Augusta National, Video Games, and “Hard Luck” Tony Sheehan

Eighth green, Augusta National, 1930. Photo by Tony Sheehan.

Eighth green, Augusta National, 1930s. Photo by Tony Sheehan.

My Golf Digest colleague Ron Whitten and I recently spent a couple of days in Orlando with the video-game designers at Electronic Arts, the creators of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR. The game’s next edition will include a recreation of the Augusta National course as it was in 1934, the year of the first Masters, and Ron and I had been asked to help the game’s “environment modelers” make the virtual course as historically accurate as possible. We offered suggestions about everything from green contours to mowing patterns to the size and placement of individual trees—an experience we’ll both be writing about for the April issue of Golf Digest.

Among the many historical resources the game’s designers consulted were photographs of the course taken in the 1930s by Tony Sheehan, who was Augusta National’s unofficial official photographer. (The picture at the top of this post, which also appears in my book The Making of the Masters, is one of his.) Sheehan’s nickname was “Hard Luck.” Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and first chairman, wrote about Sheehan in his book, The Story of Augusta National Golf Club, which was published in 1976:

Tony was an oddball in appearance and dress, and he made comments at times that were just as unusual and unexpected. Neither he nor his battered old camera looked to be qualified to make even a passport photo, but he was a remarkably capable photographer . . . .

Many of us experience accidents as we go through life, but I doubt that any man endured bad luck so often and so continuously for so many years as Tony Sheehan. Every time an epidemic of any kind came to town, Tony was the first to catch it.

Tony tripped over something and broke one or more bones so often that it almost appeared to be a habit. On one occasion, while he was waving to friends, his car plowed into a large stone marker on Walton Way in Augusta, which cost him a number of teeth but gave him some distinctive battle scars on his face. . . .

Tony survived a half-dozen major operations, plus numerous patching-up jobs. His one lucky day was when he was married to the nurse, Eva Smith, who had looked after him in the hospital so many times that she felt lonesome between his visits.

Tony finally got himself into really serious trouble—his car was hit by a train. Over a year’s period the hospital lost track of the number of jobs that had to be done on Tony. Finally, the great day arrived when he could leave. His wife picked him up in her car and headed for home. When they arrived at the railroad track, the same one where Tony was wrecked, he asked her to stop the car. He then walked ahead and looked in both directions to make sure no train was approaching. As he was about to signal her that all was clear, her foot slipped off the clutch and she knocked Tony down. Whereupon she picked him up and took him back to the hospital for another stay.

Believe it or not, our friend Tony Sheehan lived to be eighty years of age, and died in 1974 of natural causes.

In 1931,Sheehan took this photograph of Ty Cobb receiving a golf lesson from Glenna Collett Vare, who won the U.S. Women's Amateur six times. Cobb was from Augusta, and this photograph was taken there--possibly at Augusta National.

In 1931,”Hard Luck” Tony Sheehan took this photograph of Ty Cobb receiving a golf lesson from Glenna Collett Vare, who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur six times. Cobb was from Augusta, and this photograph was taken there–possibly at Augusta National, although more likely at Augusta Country Club, next door, where Cobb was a member.

Roberts himself knew something about hard luck. He grew up poor in a succession of small towns, accidentally burned down his family’s house when he was sixteen, lost his mother to suicide when he was nineteen, earned a modest fortune and then lost it in the stock-market crash of 1929, and presided over Augusta National’s bankruptcy in 1935, a few months after the second Masters. Like Tony Sheehan, though, he persevered, and because he did we have the Masters—now just over three months away.

Horton Smith, Titanic Thompson, Bobby Jones, Alfred Bourne, and Me

My golf club’s clubhouse as Horton Smith and Titanic Thompson knew it. It looks about the same today, although the trees and the porch have grown.

Horton Smith won the first Masters, in 1934, and he won again in 1936. Two and a half years after that, he got married in the little Connecticut town where I live, ninety miles north of New York City. The bride was Barbara Bourne, whose parents owned a 40-room weekend house here. The legendary golf hustler Titanic Thompson attended the wedding and, during a golf outing at our nine-hole club, gave a ten-dollar tip to his caddie, a local kid who, once he’d become an old man, sometimes played golf with me. (The regular rate in 1938 was 35 cents a loop, 60 cents for two bags.)

