Before You Watch That, Watch This

From 2:00-3:00 EST on Saturday, immediately before the regular tournament broadcast, be sure to watch The Masters: Legends of Magnolia Lane, starring Bill Macatee, on CBS. (I helped write it and put it together.) There’s so much cool historical material about the tournament (of course) that we didn’t have room for everything. I was sorry to lose a couple of Jack Nicklaus’s reminiscences about his first Masters win, in 1963. (Maybe everybody else already knows these stories, but I hadn’t heard them.)

Nicklaus on his third round that year: “We got on the eighteenth green and Willie Peterson is my caddie and I’m color-blind, so I couldn’t tell whether it was red or green on the scoreboard. I kept looking up at the board. I saw all these ones and I said, ‘Willie,’ I said, ‘how many of those ones are red?’ He said, ‘Just you, Boss.'”

Nicklaus on throwing his hat in the air the next day, after winning: “I looked at that on film, and I said, ‘What an artificial move.’ You know, everybody always threw their hat, so I figured maybe I’ll throw my hat. You know, there wasn’t anything spontaneous about it. . . . I just said, ‘Well, I gotta do something.'”

And that’s just the stuff we left out!

Masters (Weekend) Countdown: Who Was Clifford Roberts? (Part Four)

Charles, Clifford, Alpheus, Dorothy, Key, John, and Rebecca Roberts in 1907.

[Clifford Roberts was the co-founder, with Bobby Jones, of Augusta National Golf Club, and he was the chairman of both the club and the Masters from their beginning, in the early 1930s, until his death, in 1977. It’s often said that Jones conceived of the club and Roberts financed it, but that’s not the case. Roberts, unlike Jones, grew up poor, and during the club’s early years he was close to broke. But Roberts idolized Jones, and he was determined to help him fulfill his dream of building a golf course in the South that could host a U. S. Open. That the club and the Masters survived the Great Depression and the Second World War is a tribute mainly to Roberts’s determination to keep them going. Time, as Roberts measured it, began the day he met Bobby Jones. But the years leading up to that encounter are in many ways as interesting as the years that followed it. They are the years that shaped the man who shaped Augusta National and the Masters.]

In May, 1915, a little less than two years after their mother’s suicide, Clifford Roberts’s sister, Dorothy, began to keep a diary of her own. She was fourteen years old. Her father had married a considerably younger woman, from Missouri, and had moved the family to Kansas City, where he continued to pursue a bewildering variety of ill-considered business ventures. Clifford’s older brother, now called Jack, had married about a year earlier; he and his wife were living in Kansas City, too, but would soon move to California. Clifford made occasional appearances at home but spent most of his time selling men’s clothing on the road in a territory that covered much of the Midwest. His salary in 1916 was $1.30 a month plus commissions, and he did so well that he frequently was able to make substantial gifts to members of the family—especially to Dorothy, who had long looked up to him as more of a father figure than her father.

At different times over the next decade, Dorothy, Key, and Alpheus followed Jack to California, and all eventually settled permanently on the West Coast. Only Clifford looked east. As he traveled around the Midwest and South selling suits, he was planning a new life for himself. He studied the biographies of wealthy men, hoping to learn the secrets of their success. He decided—as he later told a relative—that he would rather be a little fish in a big pond than a big fish in a little pond. He assessed the advantages and disadvantages of living in various cities, eventually deciding that he would need to move to New York because New York was where the money was. He invested much of his earnings in nice clothes for himself, because he had decided that in order to make his way in the big city he would have to look the part. He memorized information about leading colleges and universities, so that he would not embarrass himself when introduced to men who had been far better educated than he. With the same unblinking focus that would later characterize his planning for the Masters Tournament, he studied the life he wanted to lead and then set out to lead it.

Clifford’s assault on New York was not an immediate success. In 1917, when he was twenty-three, he sold his share of some Iowa property that he and the other children had inherited from their mother’s side of the family, and with that money as a stake he set out to make his fortune in the East. Before the end of the month, he was back in Kansas City again and probably close to broke. “Think Cliff is going to make some money real soon,” Dorothy wrote. “Surely hope he does, for he has had so much hard luck.”

Shortly afterward, he tried again, and this time he stayed. He rented a room in a small residential hotel, and by early April, 1918, he was working for what Dorothy in her diary called “the Oklahoma-Wyoming Oil Company” and expecting “to make a small fortune.” One month later, the draft intervened. He was trained as a private in the Signal Corps. at Camp Hancock, in Augusta, Georgia—his first exposure to the small southern city that would come to dominate his life. He was shipped to France in October, 1918, roughly a month before the Armistice, and was shipped home six and a half months later, following an entirely uneventful tour of duty. (He passed some of the time by learning French from a Canadian soldier.) He was discharged on May 7, 1919.

After his return, he at first divided his time between New York and Chicago, where he was involved in a variety of investment deals. None amounted to much. A little over a year later, in a Christmas letter to Dorothy, he wrote, “1920 has been a rather rough and terrible year for me—the stock market has been shot to pieces and general business badly upset.” He was spending much of his modest income to help support various family members, including his father, who had suffered a stroke and would soon die. (Charles was buried in Kansas City. Of the five siblings, only Clifford and Alpheus—who was still living in Kansas City with their step-mother—attended his funeral. Dorothy scarcely noted the death in her diary.)

