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: 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.”



Which Nine Was That?


ESPN’s scorecard graphic for the Open Championship is labeled “front nine” and “back nine,” but the Old Course doesn’t have a front and back. You play nine holes “out,” making a little loop at the bend of the shepherd’s crook, then nine holes “in.” “Outward nine” and “inward nine”—he preferred local terms—would be more accurate. But not for every course, even on the Open Rota. People often say that out-and-in is a defining characteristic of links golf, but it isn’t. Troon (for example) does play nine out and nine in, more or less, but the holes at Carnoustie (for example) wander around:


And there many variants.
“Front” and “back” actually don’t make sense on many golf courses. It’s rare to find a club at which the first nine holes you play are laid out in front of something, and the second nine holes are laid out in back of the same thing. Sometimes the nines are right and left; sometimes the holes are all over the place; sometimes—as on nine-hole courses, where you play the same holes twice—the nines are essentially on top of each other (upper and lower?).
Bobby Jones wanted TV announcers to refer to the nines at Augusta National as the “first nine” and the “second nine,” partly because “front” and “back” weren’t accurate, and partly because he felt that “back side”—a common variant—was indecently anatomical. One nice thing about “first nine” and “second nine” is that they work for any golf course, including your course, my course, and the Old Course. Golfers will never change, naturally—but if it came to a vote I’d go with Jones.


The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Headcovers


My favorite headcover was made of black plush and had the Grateful Dead’s red-white-and-blue “Steal Your Face” skull logo embroidered on it. I got to play golf with Jim Furyk once, and before we teed off his caddie, Fluff Cowan, looked into my bag and said, “So, you’re a fan of the boys, eh?”—one of my proudest moments in the game. My 5-wood eventually wore a hole through the fabric, and I had to take that headcover out of service. The huge online store on the Dead’s official website used to have lots of branded golf stuff, but not anymore.


Headcovers must be a product of the apparently irresistible human urge to clothe inanimate objects—the same urge that gave us doilies, dust ruffles, chair skirts, and toilet seat covers. Most golfers probably assume that headcovers have an important protective function, but that seems unlikely. The purpose of a golf club is to be slung repeatedly at hard things lying on the ground, so why should you need to swaddle it just to carry it in a bag? Olden-days golfers—whose clubs were made by hand and were therefore arguably worth special handling—didn’t use them:


So why do we? Chuck Furjanic, who is the author of Antique Golf Collectibles: A Price and Reference Guide, told me that headcovers date from at least the early 1910s. Nevertheless, I spent a pleasant afternoon flipping through the pages of most of the golf books in my office, and couldn’t find a headcover in a photograph or illustration from earlier than 1935. Walter Hagen didn’t use them (and Henry Cotton didn’t either):


My research indicates that Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam without headcovers, that most golfers carried their woods naked until the late thirties or early forties, and that the headcovers of yesteryear started out looking like children’s socks, then evolved into sweaters for weasels. No headcovers here:


My first metal woods—a TaylorMade set, which I bought in 1991—came without headcovers. Their successors—a trio of Big Berthas, purchased less than a year later—came with huge ones, although they’d probably seem almost dinky today:


Those two transactions bracketed the beginning of the modern headcover era. Today, it’s impossible to buy a wood or even a hybrid without also receiving a complicated sheath that appears to have been manufactured in the same Chinese factory that makes shoes for NBA players and props for George Lucas movies. Someone I played golf with once told me that getting rid of headcovers would speed up the game by twenty minutes a round, and I believe it. Putting a modern headcover back onto a modern driver can be as exasperating and time-consuming as putting a snowsuit onto a toddler.


Using headcovers on irons is still for beginners only, like using a clicker to count shots or carrying tees in a bandolier. And thank goodness for that. But who knows? A lot of people didn’t think that soft spikes would catch on, either.


Masters Countdown: Bobby Jones’s Father, the Great Flood, and the Eleventh Hole

Eleventh green, twelfth tee, twelfth green, Augusta National, early 1930s.

Eleventh green, twelfth tee, twelfth green, Augusta National, early 1930s.

The Masters tee on the eleventh hole was originally positioned above and to the right of the tenth green, not far from the seventeenth green. The hole ran downhill and played considerably shorter than its measured distance, which was a little over four hundred yards. In fact, until about a decade ago the green was at least theoretically drivable from the members’ tee, which was on the old line, although the shot was blind and called for a powerful fade.

Alister MacKenzie's original routing, showing the location of the eleventh tee, between the seventeenth green and the old tenth green. The modern tee is somewhere back near the red X in the upper right hand corner of the image.

Alister MacKenzie’s original routing, showing the location of the eleventh tee, between the seventeenth green and the old tenth green. The modern tee is somewhere back near the red X in the upper right hand corner of the image.