Barbara Bourne and Horton Smith (far left), along with lots of Bournes.

Barbara’s late grandfather, Frederick Gilbert Bourne, known as “Commodore,” had been a president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. He owned a 110-room summer place on Long Island, a 28-room castle on the St. Lawrence Seaway, in the Thousand Islands, and the entire first floor of the Dakota apartment building, in New York.

Horton Smith’s late grandfather-in-law, “Commodore” Frederick Gilbert Bourne, 1851-1919.

Barbara’s father was Alfred Severin Bourne, who, in addition to being the 1934 men’s champion of my club, was a founding member of Augusta National. He served on the five-man Organization Committee, and was a vice-president until his death. Without him, the first Masters might never have been held.

Barbara Bourne and her father, Alfred Severin Bourne, in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

The Bournes spent winters in Augusta, which was popular as a resort destination partly because it was just about as far south as a New Yorker could travel overnight by train and still play golf on arrival. Alfred belonged to Augusta Country Club, and his playing partners there occasionally included Bobby Jones.

Kenneth Bourne (son of Alfred) and Bobby Jones, probably at Augusta Country Club.

In 1931, as Jones and Clifford Roberts were trying to get Augusta National going, next door, Bourne wrote them a check for $25,000—a quarter of the sum that Roberts figured they’d need to build their course. Bourne apologized that he couldn’t be more generous, and told them that if they’d come to him before the Crash he’d have underwritten the entire project. (Bourne missed the first three days of the first Masters because he was competing in—and winning—an amateur event in Aiken, South Carolina, twenty miles from Augusta.)

Alfred Bourne (center) and various playthings, Thousand Islands, 1930s.

Alfred Bourne died in 1956. His weekend house in my town is now the main building of a boarding school; not surprisingly, it’s called Bourne Hall. Each year for the past six or seven, the school and my club have held a tournament, called the Bourne Cup, in which eight or ten of the school’s alumni (some of whom are also members of my club) are almost always soundly defeated by eight or ten members of my club (some of whom are also alumni of the school).

Bourne cap, from Bourne Cup.

This year, the school’s team included a member of the class of 1951, named Dave. He told me that when he was a boy he spent several summers caddying at the club, and often caddied for Alfred Bourne. He said he once asked Bourne if it would be all right for him to use a fielder’s mitt to shag Bourne’s practice balls. (Dave loved baseball but lacked opportunities to hone his technique.) Bourne said that would be fine, and they made a game of it. Bourne was a generous tipper, Dave told me (although he squandered most of his  earnings, a nickel at a time, in the club’s Coke machine).

My club’s caddie corps in 1925, sitting on the front steps of the clubhouse. Note the neckties on the ten year olds. The gloomy-looking (and tie-less) grownup at right is the head pro. The wee lad in knee socks, two seats to his left, is his eventual successor.

A senior member of my club, whose name is Dick, also caddied for Bourne. He told me that he would warm up by hitting exactly thirty practice balls, which Dick would scoop up in a leather bag while keeping an eye out for players teeing off on the sixth hole. (The club’s driving range in those days was just the right side of the sixth fairway.) After counting the thirtieth shot, Dick would run back to Bourne, who would play the first hole, chip to the eight green, play the ninth hole, make the same circuit again, and go home.

Dick, who used to caddie for Alfred Bourne,at our town invitational tournament, October, 2008.

The day before this year’s Bourne Cup, I had the immense good fortune to play a round at Garden City Golf Club, also known as Garden City Men’s, where the U.S. Open was held in 1902. Before we teed off, I wandered around the clubhouse (where jackets are mandatory but shirts are not), and gazed at all the cool stuff. And among many other extremely interesting things I learned that the winner of the Garden City club championship in 1921 was Alfred Severin Bourne. I forgot to take a picture of the plaque with his name on it, but I remembered, later, to take a picture of a similar plaque, back home:

Early champions at my club: two Bournes and several missing years.