Where I Watched Tiger’s Amazing, Life-Affirming Victory at the Masters

I watched it in the boarding area of Augusta Regional Airport, on my way home from the tournament. I had company:

Watching the Masters on TV is what most reporters who cover the tournament do, incidentally. They don’t watch it at the airport, as I did; they watch it in Augusta National’s press building, which has such terrific technology (and so many free Krispy Kreme donuts) that they’re seldom tempted to go outside. Half a dozen years ago, I watched the final round of the Masters on a different TV, in the living room of a rented house in Augusta, with the late Dan Jenkins, who was even less likely than the average reporter to set foot on the golf course.

I did give the course a thorough, hole-by-hole inspection on Saturday. I was especially impressed by the changes to the fifth hole. The club has not only lengthened it significantly but also thoroughly reshaped the terrain, repositioned and reconfigured the bunkers, and added two thousand new trees and other plantings. Tiger’s victory seems all the more remarkable when you consider that he bogeyed the fifth all four days.

Why Isn’t the Masters a Muddy Mess After Three Inches of Rain?

If you have the good fortune to watch the Masters in person this year, you may notice—as you wander the grounds with your mouth hanging open—that there are metal grates in a number of the greenside mounds. Those grates, and the mechanical hum that periodically emanates from them, are not proof that the tournament is a Matrix-like simulation created by green-jacketed aliens; instead, the grates provide ventilation for Augusta National’s extensive subterranean turf-conditioning system.

I saw an early version of that system while playing at the club in the late nineteen-nineties. A heavy rain had fallen during the night, and near one green I noticed a stove-size machine from which a torrent of water was gushing. A member explained that the system was called SubAir and that it had been invented a few years earlier by Marsh Benson, the club’s senior director of golf course and grounds. The machine I saw was attached to the existing network of drainage pipes beneath the putting surface and was acting like a giant Shop-Vac, hoovering moisture from below. In subsequent years, the club equipped all its greens with permanent, buried units—hence the grates. And it extended the system to much of the rest of the course

Slurping up downpours is actually not SubAir’s primary purpose—as I learned eight years ago from Kevin Crowe, who is the project director of the company that manufactures the systems. (SubAir’s headquarters are in Graniteville, SC, about fifteen miles from Augusta.) Benson’s primary original idea was to pump air into greens from underneath, and that’s what the units mainly do. “The concept is to supply fresh air into the root zone and help provide a more optimal growing environment for the plants,” Crowe explained. The first Augusta green to receive that treatment was the twelfth—a greenkeeping headache since the course was built—and Benson and his staff, after a couple of false starts, noticed rapid improvement in the health of the turf. Removing excess water, by operating in reverse, was secondary.

Is the investment worth it for other non-Augustas? The course architect Tom Doak has said that, during the planning for Sebonack Golf Club (which Doak designed with Jack Nicklaus), he offered “to quit the project” if the superintendent insisted on SubAir. Doak felt the system couldn’t possibly be useful in eastern Long Island, which is about as close as the United States comes to Scottish linksland. The director of construction education and technology for the USGA’s Green Section told me, “If you build greens properly, using our method, we don’t see a need for SubAir.” USGA greens are expensive enough as it is, he said, and their purpose is to provide exactly the kind of gas exchange and enhanced drainage that SubAir is meant to promote. Besides, he said, almost any golf course’s greens drain better, all by themselves, than its fairways or bunkers.

Still, hundreds of golf courses now have SubAir systems in one configuration or another, and Benson’s invention has found many applications outside of golf. The manager of field operations for the New York Mets once told me that he turns on his SubAir system each year in late February, five or six weeks before opening day. He also uses it to clean up after rainstorms and to ventilate the field when it’s covered for concerts. He doesn’t run it during games, however. “It’s loud,” he said, “and the louvers are right by the bullpens.”

Masters Countdown: A Reader’s Trip Report on Monday’s Practice Round

Alex Nosevich, a reader and ad-agency partner in the Boston area, attended Monday’s practice round. Back in 2014, he described an October trip that he and a group of his friends had taken to Bethpage and Yale. This was his first trip to the Masters. His report:

The Masters and Augusta National are the Disney World of golf. Everything is perfect. There are few glimpses of any behind-the-scenes infrastructure. The one difference? All the employees and tournament workers seem genuinely happy and seem to want patrons to be genuinely happy as well.

Not to brag or anything, but as I walked by Zach Johnson’s caddie he said hi to me.

