Masters Countdown: Why did Gene Sarazen Skip the First Masters?


Gene Sarazen hit “the shot heard round the world”—his epochal double-eagle on Augusta’s fifteenth hole—in 1935, during the final round of the second Augusta National Invitation Tournament (as the Masters was officially known until 1939). He hadn’t played the year before. Why?

Sarazen swing

Sarazen himself often said, years later, that he skipped the first Masters because the invitation came from Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, “and what the hell do I want to play in a tournament sponsored by a Wall Street broker?”—as he told me in a telephone interview in 1997. He also said that he threw out the first invitation because it had a Wall Street return address, and he figured it must be some kind of financial promotion.

Funny stories—but they aren’t true. His invitation came not from Roberts but from Alfred Bourne, who was the club’s vice president and principal financial backer, and Sarazen responded in February with a nice letter in which he told Bourne that he was “very glad to accept.” He backed out shortly before the tournament, though, because he realized that he had a conflicting commitment with Joe Kirkwood, an Australian professional and trick-shot expert (who had also been invited).

Sarazen and Kirkwood worked during the winter for the Miami Biltmore Hotel. Kirkwood had once proposed to Sarazen that they travel abroad together, and Sarazen had suggested South America. Kirkwood, unbeknownst to Sarazen, had scheduled their departure for late March, a week before the tournament, and their plans could not be changed. Sarazen, at the time, deeply regretted missing the first Masters. He said that a caddie in Fiji (on a different trip, presumably) told him, “We no hear of Mister Sarazen in Fiji, but we hear of Mister Jones.” He made certain that he would be available for the second Masters—which he won, in a playoff with Craig Wood.

The Masters wasn't officially called the Masters until 1939, but many players, sportswriters, and others used that name (which Jones considered presumptuous) from the beginning.

The Masters wasn’t officially called the Masters until 1939, but many players, sportswriters, and others used that name (which Jones considered presumptuous) from the beginning.

Masters Countdown: How Augusta National Almost Built a Miniature Version of Itself

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cooperstown, New York, on June 12, 1939. The Professional Golfers Association responded by creating its own hall and inducting several legendary players, among them Bobby Jones. But the P.G.A.’s hall was merely conceptual: there was neither a building nor a plan for one.

Clifford Roberts, Augusta National’s co-founder and chairman, thought the ideal location for a golf hall of fame would be at the club. The site he favored was an elevated six-acre parcel roughly 250 yards to the east of the tenth green. In a letter to Jones, he wrote that visitors “would have four good views of the course instead of one,” and that “members using the golf course would have a good view of an attractive building.”

The site Roberts favored was in the upper right-hand quadrant of this image. (And, yes, those are building lots. Augusta National tried to sell them, unsuccessfully, for more than twenty years.) You can see the old tenth green at the left, next to the familiar amoeba-shaped bunker.

The site Roberts favored was in the upper right-hand quadrant of this image. (And, yes, those are building lots. Augusta National tried to sell them, unsuccessfully, for more than twenty years.) You can see the old tenth green at the left, next to the familiar amoeba-shaped bunker.

Roberts wanted one wing of his hall of fame to contain “automatic movie machines,” which, for a quarter, would show instructional films by the game’s great teachers. Another wing would serve as both a comprehensive library and a bookstore. Visitors would be able to buy “popular-priced copies” of some of the books in the library, as well as souvenir booklets and postcards depicting the course.

This is an early Augusta National postcard, showing the tenth green in its original location, before it was moved back and to the left. Roberts's preferred site for his golf hall of game was out of the frame to the left.

This is an early Augusta National postcard, showing the tenth green in its original location, before it was moved back and to the left. Roberts’s preferred site for his golf hall of game was out of the frame to the left.

Roberts also wanted to create “a miniature Augusta National course surrounding the Hall of Fame which would be a practical pitch and putt course and could be made a most attractive part of the landscaping scheme.” The holes would be scaled-down replicas of the holes on the big course. He proposed a greens fee of twenty-five cents.

Despite Roberts’s enthusiasm, the idea never came to anything. The two members he had been counting on to pay for the project lost interest in it, and the club didn’t have the money to proceed on its own. And then news from Europe and the Pacific made other concerns more pressing.