By 1922, Roberts was a principal in a struggling partnership called Roberts & Co., which that year had income of less than a thousand dollars. His net income the following year was a little more than $2,400. He made a little more than $7,500 in 1924. By 1925, he was associated with a New York firm called Banta & Morrin and was calling himself a “financial negotiator” and “stock-and-bond broker.” A nephew has said that Roberts in the early twenties put together an oil-and-gas deal that made him $50,000. That didn’t happen, but the nephew may be thinking of 1929, when Roberts’s tax return shows that he was paid a $55,000 commission by an investment-banking firm called F. A. Willard & Co. That year, his total net income amounted to just under $70,000—by far his most successful year up to that point.

Unfortunately, 1929 was a disastrous year in which to make a fortune. Roberts invested much of his windfall in securities that turned sour during the October Crash or in the dreary years that followed it; his 1929 tax return lists a number of stocks that he bought shortly before Black Thursday and sold at substantial losses shortly after. In 1930 and 1931, trading losses more than wiped out all his other income, leaving him with a cumulative net loss for those two years of more than $21,000. By way of comparison, in 1931, the year the club was formed, Bobby Jones had net income of more than $140,000—far more than Roberts’s total earnings during the fourteen years he had been in New York. The popular conception is that Roberts was rich and Jones was scarcely employed when the club began; in fact, the reverse was true.

During that difficult period, golf was a part of the New York social milieu to which Roberts was striving to belong. He had first encountered the game as a youngster in California, where he and his brother had caddied for fifteen cents a bag. He taught himself to play as caddies always have, by hitting found balls with abandoned clubs during the idle hours between loops. When he started to make some money in New York, he joined Knollwood Country Club, in Westchester County, and worked on his game and social connections there. At some point in the mid-twenties, he attended an exhibition at Knollwood in which Jones played—an exhibition that may have been the occasion of their first meeting. “Each time I saw Bob or read his public comments, I respected and liked him more,” he wrote in his book about the club. “I watched part of the final of the 1926 USGA Amateur Championship at Baltusrol, in New Jersey, in which George Von Elm defeated Jones two and one. Shortly afterwards, I was one of some half-dozen who were having a drink with the loser and trying to think of something comforting to say to him.” Jones’s effect on Roberts was similar to that, two decades later, of, Eisenhower, who also became a close friend. In an interview with a researcher at Columbia University in the late sixties, Roberts said of Eisenhower that “people just instinctively want to help him and to gain favor in his eyes by doing things that might please him.” Roberts could as easily have been describing his initial attraction to Jones.

Jones in those years often spoke of his desire to build a championship course in the South. One day in 1930, Roberts suggested building the course in Augusta, where both men coincidentally had played winter golf while staying at Bon Air-Vanderbilt Hotel, which was run by a mutual friend. Roberts, after his stint in the Army, had returned to Augusta for occasional golf vacations; he liked the city in part because it was warm in the winter yet far enough north to be easily reachable by overnight train from New York. Jones liked Augusta’s mild winter climate and believed that a club there might afford him some privacy—a scarcity at home in Atlanta. (“It had got so that he couldn’t even plan a weekday game without feeling like he was playing an exhibition,” Roberts told the Saturday Evening Post in 1951.) They agreed to proceed.

The notion of engaging in any sort of continuing project with Jones must have held extraordinary appeal for Roberts. Not many years before, he had been selling clothes and living out of a suitcase in a territory that extended from Chicago to New Orleans. Now he was living in the biggest, richest, most exciting city in the country and helping to implement a dream of one of the most celebrated athletes in the world. Years later, Roberts reprinted for club members a chapter from the book Farewell to Sport, by Paul Gallico. The chapter, called “One Hero,” was about Jones, and it was probably Roberts’s single favorite text. He quoted from it again in his book about the club: “I am, by nature, a hero-worshipper, as, I guess, most of us are, but in all the years of contact with the famous ones of sport I have found only one that would stand up in every way as a gentleman as well as a celebrity, a fine, decent, human being as well as a newsprint personage, and who never once, since I have known him, has let me down in my estimate of him. That one is Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., the golf-player from Atlanta, Georgia. And Jones in his day was considered the champion of champions.”

Roberts was, by nature, a hero-worshipper, too. He took enormous personal satisfaction from making himself indispensable to Jones (as he would again later with Dwight Eisenhower). Roberts’s deep, genuine, and enduring commitment to the game of golf did not predate their friendship. He said himself in later years that if he had never met Jones he would never have been more than a weekend golfer. He adopted the ideals of his hero and made them his own.

The Augusta project must have had a further powerful appeal for Roberts: It gave him an opportunity to become acquainted with and make himself useful to a large group of lesser heroes, the successors of the pioneering capitalists whose lives he had studied as a young man. Some of those same men would later become investment clients of his, but any personal financial gain would have meant less to Roberts than the growing ease with which he was able to move within their once inaccessible world. The club was so time-consuming from the start that its net effect on his investment business was probably negative. But he did not regret the loss. It was the life, not the money, that he wanted.

Masters Countdown: Who Was Clifford Roberts? (Part Three)

Charles, Clifford, Alpheus, Dorothy, Key, John, and Rebecca Roberts in 1907.