The players I saw were all business. Very few of them smiled or seemed to exchange pleasantries with each other. Well, one guy seemed to be having a great time: Tiger Woods was always smiling, even exchanging a fist bump with Fred Couples when they each knocked their shots on twelve to about three feet.

Rory outdrove D.J. by about ten yards on eight. D.J. must have hit his a groove too thin.

Rickie Fowler had a Tiger-in-his-prime following during his round.

The bathrooms are the unspoken highlight. There’s a greeter at the entrance who welcomes you to the Masters. There are two attendants inside who direct you to an empty stall, and they clean the toilet seat before the next patron enters.

The food is both highly overrated and highly underpriced. A chicken biscuit, a sausage biscuit, and a sweet tea (in a souvenir plastic cup) set me back eight dollars. And the biscuits were pretty good. An awesome deal. Lunch was also cheap—nine-fifty for the chicken sandwich, chips, and a Blue Moon ale—but the chicken sandwich was cold (should be warm) and pretty bland. Did not get to experience the pimento cheese sandwich. Hopefully I’ll win the ticket lottery next year and get to try it.

Augusta is not a very golfy town. It’s the capital of golf for one week per year, but, other than that, I don’t think most people there care very much about the game.

Two must-visit places to eat: Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar is an awesome fish shack/dive. Those with hygiene issues should probably eat outside. In fact, sit outside anyway. Had raw oysters (with plenty of horseradish) and a tasty catfish po’ boy.

The other place is the Whiskey Bar (Kitchen), in downtown Augusta. Huge selection of whiskey and heart-clogging burgers, plus my kind of vibe: hipster but not douchey. Loved the contrast during Masters week of seeing everyone wearing Titleist caps and polos in a place like that. Wore my Mr. Boh T-shirt and had more than a few Bawlmer folks chat me up.

The tournament workers are the friendliest, chattiest people ever. Talked with a few and it just made the experience that much more special. Even the security guards were helpful.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with enough money, control, infrastructure and personnel.

Every building on the grounds is permanent. Not one tent in sight. No porta-potties. I think the grandstands and scoreboards and TV towers must be the only things that come down at the end of the event.

The hill along sixteen is one of the best spots to be during practice rounds. All the patrons chant for the players to skip their shots across the pond and onto the green, and all of them seem to oblige. Saw Tiger reach the green with his skipped shot.

Wish I could have had my phone to take pictures, but it’s nice to unplug for a few hours.

Lots of bird sounds, but no actual birds spotted. Creepy.

Thirteen is the greatest hole I have never played (and probably never will).

Amen Corner is everything it’s cracked up to be.

No celebrity sightings outside the ropes. Was hoping to catch a glimpse of Snoop Dogg at least. I did, however, run into some fellow Cyprian Keyes Golf Club members on twelve.

That approach into fifteen is scary.

Concessions and golf shop were incredibly efficient. In and out in no time.

The insane conditioning extends to the strip of grass between Berckmans Road and the sidewalks all around Augusta.

This is Rickie’s year for a green jacket. Trust me. I just won my March Madness pool, so I must know what I’m talking about. Right?

 

Masters Countdown: Archival Video of Augusta, Augusta National, and the Masters

Scott Nixon was an insurance salesman in Augusta, Georgia. Between the early nineteen-thirties and late forties or early fifties, he visited several dozen American places called Augusta and documented their existence in a sixteen-minute silent film, called “The Augustas.” Nixon was a member of the Amateur Cinema League. “The Augustas” is preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress and also in the University of South Carolina’s extraordinary Moving Image Research Collections. Benjamin Singleton, the production manager of the South Carolina collections, told me in an email, “Mr. Nixon traveled in his car all over the country, and sometimes went abroad with Mrs. Nixon. He liked to film trains, but, luckily, also visit the Masters and got a few good shots.”

Here’s a film Nixon shot at the Masters in the mid-fifties. Among many other things, you can pick out Jack Burke (red cardigan), Ben Hogan (that hat), and Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts (riding in one of the first golf carts, first in the distance and then close-up).

And here’s footage Nixon shot of the Masters Parade—a tournament-week Augusta staple between 1957 and 1964. You’ll recognize at least a couple of faces in that one, too.

You can easily lose yourself in the Moving Image Research Collections, as I did both yesterday and the day before. Singleton told me, “The collection started in 1980. Twentieth Century Fox wanted to make a large corporate gift (probably worth about $100 million). They decided to give their Fox Newsreel films and all outtakes to the University of South Carolina. This was sixteen years before the advent of the Fox News cable channel. There is actually no continuity between Fox News and the Fox Newsreel. The newsreel ended in 1963 when it was sunk by television news. The original Fox News camera negatives are on the old nitrocellulose film stock. This film nitrate stock, related chemically to gun cotton, is flammable and difficult to extinguish when ignited. Nitrocellulose film was the cause of some sad movie theater fires back in the day. We can’t keep the film in city limits. We keep the nitrocellulose films in two WWII ammunition magazines at U.S. Fort Jackson, which in only a couple of miles from campus.”