Incidentally, the first hall of fame in the United States wasn’t in Cooperstown; it was in the Bronx. It was built in 1900 by New York University, on what’s now the campus of Bronx Community College, and was designed by Stanford White.

Bronx CC library

It was called the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. It was inspired by the Ruhmeshalle, in Munich, which had been built 50 years earlier. The original inductees were John Adams, John James Audubon, Henry Ward Beecher, William Ellery Channing, Henry Clay, Peter Cooper, Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Farragut, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, Ulysses S. Grant, Asa Gray, Nathanial Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horace Mann, John Marshal, Samuel F. B. Morse, George Peabody, Joseph Story, Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, Daniel Webster, and Eli Whitney.

Bronx Hall of Fame

It’s still there, and you can still visit it—maybe after playing one of the four swell municipal golf courses in the Bronx: Van Cortlandt, Split Rock, Pelham Bay, and Ferry Point (aka Trump National).

Masters Countdown: Clifford Roberts and the Thermostats

Clifford Roberts

Clifford Roberts was a co-founder (with Bobby Jones) of Augusta National Golf Club, and he was the chairman of the Masters from its founding, in 1934, until his death, in 1977. The room he slept in is at the far end of the east wing of the clubhouse. It’s named for him and is called a suite, but it is really just a single bedroom with a small bathroom, plus a closet in which Byron Nelson kept clothes between visits to the club. The room looks like a hotel room, and the furniture looks like hotel-room furniture. The only amenity is a fireplace, which Roberts would light at the first hint of cool weather. (He loved fires but was ambivalent about firewood; on his order, no log was ever delivered to his hearth which had not first been stripped of anything resembling bark.) In all weather, he kept his room warm — uncomfortably so, in the opinion of visitors. The room had two thermostats, and he would make minute adjustments in one or the other as conditions changed in ways that only he could detect.

Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, late 1930s. Roberts is wearing the original version of the green jacket, with an emblem design that was later replaced.

Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, late 1930s. Roberts is wearing the original version of the green jacket, with an emblem design that was later replaced.

One mild day, he called the building superintendent to say that he was freezing and that something must be wrong with the heating system, because a thermometer on a table was reading four degrees lower than a thermometer near the window. The superintendent sent a man to a local hardware store with the thermometer from the table and told him to return with an identical one that read four degrees higher. When the new thermometer was in place, Roberts called the club’s manager to say that the temperature in his room was now perfect and that no further adjustments to the heating system would be required.

Jones and Roberts ANGC

Masters Countdown: Why Isn’t Every Scorecard Like This?

Augusta National’s scorecard is different from every scorecard I’ve ever seen (I think). Can you spot the unique feature?

ANGC Scorecard

It’s the yardages: they’re all in multiples of five. The reason is that Clifford Roberts—the club’s co-founder, and the chairman of the Masters from the beginning until his death, in 1977—thought it was ridiculous to suggest that a golf hole could be measured with more precision than that, especially since the tee markers and hole locations changed from day to day. (Hey, why not give feet and inches, too?) It’s not a big deal—but it’s a glimpse into the mind of the person most responsible for creating the world’s last surviving un-screwed-up major sporting event.

Masters Countdown: An Augusta National Member Who Carried Even More Cash Than Phil Mickelson


Dave Shedloski, with help from a squadron of Golf Digest staffers, recently asked a number of tour pros how much cash they carry. The winner was Phil Mickelson, whose wallet, at that moment, contained $8,100. That’s a lot. But one of the founding members of Augusta National routinely carried more. Way more.

W. Alton “Pete” Jones was the CEO of the oil company that’s known today CITGO. He was a close friend of Clifford Roberts, Bobby Jones, and Dwight Eisenhower (who joined the club in 1948), and he was known for his generosity. He insisted on picking up almost any restaurant or bar check that he had anything to do with, and he financed or helped to finance many improvements at the club.