[Clifford Roberts was the co-founder, with Bobby Jones, of Augusta National Golf Club, and he was the chairman of both the club and the Masters from their beginning, in the early 1930s, until his death, in 1977. It’s often said that Jones conceived of the club and Roberts financed it, but that’s not the case. Roberts, unlike Jones, grew up poor, and during the club’s early years he was close to broke. But Roberts idolized Jones, and he was determined to help him fulfill his dream of building a golf course in the South that could host a U. S. Open. That the club and the Masters survived the Great Depression and the Second World War is a tribute mainly to Roberts’s determination to keep them going. Time, as Roberts measured it, began the day he met Bobby Jones. But the years leading up to that encounter are in many ways as interesting as the years that followed it. They are the years that shaped the man who shaped Augusta National and the Masters.]

Late in 1909, Charles Roberts received fifteen thousand dollars for the family’s old farm in Kansas and was able to pay off a number of debts. But his financial situation remained precarious, and a year later it took a sharp turn for the worse. On October 30, 1910, Clifford, who was sixteen, went to Sunday school at the Presbyterian church and then escorted his mother to the regular service. On the way, he realized he had left his gloves at home and ran back to get them. He lit a kerosene lamp in his and John’s dark room—which the two boys had just begun to set up for themselves in the attic of the family’s small house—and dropped a match on the floor, starting a fire that consumed the house. The twins sounded the alarm. “We got back to see its finish,” Rebecca wrote in her diary, which someone had the foresight to rescue. Charles dragged the family’s cherished player piano out of the house by himself. Almost everything else was destroyed, and there was no insurance. The local dentist, who had been doing dental work for Rebecca and Dorothy, “made us a Christmas present” of his fee.

The fire marks the beginning of Clifford’s life as an adult. He promised his mother he would try to make up for his negligence by doing as much as he could to help out. He was sixteen years old and had left school for good the previous spring. He continued to work on the family’s farm—which was failing—and to help his father with various business ventures. He began to work as a clerk in a dry-goods store in Blessing, a town several miles to the north. (“He actually sold more goods during their 10 days sale than any other clerk or the two owners themselves,” his mother noted with pride.) In July, he went to Galveston for a three-week course in business skills. He talked about teaming up with an acquaintance to run a meat company in Blessing. His name began to appear less often in his mother’s diary—which she continued to keep for another year and then abandoned—because he was now spending more time away from the rented house that had become the family’s home.

In that house, not quite three years after the fire, Rebecca Roberts rose quietly from her bed at four o’clock one morning, crept downstairs without waking her husband or her children, walked behind the house to a spot near the garage, and shot herself in the chest with a shotgun. It was three days after her forty-fourth birthday. No one in the family heard. Charles found her body when he awoke, at five. “The coroner’s verdict was that the deceased came to her death by her own hand,” an article on the front page of the Palacios Beacon said. “Letters afterward found written by Mrs. Roberts addressed to each member of the family showed that the act was premeditated. Each of the letters was an expression of affectionate farewell.” The letters, which were brief, were written in pencil in steady script on small sheets of lined notepaper.

Dear Dorothy —
Mama’s love goes on just
the same & you must be a
good girl & do as Papa
says. Stay with friends
I chose for you in life.
            Love Mama

The tone seems chilling, especially when compared with the tender informality of Rebecca’s diary: “Dorothy often draws me to rocking chair & when she’s in my arms—then she takes up my fingers in left hand & taps end of one with her small one—meaning that she wants me to sing.”

Rebecca’s note to Clifford was equally restrained:

Dear Clifford
I write to beg you to
not grieve but be a
man in time of trial.
Papa will need you.
 Be a sober upright
son & all will be well.
I know Ma wants you
to come to her.
         Love Mama

“Ma,” in the last sentence, is Maria Lyman Key, Rebecca’s mother, with whom Clifford had lived during much of the family’s seven-month stay in California nine years before. Clifford must have been considering a move or a visit, but there is no indication in the family’s records that he ever went. Charles, with Rebecca gone, would have needed him close at hand. Maria Key died in early 1915, a little less than a year and a half after her daughter’s suicide.

What a desolate experience it must have been to read those flat, emotionless notes on the morning of Rebecca’s death. Since the fire, Clifford had felt a disproportionate share of responsibility for the family’s misfortunes; Rebecca’s brief note would not have lightened his burden. Late in his life, he commissioned a portrait of his mother based on an old photograph and hung it in his apartment in the Bahamas. In 1904, when he was ten, he had made her a small paper heart and inscribed it to his “dear Mama.” Dorothy found the heart among their mother’s things one day and sent it to him. “What a sweet person Mother was!” Roberts wrote back in wistful acknowledgment. “I’m glad to be reminded that at least on one occasion I let her know how I felt about her.” The years in Palacios had become a void in his memory. Once he left, he never went back.

[to be continued]

Masters Countdown: Who Was Clifford Roberts? (Part Two)

Charles, Clifford, Alpheus, Dorothy, Key, John, and Rebecca Roberts in 1907.