One more Scott Nixon film from the Masters. Lots of stuff to explore while we wait for Round One.

Masters Countdown: Marion Hollins in Action

The final-round duel between Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was the awesomest golf of the year so far, not least because Kupcho began her amazing second-nine charge with a migraine that made it impossible for her to see clearly.

The day before, the Golf Channel ran a piece by Geoff Shackelford called “Three women who had a huge impact on Bobby Jones.” Marion Hollins is one of the three, and Shackelford’s piece includes some remarkable archival video (as well as an interview with me). Watch it here.

Masters Countdown: The Woman Who Invented Augusta National

Cyril Tolley, Marion Hollins, Bobby Jones, and Glenna Collett on opening day at Pasatiempo. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

I just got back from Helsinki, where the golf season is even shorter than it is in New England. While I was away, The New Yorker‘s website ran a piece of mine about Marion Hollins, which you can read here. And you can watch silent footage of Hollins swinging a golf club at Pebble Beach in 1926 here, in a clip sent to me by Chris Buie.

Lazy Post About CBS Announcers and Eighth Grade Math

Sparco Lightweight Compass

We learned today, during the Travelers Championship broadcast, that Bryson DeChambeau uses a compass (see above) when he studies the green-slope diagrams in his yardage book. The CBS announcers, more than once, called it a protractor (see below). Calling all math teachers!

Image result for protractor

Masters Countdown: Why So Few Commercials?

Augusta National’s proposed 1966 broadcast contract with CBS required both that the tournament be shown in color and that commercials be limited to two minutes per half hour. CBS executives were appalled by the advertising provisions, which they viewed as naïve. But Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman, believed that commercials were not only less intrusive but more effective if they were used sparingly. (Roberts also felt that sixty-second commercials, the standard at the time, were too long—a view that advertisers and television networks later came to believe themselves.)

Roberts wasn’t opposed to advertising. Indeed, the club and not CBS had been the source of all the broadcast’s sponsors during the decade the tournament had been on the air. Augusta National’s earliest television contracts had called for CBS to pay the club a fee of $10,000 if it carried the broadcast on a “sustaining” basis—that is, without a commercial sponsor—and $40,000 if an acceptable advertiser could be found. CBS had failed to find a sponsor for either 1956 or 1957—a fact that may seem astonishing to a modern viewer but was not necessarily unusual at the time—so the first two broadcasts were commercial-free.

In 1958, the club stepped in and provided a sponsor of its own: American Express, which remained with the broadcast until 1962. Travelers became a sponsor in 1959. Cluett, Peabody & Co., the manufacturer of Arrow shirts, replaced American Express in 1962, and was in turn replaced by Cadillac in 1969. (Not coincidentally, American Express, Travelers, Cluett-Peabody, and General Motors—as well as Young & Rubicam, the advertising agency that represented the early sponsors—were all run by club members.) Roberts had first suggested Cadillac as a sponsor in 1958, but CBS had rejected the idea. “Television is a mass medium,” a network executive responded dismissively, “and Cadillacs are not merchandised to the masses—even though it appears that way in some parts of the country.”

Roberts felt that the best commercials were ones that fit in with the tournament as seamlessly as possible. He especially like ones that had golf themes, if not Masters themes, and he encouraged advertisers to take advantage of the club as a shooting location. The Arrow commercials were shot on the course itself shortly before the tournament began. One—a laughably sexist tableau featuring two attractive young models wearing Arrow’s “Mr. Golf” and “Miss Golf” shirts, which cost five dollars and were made of a cotton-and-Dacron blend called Decton—was filmed on the practice putting green; another featured two couples enjoying a friendly match at Amen Corner. In 1964, one Arrow commercial showed a Decton-clad young man enjoying a beverage behind the clubhouse and then hitting a ball with a Masters logo on it.

Despite CBS’s objections, the club refused to back down on the commercial issue. Roberts knew that the Miss America Pageant had won a similar concession, and he made it clear that he was prepared to change networks in order to get what he wanted, as the pageant had. CBS had to give in. The restriction became a part of the signed agreement, and a similar one has been a part of every one of the club’s television contracts since that time. The minimal number of commercials during a Masters broadcast is even more striking today than it was then. In the early sixties, the standard allocation for advertisements in a two-and-a-half hour program was eighteen minutes. Today, programs sometimes cram nearly that much advertising into a single hour.

