The original plans for Augusta National Golf Club called for two eighteen-hole golf courses—a Championship Course and a Ladies Course—plus tennis courts, outdoor squash courts, an eighteen-hole pitch-and-putt course, a bridle path, a couple of dozen houses for members, and, possibly, an on-site hotel. In addition, $100,000 was to be spent on a clubhouse—which was needed because the existing manor house, which had been built in 1857 by a horticulturalist and nurseryman named Dennis Redmond, was going to be torn down.
It seems unimaginable today, but demolishing the old manor house wouldn’t have been a reckless act. Although the building looks imposing in photographs, it’s quite small. Much of its apparent bulk comes from its porches, which are nine-and-a-half feet deep and run all the way around on both floors, and from large wings added later on each side. In 1931, the building had fourteen rooms, but most were cramped and dark, and there was no kitchen, no electricity, and no plumbing. The ground floor had been referred to by the builder as a “basement,” and it looked like one. A consulting engineer, after making an inspection, concluded that most members “would probably be better satisfied in a modern building with all modern conveniences.” Few disagreed.
Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, the club’s co-founders, hired Willis Irvin, a local architect, to draw plans for a new clubhouse. A detailed rendering of his design appeared in the Augusta Chronicle in 1931:
The building was to have two large wings, an exterior of white-painted brick, a slate roof, several impressive chimneys, and a vast neoclassical portico supported by four tall columns. The most striking feature was to be an enormous men’s locker room containing four hundred lockers, some double and some single. According to the Chronicle, Jones had been involved in the planning, and the locker room was going to incorporate “the best features of the clubs he has visited.” There were to be nooks and corners in which golfers could gather before, after, and between rounds to play cards, drink gin, eat lunch, watch the action on the course through large bay windows, and converse. A separate wing was to contain similar facilities for women.
You can’t see much detail in the poorly reproduced newspaper image higher up in this post, but several of the private houses that Willis Irvin designed were similar to what he had in mind for Augusta National. (According to the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, he specialized in “elegant rural estates,” often “built for wealthy northern clients” who wanted winter residences in the South.) The Irvin house in the photo below, called White Hall, is in Aiken, South Carolina. It was built in 1928, and in many ways it’s a scaled-down version of what he proposed for Augusta National:
Here’s another similar Irvin house, from Hartsville, South Carolina, built about 1931:
Not everyone was eager to tear down the old manor house. Harry M. Atkinson, of Atlanta, who was part of Augusta National’s tiny group of early members, wrote to Roberts in 1931 to say that he and his wife loved the building and believed it should be renovated rather than razed. “We both were greatly impressed with the avenue of magnolias leading up to the old Berckmans residence and the planting around the house,” he wrote. (Prosper Berckmans, a Belgian horticulturalist and landscape architect, had bought the property from Redmond in 1858 and turned it into Fruitlands Nurseries, which by 1931 had been out of business for a little more than a decade.) “We think that all of that, including the house, ought to be preserved carefully,” Atkinson continued. “It can be made a perfect gem, using the old house for a club house. You could not reproduce what is there for any amount of money.”
Atkinson also said that he felt “a great many golf clubs” had been ruined by the construction of “club houses that are too elaborate and too luxurious”—an observation that may be even more apt today than it was then. In response to Atkinson, Roberts wrote that that the house would be hard to save but that, for financial reasons, nothing was likely to be done in a hurry. Still, early master plans for the Augusta National property included a “Site for Club House”:
The image above is a detail from a subdivision plan prepared by Olmsted Bros. in 1932. The footprint of Irvin’s proposed clubhouse is shown in black. Just above it is the driveway circle, which still exists, and the near end of Magnolia Lane; to the left is the first tee; at roughly eight o’clock (shaped like upside-down rabbit ears) is the ninth green; directly below the clubhouse is the tenth tee; to the right are the proposed tennis courts. Here’s some of the same area as it actually appeared a couple of years later, in a photograph taken from an airplane:
The demolition plan would have proceeded if the club had had the money to carry it out. But Roberts and Jones were unable to sign up more than a handful of members, and therefore had to make do with their crumbling old manor house (and no tennis). Thank goodness.