[continued]

In the fall of 1904, when Clifford Roberts was ten, his mother, Rebecca, took the children to live with relatives of hers in California. She was acting on the advice of a doctor in Kansas, who had said that a trip and “a complete change” might improve her still mysterious condition. Not long before, she had written in her diary, “I am going down hill as rapidly as possible and there seems to be nothing to stop it.” They made the journey by train and stayed for seven months, while Charles Roberts tended business interests elsewhere. (He wrote occasionally, sent fifteen dollars for Christmas, and sold most of the family’s furniture—including the dining-room linoleum—while they were gone.) For part of that period, Clifford lived not with his mother, brothers, sister, aunt, and cousins, but with his mother’s parents, whose house was in Lakeside, a train ride away. He made brief visits to his mother by himself every week or two, attended a different school from the other children, and seemed to enjoy, or at any rate not object to, his independence. Before returning to Kansas the following spring, the boys traded their schoolbooks for a checkers set, with which they occupied themselves on the long ride home.

John and Clifford both worked outside their house from early ages. They did odd jobs, raised and sold chickens and dogs, made deliveries for their father, served as clerks in the family’s various stores, milked cows, raised pigs, caddied at local golf courses, and sold onions. They helped with the harvest when their father was farming. They worked to pay for their own schoolbooks and clothes. They sold calling cards and the Saturday Evening Post, played baseball for a share of the gate receipts, and, as they got older, accompanied their father on business expeditions. They inherited his entrepreneurial drive. One day, the brothers caught another boy selling trout from a line they had set in a stream. Instead of starting a fight—something they usually did when opportunities arose—they sold him the line and invested the proceeds in a new one. Shortly after the family moved from Kansas to Oklahoma, in 1906, Rebecca noted that Clifford, now twelve, was “using his Spanish selling goods to Mexicans working on R. R.” By then, Clifford was spending long periods working at real jobs for adult wages. He and his older brother both quit school before the end of ninth grade.

1906 Letter from Charles told us he had traded for store and was busy invoicing. . . .Clifford has 10 names for calling cards & magazine—will get 3 premiums. . . .Clifford not able to go to school in afternoon—so sorry for they had a geography test. . . .I made the best bread ever. . . . I was in bed all day—very dizzy & sick—but not so bad as when Charles was at home. . . . Could not get a man to clean carpets—so Clifford undertook the task—a hard one—but he stuck to it until they were clean & nice. . . . Clifford shot his first duck. Proud. . . . . Boys met traveling circus wagons & worked for tickets. Took twins—thought it fine. Right next to our block. . . ..Gave children worm medicine. . . . John & Clifford went to see a boy fire off a “Japanese mine” firecracker. It shot into John’s face—burning off eyebrows & lashes. . . . . Disappointed by new minister’s use of slang in pulpit. . . . We have hopes of John being cured—he is so young—but it is very uncertain.

Clifford grew up fast. He got into fistfights, stole rides on freight trains, chewed gum at school, smoked, entertained poorly-behaved friends at home while his mother was away, prompted one of his teachers to strike him, and shot pool—“such troubles as all boys make,” according to Rebecca, who smiled at the shenanigans of all her children and was a gentle disciplinarian. In 1909, she wrote, without apparent alarm, “All schools having a war with rubber shooters & paper wads. Clifford sent home. Charles went back with him—may have special tutor.” When the boys got into trouble, she seldom sided with their accusers—noting, for example, that Clifford’s teacher had returned only thirty of sixty marbles she had confiscated.

Despite occasional forays into juvenile delinquency, Clifford was the member of the Roberts family who on Sunday mornings was the most likely to be found in church. “Clifford went alone to Sunday School,” is a typical diary entry—this one from when he was seven. He won Sunday-school prizes, went to Christian Endearment picnics, often followed Sunday school with a regular service at a different church, and escorted younger siblings to Sunday school on days when no one else was going. Shortly after the family moved to Oklahoma, he took his little sister, Dorothy, to a Baptist church—a novelty for both of them—then later went with his father and older brother to watch a group of recent converts being baptized in a lake. “Clifford went to Catholic Mass with Carl Lully,” Rebecca wrote in 1908, when Clifford was fourteen and the family was living in Emporia, Kansas. “First time he had seen their service & quite impressed.” His steady church attendance won him special privileges, including an invitation to a fancy social at the home of his Sunday school teacher. “A four course luncheon served,” his mother wrote. “Everything of finest—finger bowl passed by maid. Brick ice cream, deviled eggs, angel food, candy, nuts, etc., etc.”

In their free time, Clifford and various siblings went with their father to see a baseball game “between fat & lean men,” saw a tent production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, saw pictures of Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration at a movie theater in California, and took part in an Epworth League temperance program. Clifford didn’t mind performing before a crowd. At a patent-medicine show in 1903, he “helped with a spiritualistic exhibition.” In 1907, the family went two evenings in a row to see a show put on by a “hypnotist & mind reader” named Dr. Glick. Clifford, alone among his family members, volunteered to be a subject and, according to the diary, “did funny things—picking strawberries from floor—peddling them—motioning a man across a tight wire, etc.” On the third evening, Clifford went back alone and volunteered again.