Although the terms of the proposed contract were tough, Roberts’s aim was not to harm or humiliate CBS but rather to guarantee that the Masters would receive the sort of television treatment he felt it deserved. Most of the key provisions actually worked to the ultimate benefit of the network. With fewer commercials to work into the broadcast, the program’s directors had a broader canvas on which to work and were in far less danger of cutting away from important action—a major peril in the days before instant replays. Even the insistence on color probably helped CBS, by forcing the network to take a necessary step somewhat earlier than it would have done on its own.

Masters Countdown: How Augusta National Persuaded CBS to Broadcast the Tournament in Color

The first live nationwide broadcast of a golf tournament took place in 1954, when NBC provided limited coverage of the U. S. Open, at Baltusrol, beginning at the seventeenth green. NBC owned the broadcast rights to the Masters as well, and Clifford Roberts, who was Augusta National’s co-founder and chairman, wanted his tournament to be carried on television, too.

NBC, however, was not interested. The network’s (understandable) feeling may have been that one major money-losing golf program was enough. Still, Roberts persisted, and early in 1956, under pressure from the club, Tom S. Gallery, who was the director of sports at NBC, wrote to Roberts to say that NBC was declining to exercise the renewal option in its current contract. That meant, Gallery wrote, that Augusta National was “free to make such arrangements as it sees fit with respect to the radio and television rights to the 1956 Tournament.”  The club hastily made a new agreement, with CBS, and the first Masters television broadcast took place less than a month later. Golf fans in most of the country were able to watch live as Jack Burke beat Ken Venturi by a single stroke.

CBS has carried the tournament ever since, although Augusta National renegotiates the every year. The closest Roberts ever came to moving the tournament to a different network occurred in the early sixties, and it involved the issue of broadcasting in color. Augusta National wanted the Masters to be shown in color, and CBS did not want to make the change. The club had begun pushing for color in the early sixties without success, and in a letter in 1964 Roberts called color the club’s “most difficult problem” with the network. Jones suggested, the same year, that the club might be able to circumvent CBS by showing the tournament on closed-circuit television in movie theaters, as was sometimes done with boxing matches. Roberts looked into the idea, but eventually rejected it. “I cannot visualize golf fans buying a five dollar ticket in order to spend an afternoon in a theater to watch the Masters Tournament or any other tournament,” he wrote to Jones. “They do it in connection with a world championship fight, about which there is always great excitement, but I question if golf fans will ever get excited to that extent about a golf tournament.”

In resisting color, CBS argued (among other things) that the number of cameras it used on the course would have to be cut back, and that the number of holes shown on the broadcast would therefore have to be reduced. As the club discovered, that claim was disingenuous. While it was true that CBS could handle only a limited number of color cameras with the two remote broadcast units that it used at that time, the problem could be solved by adding a third unit, a change that would have a cost but would be relatively easy. The club also felt that CBS had overstated the probable expense of switching to color.

That CBS put up a fight over color was in many ways surprising, because CBS, in 1939, had developed the world’s first color-television system. That system was based on a camera in which a wheel containing red, blue, and green filters was spun at high speed before the lens. In 1950, the Federal Communications Commission, after lengthy hearings, chose CBS’s system as the national color-television standard. In doing so, it rejected a competing system that had been developed by RCA, which owned NBC. The RCA system—which used three separate tubes—had the advantage of producing images that looked good on black-and-white sets, while CBS’s system did not. But the FCC believed that the RCA system was unreliable, and CBS carried the day.

The victory was short-lived. CBS made a few attempts to broadcast in color, but its system didn’t catch on. Then RCA found ways to improve and simplify its own system. Late in 1953, the FCC reversed itself and approved the new RCA standard, and real color broadcasting began. NBC moved aggressively, investing in new equipment and marketing itself as the color network. (Hence the origin of the network’s peacock logo). It had an extra incentive to do so, since the rise of color programming increased demand for color TV sets manufactured by the network’s corporate parent, RCA. Still, the transition was slow. The number of color sets in use in the United States did not reach a million until 1962.