W. Alton "Pete" Jones

W. Alton “Pete” Jones

Yet he had a number of miserly eccentricities. The first duty of his caddie was to search the grass for usable tees, because he hated to buy new ones. He haggled over handicap strokes—attempting, in Roberts’s words, “to ensure his being a winner on the golf course, no matter how small the stakes.” And he always traveled with heavy hand-cranked metal sharpener, which he used to extend the life of his razor blades. He was determined to get at least 25 shaves from each blade, and he would cheerfully spend 10 or 15 minutes honing an edge on one that was about to expire.


Jones died in a commercial plane crash in 1962, on his way to California for a fishing trip with Eisenhower. (That’s Jones amidships in the photo above, and Eisenhower in the bow.) Also killed in that crash was the mother of Paul McCartney’s future wife Linda Eastman. The accident was fictionalized in the second episode of the second season of Mad Men.

Flight 1planecrash

When Jones’s body was identified, he was found to have been carrying roughly $60,000, in cash and traveler’s checks. Some people speculated that he must have been up to no good, and that perhaps he had been on his way to reward Eisenhower for favors to the oil industry. But no one has ever seriously suggested that Eisenhower took bribes, and Jones always carried huge sums—including $10,000 bills, which the government printed until 1946.

Roberts had often urged Jones to leave more of his treasure at home, but Jones, like several early Augusta members—including Roberts—had grown up in poverty, and he liked full pockets. And Roberts had a currency-related eccentricity of his own: he carried only brand-new bills, arranged in his wallet by denomination, and he always made sure to have enough small ones so that no one would be able to give him old bills in change.

The person I know personally who carries the most cash is Rocco Landesman. I wrote a profile of him in The New Yorker in 1994. At the time, he was mainly a theater producer; he later served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. We got to talking about money—actually, about betting on horses—and he said, “You should never carry less than $10,000 in cash at any time.”

Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman

When I laughed, he said, “No, it’s true.” He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a bundle of bills held together with a rubber band. “You’ve got to have cash,” he said, “because you never know where you’re going to be. You know, you might meet someone and decide you want to spend the rest of your life in Argentina.” He handed me the money. “I’ve got more over here.” He reached into another pocket, and pulled out another bundle.

I hefted both bundles, and fanned the bills with my thumbs, like playing cards. They were all 100s, and there were perhaps a 150 of them. It was the most $100 bills I had ever held in one hand at one time.

“Walking around with anything less than $10,000 is completely unacceptable,” Landesman went on. “It’s a necessity of life. It gives you freedom. The most important thing in life is a sense of possibility, and you simply can’t have it with less than $10,000 in your pocket.”



Reader’s Trip Report: Masters Junior Pass Program


On New Year’s Day, twelve members of the Sunday Morning Group played the Black Course at the Wheel, the best course that’s still open within an hour’s drive of our home club, which shut down the Monday after Thanksgiving. Three of us wore shorts (thereby gaining two extra handicap strokes), and Mike B. wore a tuxedo, which he apparently hadn’t had time to change out of. He kept it on for all eighteen holes, too.

There are many reasons to celebrate January 1. The main one is that it’s the first day of the year during which the next Masters will be held—now just three months away.


In 2013, Will Stegall, a reader in San Francisco, took his daughter, Annie, to her first Masters. (She turned nine on practice-round Monday. You can read her trip report here.) Last year, Stegall took Annie’s younger brother, William, who was eight at the time. Both kids were beneficiaries of Augusta National’s Junior Pass Program, which enables the children of existing badge-holders to attend for free. (Restrictions apply.) William had a great time, and not only because he got Tiger’s autograph.

Stegall Masters both-002

Here’s William’s report, as transcribed by his father :

“My experience at the Masters was beyond amazing in all ways. It looked beautiful: the flowers, the course, and the trees. Being able to get autographs because only kids can get them is amazing. I got to see the Big Three (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player) play in the long drive contest that was extra special. I got a Masters visor. You usually don’t see men more excited about shopping than women. I just got a green visor that said Masters on the front. I went to the spot where Bubba Watson hit his amazing curve shot. Everyone had to put a chair down somewhere on the course to watch but of course we could walk around, the people were so nice they would never take a chair of ours or anyone else’s. The pimento cheese sandwiches were DELICIOUS, they were perfect. My family has been going for years but it was my first time so I was very excited when I finally could go. But I never knew how many people went!”