Clifford appears to have had no trouble making friends. The diary mentions many playmates and overnight guests—including more than a few whom his mother considered “bad boys” or “roughs.” Clifford enjoyed and was good at marbles, football, basketball, and baseball, and he and his older brother were always arranging games of one kind or another. Clifford’s popularity may have been eased by the fact that he was strong and good-looking—although he was considered less handsome than John. His sharply arched eyebrows, which would contribute to a perennial look of alarm in his sixties and seventies, made him seem playful and mischievous when he was young. He parted his hair in the middle and had a strong taste for nice clothes. When he earned extra money, he often spent it on a tie, a shirt, or a suit. (“John & Clifford went shopping for Spats, sweater, cap & cruet tray,” Rebecca wrote in 1909.) In eighth grade, he attended a school May Day celebration wearing a “silk hat & Knickerbockers,” and in more than one family photograph he has the only pocket handkerchief. He began to meet girls. “Clifford went to dance—to look on—but he danced.”

Maintaining friendships was hard, however. The children changed schools and neighborhoods constantly, and they seldom finished a year with the same companions they had begun it with. Many of the family’s many moves were not only sudden—“Charles wrote for us to pack up & we commenced”—but also complete: Charles sometimes sold or auctioned much of their furniture rather than take it with them. All the moves were stressful, some more than others. (“Three moves is worse than a fire,” was a nineteenth-century American proverb.) Two days after Charles sold the family’s Emporia house—a showplace that he and Rebecca had scarcely finished fixing up—the new owners, along with their children and a maid, moved in with the Robertses. The two families shared a roof for more than two weeks, then Rebecca and the children went to stay with one of her sisters for another three weeks before setting out by train, at one o’clock in the morning, for yet another new life—this time, in a five-room house on a ten-acre “orange ranch” in Palacios, Texas, a small, dusty town on the Gulf of Mexico between Galveston and Corpus Christi. “Alpheus said, ‘Mama, you look as though you did not know anything,’ and that is just how I feel.”

1909 Had to take one small dose of sleeping medicine—the last. . . .  Am so sorry Dorothy & Key are to be disappointed again in not having a birthday party—but have neither money nor strength. . . . Received $50 interest on $1,000 note in Kansas.  Boys could not have begun high school else. . . .  John & Clifford sold $8.35 of fine figs—quite cheering. . . .  Charles is worn to a sick shadow, nervous dyspepsia wreck. Is uneasy all day & night. Has sued F. M. Elliott for $4,220.00 & we are living as skimped as possible in a land of strangers. . . .  Clifford saved life of a woman (in childbirth) by calling Dr. when her children did not know how. . . .  My hair is nearly all coming out—am so very sorry—for it was my one beauty.

[to be continued]

Masters Countdown: Who Was Clifford Roberts? (Part One)

Charles, Clifford, Alpheus, Dorothy, Key, John, and Rebecca Roberts in 1907, when Clifford was thirteen.

Clifford Roberts was the co-founder, with Bobby Jones, of Augusta National Golf Club, and he was the chairman of both the club and the Masters from their beginning, in the early 1930s, until his death, in 1977. It’s often said that Jones conceived of the club and Roberts financed it, but that’s not the case. Roberts, unlike Jones, grew up poor, and during the club’s early years he was close to broke. But Roberts idolized Jones, and he was determined to help him fulfill his dream of building a golf course in the South that could host a U. S. Open. That the club and the Masters survived the Great Depression and the Second World War is a tribute mainly to Roberts’s determination to keep them going. Time, as Roberts measured it, began the day he met Bobby Jones. But the years leading up to that encounter are in many ways as interesting as the years that followed it. They are the years that shaped the man who shaped Augusta National and the Masters.

Herbert Warren Wind wrote in Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker that Clifford Roberts was born in Chicago. (He wasn’t.) Ross Goodner wrote in Golf World that his real name was Charles D. Clifford Roberts. (Not true, although Goodner was close.) Frank Christian—a photographer and the co-author, with Cal Brown, of Augusta National & The Masters—wrote that Roberts as a child spent time in an orphanage. (He never did.) Charles Price, in A Golf Story, wrote that Roberts graduated from high school. (He didn’t finish ninth grade.) Curt Sampson, in The Masters, wrote that Roberts made $50,000 in 1923 and used the money to buy a one-sixth partnership in an investment firm called the Reynolds Company. (Roberts made $2,441.63 in 1923; Reynolds & Co.—the correct name—didn’t exist until 1931; Roberts went to work there in the mid-thirties; he became the firm’s ninth general partner on May 1, 1941.)

All these errors, and many others, are understandable. Roberts was stingy with biographical detail, and he almost never talked about his early years, even among friends. Jack Stephens, who was the club’s chairman between 1991 and 1998 and was close to Roberts during the last fifteen years of his life, told me, “I just figured Cliff had never been a child.”

Charles DeClifford Roberts, Jr., was born on March 6, 1894, on his mother’s parents’ farm near Morning Sun, a tiny town in southeastern Iowa (current population: 836). He was known as Clifford from the beginning. For his first Christmas, he received “a toy chicken and a half interest in blocks and a monkey riding a goat mounted on wheels,” his mother recorded in her diary. (The other co-owner of the blocks was his brother John, who was sixteen months older.) He was a good eater. For Christmas dinner he had pudding, popovers, grapes, cranberries, baked oysters, and squirrel.