The hole was first changed in 1950, when the club built a new tournament tee, below and to the left of the tenth green. The change was suggested by Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder, and endorsed by Bobby Jones. The change was made both to lengthen the hole and to eliminate a gallery bottleneck between the tenth green and the eleventh tee. “Under the new arrangement,” Jones wrote at the time, “the spectators will have ample room on the high ground to the right of the fairway to observe play, all the way from tee to green, without going on to the fairway at all. It will be substantially the same arrangement as is provided at number 13, where everyone can get a clear view of all shots played without following the contestants down the fairway.” The Masters tee is even farther back today, and the fairway has been reshaped. The hole measures a little more that five hundred yards for the tournament, and when you stand on the tee it looks like a thousand.

Eleventh green, 1930s.

Eleventh green, 1930s. No pond yet.

The eleventh hole’s most conspicuous feature is the pond to the left of the green. Roberts, in his book about the club, which was published in 1976, wrote that the pond had been his idea; Byron Nelson told me in 1998 that it had been his own. “There was already water behind the green,” he said, “because Rae’s Creek ran back there. But not many people went over the green. So I told Cliff that I thought he ought to dam up the creek and let the water make a pond to the left of the green.” (Nelson’s memory that the creek passed only behind the green wasn’t not quite correct. The water also looped near the front left, almost as close to the green as the pond is today—as you can see in the photos above.) The dam was built in 1951.

There's that pond. Look out.

There’s that pond. Look out.

In mid-October 1990, Augusta got more than a foot of rain in just thirty-six hours. Rae’s Creek flooded, and took the eleventh green and much of the rest of Amen Corner with it:

amen corner flood 1990Hord Hardin, the club’s chairman at the time, said they were lucky the flood hadn’t occurred right before the Masters. “We probably would have had to play four sixteen-hole rounds,” he said. The green was rebuilt using data from a 1982 survey, and the bunker and the pond were recreated from photographs. The hole was back in play not just for the Masters but for the Thanksgiving member party, six weeks later.

The Colonel, Bobby Jones's father.

The Colonel, Bobby Jones’s father.

In the early years, there was a small pot bunker in the center of the fairway at roughly the distance of a reasonable drive, invisible from the tee. The bunker was Jones’s idea. He wanted the course to have a hazard that could be avoided only with good luck or local knowledge—the sort of seemingly arbitrary booby trap that is plentiful on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Jones’s father, Colonel Bob Jones (photo above), drove into it during his first round on the course, in 1932, and when he found his ball in the sand he shouted, “What goddamned fool put a goddamned bunker right in the goddamned center of the goddamned fairway?” or words to that effect. His son, who was playing with him (along with Roberts), had to answer, “I did.” The bunker was eventually filled in, though not till many years later.

Masters Countdown: Tenth Hole

ANGC early routing

In Alister MacKenzie’s original conception of the golf course at Augusta National (shown above), the holes were numbered as they are today. MacKenzie’s thinking changed in 1931, before construction began, and he switched the nines, so that the current first hole became the tenth. Several writers have attributed the change to Bobby Jones, who contributed to the design, but contemporary documents make it clear that the idea was MacKenzie’s. His intention was probably to provide a better view of the finishing green to members who might be lounging near the big picture windows in the locker room of the planned new clubhouse, which Jones and Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founders, intended to build as soon as they’d raised enough money to tear down the old plantation house. (Luckily, they never did. I’ll tell that story soon.)

ANGC tenth green

The club switched the nines again in 1934, between the first tournament and the second. This time, the reason was that the shady area near the current twelfth green, which lay at the lowest elevation on the property, was the last part of the course to thaw on frosty mornings. By playing the other nine first, golfers could tee off earlier. The new arrangement also made for more stirring Masters finishes, a fact that was recognized at the time.

Tenth hole, Augusta National. Looking back up the hill, toward the tee.

Tenth hole, Augusta National. Looking back up the hill, toward the tee.

It’s easy to understand why MacKenzie thought of the current tenth as a good starting hole. The view from the tee is one of the most enticing in golf—the sort that can coax a smooth swing from a hurried player who hasn’t had time to loosen up. The drop in elevation to the ideal landing area is more than a hundred feet—enough to make a thinly struck drive seem solidly launched. The fairway runs down and to the left and out of sight, through a bending corridor of pine trees. The slope rewards any player who can work the ball from right to left, yet there is room on the right for those who can’t. Golfers leave the tee feeling that they are descending into a different world—an appropriate emotion for players entering the most celebrated second nine in golf.

Early members playing the tenth hole.