Stegall Masters

Thanks, William! As it happens, the Sunday Morning Group has a Junior Pass Program, too, and Will, Annie, and William are all invited to join us for our first round of 2017, next New Year’s Day.


Tracking Golf History With Google’s Amazing Time Machine

I first used Google Earth in 2004, before it was Google Earth. At the time, it was a subscription service called Keyhole Earth Viewer, and I used it while working on an article for the New Yorker about golf courses in New York City. Then Google bought Keyhole. It renamed Earth Viewer, and improved it, and made it free, and has continued to improve it. One of its coolest features is Historical Imagery, which lets you travel back in time by cycling through earlier images of whatever you’re looking at. For example, here’s what Augusta National looked like last February, from a little over 7,000 feet up:
ANGC 2014-2-27

And here’s what it looked like from the same altitude in November 2002, when the enormous tournament parking lot, to the left of the golf course in the picture above, was still a residential neighborhood (before the club bought all the houses and tore them down):

ANGC 2002-11-30

And here’s what it looked like in February 1993, two months before Bernhard Langer won for the second time, by four strokes over Chip Beck — who, you will recall, laid up on No. 15:

ANGC 1993-2-13

You can drill down, to study specific changes to the course. For example, here’s what the practice area looked like last year:

ANGC Range 2014-2-27

And here’s what it looked in 2009, when the club was building it:

ANGC Range 2009-6-24

And here’s what it looked like in 2002, when it was the (original) tournament parking lot:

ANGC Range 2002-11-30

Historical Imagery is a terrific time waster if you’ve got work or chores to do. Here’s the seventeenth fairway in 2013, when the Eisenhower Tree (which I’ve helpfully labeled) was alive and well:

ANGC Ike 2013-1-21

And here’s what it looked like last year, when the Eisenhower Tree was dead and gone. (The bunkers in the upper-right-hand corner are next to the green on No. 7.)

ANGC Ike 2014-2-27

Why do anything else when you’ve got a toy like this to play with? To learn how Historical Imagery works, go here.

ANGC 2007-6-24

Don’t Miss the Coolest Feature on the Masters Website

Screenshot 2015-04-012

It’s called Track. Here’s how Zack Whittaker explained it on ZDNet:

The Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters every year, has dozens of lasers scattered throughout the course. Those lasers kick out a number of different pieces of data, including the location of the ball (determined on three-axes) and the resting position of the ball, which IBM runs through its cloud and visualizes. The end result is a play-by-play visualization that allows the viewer to interact and see the ball’s course, the distance of each drive, and other interesting nuggets of data. And this happens in a matter of seconds. Simply put, you can take any device and crank open the Masters’ website, and see how the ball traveled throughout the course. Using the HTML5 web standard, any smartphone or tablet user can access a simulated map of the course. iPad users have the benefit of using the internal gyroscope to visualize the play from any angle.

Click on any shot and Track displays both the yardage and the yardage remaining, and it gives the length of every putt. Keep it open in your lap while you watch the television broadcast. It’s like having your own universal instant replay. No more wondering about what your favorite players are up to off-camera.

Screenshot 2015-04-11 06.56.36.jpg

Masters Countdown: Why CBS Refused, for Sixteen Years, to Show Augusta National’s Twelfth Hole

ANGC 12-001

The Masters first appeared on TV in 1956, on CBS. (NBC, which covered the tournament on radio, had turned it down.) CBS initially wanted to show little more than the eighteenth hole, but the club said it would forego $5,000, half its fee, if more of the course could be included. CBS added a second transmission station, but the coverage was still minimal: two and a half hours over three days, showing just parts of the last four holes.

Augusta National argued for more. The club’s television committee, in its report on the second broadcast, in 1957, wrote, “A most picturesque part of our golf course lies about the twelfth hole and thirteenth green. An attempt should be made through employment of portable cameras to bring this area into live broadcast. If this is impractical, a few films of the area could be shown.”