Clifford was the second of five children. His mother, Rebecca Key Roberts, was twenty-five years old and pleasantly attractive. She had a cameo the size of a hen’s egg which she wore at her throat. She was proud of her long brown hair, her clothes, and her skills as a baker. She owned a revolver, and she once fired it at a stray dog—“only scared it”—though she later traded the gun to an acquaintance. She had false teeth. She enjoyed the antics and enthusiasms of her children, and when Clifford, at the age of nine, became captivated by marbles, she sewed extra pockets in his pants so that he could carry more of them around. She was fond of ice cream. Her first diary petered out in 1898, but she started another in 1900—after giving birth to twins, named Robert Key and Dorothy—and kept it faithfully until 1911. “A Katydid jumped on Alpheus’s dress,” she wrote in 1905, when Alpheus, her fourth son and youngest child, was two. “He was so scared & called it a ‘gog.’” The diary makes fascinating reading, especially if you know that in 1913, when Clifford was nineteen and Alpheus was nine, she committed suicide.

1902  Read nearly all day—very blue and discouraged. . . . I left John & Clifford to keep house while I went up town in evening. There had been a fight and shooting on the street. . . . Boys distributed some Rip Van Winkle show bills and so each got a free pass. . . . Tramp here for dinner. . . . Boy here selling needles to keep from begging. . . . Still it rains. Things floating in our cellar. . . . Boys have carpenter fever—new nails and nail apron and making twins a play house. . . . Boys cared for twins, cooked and swept and washed dishes—all in their boyish way. . . . Gone all day & sold only 1 bushel of apples. Brought new milk strainer, shoe polish, steel pens & school sponges. Clifford churned.

Rebecca was a sharp observer and had a sense of humor, and although her entries are telegraphic—“Twins fat and well. Hope they may not be kidnapped as Cudahys was”—they vividly describe what seems to have been a happy life for her children and a troubled life for her. The family had many joyful moments (“Husband & I read late & Clifford & Key ‘had a spell’—they could not quit laughing & playing pranks until the lights were all out. Such merry times at our house”).

But the underlying themes are of dislocation and despair. “I am very miserable—life almost a burden,” she wrote in 1908, in a typical entry. Her husband was often absent, and he moved the family constantly. Rebecca had numerous ailments, among them severe headaches, back pain, “curvature of the spine,” a miscarriage followed by months of hemorrhaging, pleurisy, “nervous chills,” and a persistent melancholy that a modern reader does not hesitate to diagnose as depression. Winter was the hardest, and she often felt overwhelmed by her children. “I am hardly able to be out of bed,” she wrote in 1904, “but must keep going to care for my numerous family.” She took patent medicines—many of which would have contained narcotics along with a great deal of alcohol. (The most popular children’s cough medicine of the period, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, was based on morphine. One night, Rebecca used one of her own medicines to quiet baby Alpheus, who was colicky and had been crying.)

She pursued electrical baths, osteopathy treatments, homeopathy treatments, hot water cures, and other fad therapies administered by a variety of practitioners. On many mornings, she was unable to get out of bed. At such times, she often left the housework and the care of the younger children to Clifford and John, beginning when Clifford was six and John was seven. The boys shouldered the burden cheerfully and with ingenuity. One day when Clifford was ten and his mother and John were late in returning by train from a visit to a doctor in another town, Clifford dressed Dorothy, who was three, in a new red dress, “made her new garters when he could not find her suspenders,” and took her with him to a party to which he had been invited. Rebecca was proud of her children for rising to the occasion, but she was unromantic about child-rearing, and she hired housekeeping help when she could afford it. “Ida Kellogg came to work,” she wrote in 1907, “— measles still showing, has whooping cough & only 10 years old—but willing.”

Ill health was taken for granted. Clifford’s father had gastrointestinal trouble, a rupture, and “heart failure palpitation.” John, with whom Clifford shared a bed, stammered and suffered seizures that various doctors diagnosed as St. Vitus’s dance, “worm spasms”—for which he was treated with “vermifuge tonic”—and (correctly) grand mal epilepsy. Clifford had trouble with his eyes, suffered from “malaria & biliousness,” and endured devastating bouts with poison ivy. Days when everyone was well were rare enough to be noted in the diary. Clifford knew children who died of pneumonia, scarlet fever, small pox, “brain fever,” tonsillitis, typhoid, and tuberculosis. “Boys sent Chinese lilies,” Rebecca noted in 1902, when a seven-year-old classmate of Clifford’s was buried.

Charles DeClifford Roberts, Sr., was a restless small-time entrepreneur who tried his hand and failed at a broad variety of undertakings. “My father always was interested in seeing what was on the other side of the next hill,” Clifford said with understatement many years later. Charles was apt on a whim to trade the family store for a farm in another state—then, after harvesting a single crop of wheat and oats, to trade the farm for a business somewhere else, and then to sell that business and invest the proceeds in another. He bought and sold everything from candles and thread to farm equipment and fur coats. He speculated in real estate and arranged the sale of other people’s property. He once owned two fish-and-oyster houses in Texas. He bought bankrupt businesses and liquidated their stock. He sued hucksters who had cheated him. In 1906, in Oklahoma, he received a large rail shipment consisting of flour and shoes.

