhaust scented the air as Cliff and Augusta mayor-to-be Thomas Barrett, Jr., toured the grassless golf course. Picks, shovels, mules, and Cats attacked the earth, kicking up dust. Roberts and Barrett kept their coats on. They reached number nine, and something in the hole's design made Roberts uneasy. He paced 220 yards or so from the tee, the length he expected from his typical drive, and found the ground there to be unpleasantly sloped. Cliff hated the idea of a downhill, sidehill lie on a hole where bets are often doubled. In a vintage example of throwing his weight around, Roberts requested that a level area be graded into the fairway to coincide with his tee shot. "The engineer was not at all enthusiastic about accommodating me, but finally agreed to bring back the tractor and do the job," he wrote. "I have many times had occasion to congratulate myself on winning this particular argument."
Jones and Mackenzie stood sweating nearby, collaborating. As in the famous photograph of them on the eighth tee, Bobby socked out a few drives on various holes, trying to show Mackenzie the outer limits of a heroic carry. The architect might then adjust the location of the tee, bunkers, or mounds. Sean Connery definitely plays Mac in the movie: "C'mon, now, laddie, let's r-r-really give this one a r-r-ride."
Who was in charge? Mostly Mac. "Mackenzie and I managed to work as a completely sympathetic team," Jones wrote in Golf Is My Game. "Of course, there was never any question that he was the architect and I his advisor and consultant. No man learns to design a golf course simply by playing golf, no matter how well." On the other hand, Jones was a big hitter, and he played a high hook. So the preponderance of dogleg left holes on Augusta National and the tremendous advantages it offered the long driver, particularly on the par fives, could not have been a coincidence.
The digging done, the laborers planted the Scott's Bermuda seed, turned on the Buckner Hoseless watering system, and drenched ninety acres of bare fairway with unfiltered Savannah River water. The grass grew gratifyingly quickly and luxuriantly. Seeded on May 27, mowed on June 10. Dan Williams and others from the construction crew were rehired to push reel mowers, their pay increased to fifteen cents an hour. Jones and a few intimates played the course for the first time on August 26, 1932. Bobby shot 72, even par. Augusta National-the name was Bobby's idea-opened informally in December and formally a month later, when Roberts and the New York One Hundred came down on the train.
But Mackenzie never saw Augusta National wreathed in green. On January 7, 1934, at about the time Grantland Rice was proposing that Bob and Cliff run the club as they saw fit, Mackenzie died at his home in California.
Within months of its opening, Augusta National's members started talking about hosting the U.S. Open. Roberts wrote to Rice on March 30, 1933, confirming that this was not possible; the Open had always been held in June or July, and Augusta National was to be closed every summer. Two weeks later, in a letter to founding member Alfred S. Bourne, Roberts announced his and Bob's determination for the National to start its own tournament.
The tournament was Cliff's idea. He even came up with a name for it: the Masters. But Jones thought the name immodest, and he would not go along.
Excerpted from The Masters by Curt Sampson Copyright © 1999 by Curt Sampson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Curt Sampson was a junior, amateur, and college golfer. He has written three other books: The Eternal Summer, Full Court Pressure, and Hogan.
Sampson lives in Ennis, Texas, with his wife and two children.
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Curt Sampson is probably one of the best writers I have had the privilege to read. His prose flows seamlessly as he paints crystal clear images of what it must have been like to be walking the fairways at early Augusta.