Seve 12-001


CBS disagreed that there was any need to show more of the course, even on film, and it stuck to that position. Seven years later, Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder—after reading in Golf World that CBS was planning to cover six holes at a lesser tournament, the 1964 Carling World Open, at Oakland Hills—wrote to Jack Dolph, who was then the network’s director of sports, to ask why the Masters could not be given the same treatment. Dolph replied: “It’s true that we are covering six holes of the Carling’s rather than four as we do at the Masters. This was a commitment made in acquiring the rights to the Tournament; one on which Carling’s insisted. We have grave doubts that this extra hole coverage will add to the overall impact of the tournament, and we are, in fact, giving the extra two holes the very minimum of coverage.”

Roberts did not give up, and in 1966 CBS finally agreed to extend its coverage beyond the fifteenth hole, by adding a camera near the fourteenth green. Coverage of the thirteenth green began two years later, in 1968, after Roberts suggested moving a camera from the far less interesting fourteenth tee. The twelfth hole wasn’t shown live until five years after that, in 1973—sixteen years after the club’s original suggestion.

The twelfth hole might not have received its own camera even in 1973 if Roberts had not effectively tricked CBS into putting one there. The year before, ABC Sports had asked the club for permission to film the twelfth hole during the 1972 Masters, for a prime-time sports special that it planned to broadcast on the Monday following the tournament. “As you know,” an ABC executive wrote to Roberts, “this hole has never been shown on the live presentations of the Masters, and our segment, which would probably be only five or ten minutes in length, would not only show how some of the top finishers play this hole but would also capture the many moods and some of the unique happenings that transpire at this locale.”

Roberts—who knew that ABC for years had yearned to win the Masters contract away from CBS—agreed. CBS noticed. The following year, for the first time, it placed a camera of its own on the twelfth hole.

Masters Countdown: Augusta National’s Worst Golfer Ever?

Here’s what Augusta National’s first green looked like during the first Masters, when the hole was still the tenth. That bunker was really more of a waste area. It was later removed, and a different bunker was added closer to the green:

During the club’s early years, a small creek ran across the first fairway, at the bottom of the hill, less than a hundred yards from the tee. The carry over the ditch was so short that few players noticed, but a member named Clarence J. Schoo drove into it so often that it came to be known as Schooie’s Gulch. Schoo was the founder and president of a boxboard manufacturing company in Springfield, Massachusetts. The company doesn’t exist anymore, but Schoo’s name is preserved in the Schoo Science Center at Springfield College, of which he and his wife were benefactors.


At Augusta National one day, Schoo topped yet another drive into Schooie’s Gulch, and told Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, “I wish you’d fill in that damn ditch.” Roberts did, during the summer of 1951—and sent the bill to Schoo. Or so the story goes. In truth, the ditch had always been a maintenance problem. Roberts also wanted to replace the club’s old Masters press tent, which really was a tent, with a Quonset hut. The new building was going to go to the right of the first fairway, near where the big scoreboard is today, and the ditch was in the way. The photo below shows the inside of the Quonset hut in the early 1950s. The sportswriters’ laptops look strange, but their beer cans and cigarettes are recognizable:

ANGC quonset.jpg

Schoo did pay for part of the alteration, but he did so gladly, and he almost certainly wasn’t surprised when he opened his bill. He and Roberts were close friends, He was also one of the most popular members, and he later served as one of the club’s vice presidents. Here’s a note that another popular member, former President Eisenhower, sent him after Schoo had missed Eisenhower’s birthday party:


Schoo was such a poor golfer that when he one day made a natural birdie Roberts decided that he should be paid the same cash pot that ordinarily went to a golfer who made a hole-in-one, on the theory that Schooie was never going to come closer. Another time, while Schoo was playing the seventh hole in a foursome that also included Roberts and Eisenhower,he hit a drive that traveled just a few yards, into a clump of pampas grass to the left of the tee. He said, “Well, in all the years I’ve been playing here, that’s the first time I’ve done that.” That summer, the grounds crew cut back the pampas grass and found many balls with his name imprinted on them. On another occasion, Schoo said with exasperation that he must be the worst golfer in the club. His caddie, who had been around long enough to hear stories but not long enough to recognize faces, said, “No, sir. The worst golfer in this club is Mr. Schoo.”