The hectic pace of Charles’s wheeling and dealing suggests compulsion as much as enterprise. Few of his deals greatly improved the family’s standard of living, which rose and fell within a narrow band at the lower limits of the respectable. Almost invariably, his first step after acquiring a new store or piece of property was to attempt to trade it for something else. Rebecca—who was never consulted—lamented most of these transactions. As soon as she had decorated a house to her satisfaction, it seemed, he put it up for sale. Charles’s quixotic dealings didn’t bring him happiness, either. He suffered from insomnia and sometimes paced the floor, terrified that his world was coming apart. He died in San Benito, Texas, in 1921, after being struck by a train, and his death may have been a suicide. At the time, he was suffering the effects of a stroke, his second marriage was under considerable stress, and he was supporting himself and what remained of his family with the help of regular checks from Clifford, who was struggling to make his own way in New York.

Charles and Rebecca’s marriage was not desolate. They were often happy together when he was at home. He was loving with the children, gave expensive presents when business was good, wrote poetry in the evenings, and took Rebecca’s illnesses seriously. But he worked long hours and traveled for weeks at a stretch. When the twins were young he had to be reintroduced to them upon returning. (On one occasion, they recognized him only after he had sung a song they knew; on another, they wouldn’t let him hold them until after they had watched him eat breakfast.) He wrote home irregularly. He moved the family so often and on such short notice that a reader must study the diary carefully to detect when the locale has changed. The constant shifting took a heavy toll. At one point, Rebecca wrote, “I can hardly bear to think of the tremendous task of moving—hardly able to live—even quietly.”  Other entries have a sardonic edge: “Charles’s Texas fever is all gone & he is now confident that New Mexico will just suit us.” In later years, Clifford often described his background simply as “Midwestern.” In a letter to Eisenhower, in 1967, he wrote that he envied Ike’s ability to remember “boyhood escapades,” as evidenced by a recent article in the Saturday Evening Post. Much of his own childhood seemed to him a blur, or a blank.

[to be continued]

Fred Astaire, Trick-shot Artist

circa 1938: Fred Astaire (1899 - 1987), the American singer and dancer on the golf course. (Photo by John Miehle/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Miehle/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Fred Astaire’s proudest achievement in life, he told an interviewer in 1982, was “a 4-wood I hit on the 13th hole at Bel-Air Country Club in June of 1945.” (It landed on the green and rolled into the cup.) His handicap was 10, approximately. He was a worse player than Humphrey Bogart, but a better one than Glenn Ford, who portrayed Ben Hogan in “Follow the Sun,” very possibly the worst movie ever made.

Fred Astaire at the Masters in 1946 or 1947. Anyone recognize the competitor on the right? His badge identifies him as Player 29. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Astaire wanted to incorporate golf into a dance routine. “Fooling around at Bel-Air one day,” he recalled, “I did a few impromptu rhythm steps just before hitting one off the tee, and was surprised to find that I could really connect that way.” He demonstrated for the director of the movie he was working on—Carefree, co-starring Ginger Rogers, released in 1938—and they incorporated it into the film.

There’s a widely told story that Astaire did the sequence in one take, and that his shots all landed within a few feet of each other—all untrue. RKO set up a driving range on its lot in Encino three weeks before principal photography began, and Astaire practiced the moves for two weeks. “I had about 300 golf balls and five men shagging them, a piano and Hal Borne to play for me,” he recalled. The final sequence involved many takes over two days, and what you see in the movie was pieced together from the best bits. In the clip below, the golf stuff starts about a minute in. Notice that Astaire wears two golf gloves (with buttons!) throughout.

Bobby Jones And Fred Astaire At The Augusta National Golf Club (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Same Masters. This golfer I can identify. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

The Man Who Invented the Yardage Book

Deane Beman won the U.S. Amateur twice and the British Amateur once, and between 1969 and 1973 he won four times on the PGA Tour.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Golf: US Amateur Open, Closeup of Deane Beman victorious with trophy at Wakonda Club, Des Moines, IA 9/13/1963 (Photo by Lee Balterman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X17644)

Beman and the trophy for the 1963 U.S. Amateur. Photo by Lee Balterman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

He became the tour’s commissioner in 1974, and he built the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass—where the Players Championship, the fifth major, will be held next month, and which you can read about in my column in the current issue of Golf Digest—and he is largely responsible for transforming the tour into a robust modern enterprise. He was also the first player to methodically measure and record key yardages on the golf courses he played, beginning in 1954, when he was still a junior:

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Beman’s homemade yardage guide for the 1954 U. S. Jaycee Junior Tournament, which was held on the golf course of the University of New Mexico.

“I’d pace off the golf course during a practice round, and make notes on a scorecard,” he told me recently. “It was quite unsophisticated, but pretty effective. Doing that was a little more difficult back then, because golf courses had single-row irrigation, so there weren’t as many sprinkler heads as you have today. I used trees and bunkers and things like that. A championship course usually had bunkering in the landing areas, and I could use either the front or the back of a bunker as my mark to the front of the green. And then I’d measure the green.”

Beman's front-nine notes from the 1958 U. S. Open, at Southern Hills. The circled numbers are green depths.

Beman’s front-nine notes from the 1958 U. S. Open, at Southern Hills. The circled numbers are green depths.