CBS, which had been stung by its early foray into color, held back. The network’s hesitancy did not immediately appear short-sighted, because for a time color seemed as though it might not catch on at all. By the early sixties, however, the club believed that CBS was lagging. The program’s sponsors encouraged Roberts to push for color, and one of them warned him that the broadcast would come to be viewed as “second rate” if the change were not made soon. In January of 1964, William Kerr, who was the chairman of Augusta National’s television committee, wrote to William MacPhail, who was the director of sports at CBS, “I am deeply concerned that if we continue to stand still on this score it will be detrimental to the best interests of the Tournament, the sponsors, and CBS.” Since 1960, the club had commissioned a movie of each tournament, mainly because Roberts wanted to create a permanent visual record of the Masters. (CBS had been offered the opportunity to produce the films for the club but had turned it down.) In 1964, he asked the director of the films to send copies to CBS, to show the network “what this place looks like in color during the Tournament.”

At around the same time, CBS was coming under similar pressure from another major event on its schedule, the Miss America Pageant. The pageant’s owners wanted a color broadcast, and they asked CBS, which had carried the program for years, to submit a proposal. CBS’s cost estimate was so high that pageant officials decided the network was trying to make the pageant’s sponsors bear most of the cost of upgrading the entire CBS system. Largely as a result, they moved the program to NBC—a great blow to CBS, since the pageant broadcast had become the top-rated special program in history, with ratings nearly as high as those of the two episodes of the Ed Sullivan Show on which the Beatles appeared in 1964.

Unhappiness over the color issue led Augusta National to demand a renegotiation of its contract with CBS. The club’s side of the bargaining was handled by a young New York attorney named J. Richard Ryan, who had represented the Miss America Pageant in its own fight with the network. Not surprisingly, the contract that resulted from those negotiations required CBS to show the tournament in color. Even more important, ultimately, was a provision that limited CBS to just two minutes of commercials per half hour and prohibited “chain breaks,” which were brief commercials sold by local stations. More about all that in another post.

Master’s Countdown: The Crow’s Nest

Augusta National’s clubhouse exists today only because when the club began, in 1931, Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones didn’t have enough money to tear it down and replace it with something nice. The building is smaller than it looks; much of its apparent bulk comes from its porches, which are nine and a half feet deep and run all the way around. In 1931, it contained fourteen rooms, but most of them were cramped and dark, and there was no kitchen, no electricity, and no plumbing. The ground floor had been described by its builder, in 1857, as a basement, and the entire building had been unoccupied since 1918. Roberts and Jones hired a local architect to draw plans for a huge, fancy replacement—and they would have built it if at that point they hadn’t owed money to just about everyone for just about everything, including toilet paper.

The club’s financial situation improved as the nation’s did, and toward the end of the Great Depression a group of members donated fifty thousand dollars toward a major renovation of the building. This was a great stroke of luck. Roberts wrote later that, if the project had not been undertaken before the war, “there is no telling when it might ever have been accomplished.” He also estimated that if the renovation had been postponed it would have cost at least four times as much.

The final step in the project was the conversion of the building’s attic into minimal sleeping quarters for a handful of members. This dormitory, which came to be called the Crow’s Nest, was the first overnight lodgings on the grounds. Before it was completed, members and guests from elsewhere usually stayed in one of the hotels downtown. The dormitory was finished at around the time the club reopened following the war.

The Crow’s Nest is still sometimes used by members and guests, although the steepness of the staircase limits its popularity among those with unreliable knees.  During the Masters, it’s offered to any of the tournament’s amateur competitors who wish to stay there, and at night they are inevitably drawn downstairs to thumb through the books in the library, study the photographs on the walls, stand for a while in the champions’ locker room, and worry about teeing off the next morning in front of the multitude gathered around the first tee. Players who slept in the Crow’s Nest as amateurs and went on to win the tournament as professionals include Ben Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus, Mark O’Meara, Craig Stadler, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson.

I’ve stayed in the Crow’s Nest, too. When I was working on my book The Making of the Masters, in the late nineteen-nineties, I slept in quite a few places at the club, among them Roberts’s old “suite,” a couple of the cabins, and the rooms known then as the Bachelor Quarters. The Crow’s Nest was my favorite by far. Bed, bathroom, card table, TV, comfortable chair, bar at the bottom of the stairs—what more do you need?

Renovation of the Crow’s Nest was followed by a far more ambitious project to add beds. The quality and availability of local hotel rooms had become unpredictable, and Roberts believed that the club needed to become more self-sufficient. In 1945, Edward J. Barber, a member who owned a steamship line in New York, surprised Roberts by offering to lend the club a hundred thousand dollars on favorable terms and to leave the club enough money in his will to cancel the debt. (Upon his death, in 1953, he actually bequeathed twice as much.) Barber explained that his years as a golfer were running out, and he wanted the club’s facilities to improve while he was still around to enjoy them.