“I played a lot of golf with Jack Nicklaus when we were amateurs, and he would laugh when I pulled out my card,” Beman continued. “But then he got married to the idea. The first time Jack copied what I did was at Pebble Beach, for the 1961 U. S. Amateur.” Nicklaus himself said later, “I was playing a practice round with Deane in 1961 and he said, ‘Why don’t you try it one time, just walk off the golf course?'” He did, and blew away Dudley Wysong in the final. “After that,” Beman continued, “I don’t think Jack ever played a round without having the ability to really, really know the length of any shot he was facing.”

Beman's notes from Colonial, in 1960.

Beman’s notes from Colonial, in 1960.

“Now, I will say this,” Beman went on. “I was not a popular guy with caddies, because I required them to go walk the golf course before every round, and pace off every pin position. I had my yardages to the front of the green, and I knew how deep the green was, so I would give my caddie a pad on which I had marked the dimensions. I wanted to know how deep the pin was that day, and he would pace that off. Nobody had any pin sheets in those days—but I did.”

Beman's notes for the 1959 Masters.

Beman’s notes for the 1959 Masters.

Nowadays, tour players and their caddies carry extraordinarily sophisticated yardage books, which contain not just distances but also topographical details, and even lousy golfers can determine the length of just about any shot within a few feet, if they own a laser rangefinder. But players at all levels were skeptical at first, and Beman’s idea didn’t really catch on until the 1970s. Arnold Palmer, among many others, though it was dumb. Ha!

Beman's notes for Pinehurst No. 2.

Beman’s notes for Pinehurst No. 2.

“My notes became much more sophisticated once I turned professional,” Beman said. He saved those scorecards, too — but the ones in the photos above show how it all began.

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Masters Countdown: Great Moments in the History of Slow Play

Ed Furgol, 1957 Masters. (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Ed Furgol, 1957 Masters. (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Not all that long ago, Masters competitors, playing in twosomes, were expected to finish 18 holes in about three hours, even during the tournament’s final round. After the 1956 Masters, a competitor wrote to Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, to complain that, after playing the first nine in an hour and a half, he had been told by an official to hurry up. You can read more at this blog’s official home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new. And, if you’re willing to wait a month or so, you can find complete versions of all my old posts on this site, too, by paging down until you reach them.

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts, 1957 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts, 1957 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Masters Countdown: Clifford Roberts and the Range Balls

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Clifford Roberts was the co-founder, with Bobby Jones, of Augusta National Golf Club, and he served as its chairman from the club’s founding until his death, in 1977. For many years, the only golf balls Roberts used were Spalding Dots, which had balata covers and were used by many tour pros. The golf shop would order six dozen before each season—all with Roberts’s name printed on them—and he would send his caddie to the shop whenever he needed a new sleeve. The first balls with Surlyn covers were introduced in the mid-nineteen-sixties, and at some point Roberts played a round with a member who was using one of them. “They’re longer than the old balls,” the member said, “and you can’t cut them.”

Augusta National/Getty Images

Augusta National/Getty Images

Roberts told his caddie to go back to the shop and return immediately with one of the club’s two head pros. “These balls I’ve got are no goddamned good,” he said when the pro had hurried over to see what was the matter. Roberts switched to the new balls, and liked them — a change that left the golf shop with six dozen Spalding Dots that had CLIFFORD ROBERTS printed on them. “There was nothing else to do with them,” Bob Kletcke, one of the pros, told me years later, “so I put them in my shag bag.” A short time later, Roberts borrowed Kletcke’s shag balls to practice with. (He always said that using striped range balls made him dizzy.) “Well, I’ll be goddamned,” he said as he teed one up. “These balls have my name on them.” And he loaded them all into his golf bag.

Arnold Palmer And Chairman Clifford Roberts (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Arnold Palmer And Chairman Clifford Roberts (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Masters Week Weather: WTF!

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Oh, relax—I didn’t take that photo in Augusta. I took it here in Connecticut, where we just finished the mildest winter since the dinosaurs went extinct. (The nearest muny was closed for all of eight weeks; my home course re-opened earlier than it ever has before.) But then, early Sunday morning, the world looked like this:

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We called off Sunday Morning Group, and I hung around the house and “did chores.” Around lunchtime, though, Addison pointed out, by email, that most of the snow was gone from his yard, so he, Tim D., Mike A., and I met on the first tee at 3:00. It was cold, and the wind was blowing hard, but we had the course to ourselves:

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Here’s what the bulletin-board thing near the clubhouse looked like when we finished, a bit less than three hours later:

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And here’s what we looked like:

This isn't an art shot. The image is crooked because I had to prop the camera on the head of my driver.

This isn’t an art shot. The image is crooked because I had to prop the camera on the head of my driver.

We’ve had several opportunities recently to make our storm gear seem like a good investment. Here’s Barney on Saturday, when we played in rain:

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And, because only three guys showed up on both Friday and Saturday, we invented a new three-man game: three six-hole matches, in each of which one of us played against the better ball of the other two. The bet was two dollars per man per match, with automatic presses. It was fun, and the money came out virtually even, but we won’t be able to try it again for a while, because more snow fell overnight—and it’s still falling right now. I’m doing laundry!

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