Early Augusta members playing the tenth. In MacKenzie’s first drawing of the hole, there was a big fairway bunker not too far from the foreground of this photo. (See the plan at the top of this post.) When this hole became the opening hole, though, he removed the bunker, because he didn’t think a golfer should have to clear a large hazard with his first shot of the day. But when the ordering of the holes changed again the fairway bunker wasn’t put back.

The tenth hole was originally much shorter than it is today. (MacKenzie, in a note in the program for the first tournament, in 1934, called the hole “comparatively easy.”) Until 1937, the green was situated well in front of and below where it is today, in a damp hollow to the right of the sprawling fairway bunker. That bunker seems anomalous to modern players, because even well-struck drives don’t reach it and even poorly struck approach shots usually miss it. But in the early years the bunker (which at that time was really more of a waste area) guarded the left flank of a punchbowl green:

The original tenth green, on the right. The current green is well beyond it and to the left.

The original tenth green, on the right. The modern green is on the rise well beyond it and to the left.

Moving the green was the idea of Perry Maxwell, who one year later also redesigned the seventh hole. Maxwell pointed out that moving the tenth green to higher ground would not only solve a drainage problem but also markedly strengthen the hole. The change turned a breathtaking but mediocre short hole into one of the greatest par 4s in the world.

Did Bobby Jones Use an Illegal Putting Stroke?

Bobby Jones Putting

Last week, the U. S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews adopted Rule 14-1b, which prohibits so-called “anchored” putting strokes. (The rule will go into effect in 2016.) Nate Burns, a reader in New York City, writes:

In their recent rules decision, the U.S.G.A. and R. & A. claim that “the essence of the traditional method of golf stroke involves the player swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands being held away from the body,” but I question whether that is actually the case. If you look at video of golfers in the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, you see that many of them anchored a hand or forearm against their leg to create a hinge (a technique that will become illegal under the new rule). It makes me wonder how the stroke has evolved over time and whether there really is an “essence” of the traditional stroke. (It seems to me like the U.S.G.A. might be making stuff up.)  Is it possible that anchored putting is actually more “traditional” than non-anchored putting? 

To see what Burns means, compare the photo above with the photo below—which is from the U.S.G.A.’s website and depicts a putting technique that will be banned under the new rule. (To see a U.S.G.A. album of prohibited putting strokes, go here.)

USGA photo

As Burns observes, putting techniques like Bobby Jones’s, in which one or both hands were held against a leg during at least part of the stroke, were common in the old days. Here’s Jones demonstrating how to do it:

Burns has found additional evidence in old film clips on the U.S.G.A.’s own website. In an email to me, he called particular attention to the ones showing “Bobby Jones winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur, Tommy Armour winning the 1927 Open, and Lawson Little at the 1940 Open.”

What do you think?

Burns, incidentally, is a student at Columbia Business School. He has a handicap index of 3.4, and plays mainly at Knickerbocker Country Club, in Tenafly, New Jersey. “I played all my golf out at Bethpage State Park until I got a junior membership at K.C.C., about a year ago,” he told me. “I grew up in Northern Virginia playing junior golf with Steve Marino (he was awesome), and I was in the same class at Wake Forest as Bill Haas (although I wasn’t on the golf team and didn’t really know him). I don’t currently use an anchored stroke, but I have tried pretty much every type of putter and grip, in casual rounds and in club and Metropolitan Golf Association competitions. Unfortunately, none has worked particularly well.”

Bobby Jones’s Father Makes a Masters Rules Decision

The Colonel.

The Colonel.

In the early years of the Masters, the club sometimes had trouble finding knowledgeable volunteers to serve as rules officials. “On one occasion,” Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder, wrote in 1970 in a letter to Lincoln Werden of the New York Times, “the shortage was such that we appealed to Bob Jones for suggestions as to whom we might enlist. Bob said that we might in a pinch request his dad.” Jones’s father, who was known as the Colonel, was accordingly posted to the twelfth hole on the final day of the tournament. There had been a great deal of rain during the night, and the course was very wet. One player hit a poor shot that landed in a soggy area near the creek. The player spotted the Colonel, called him over, and asked whether he was entitled to relief from casual water. The Colonel asked him where he stood in relation to par. “Eighteen over,” the player said. The Colonel demanded, “Then what in the goddamn hell difference does it make? Tee the thing up on a peg for all I give a hoot!” [The word “hoot” may not be historically accurate.]

In the early years, a small pot bunker was originally positioned in the center of the eleventh fairway at roughly the distance of a reasonable drive. The bunker, which could not be seen from the tee, was Bobby Jones’s idea. He had wanted the course to have a hazard that could be avoided only with good luck or local knowledge—the sort of seemingly arbitrary booby trap that is plentiful on the Old Course. The Colonel drove into the hidden hazard during his first round on the course, in 1932. When he found his ball in the sand, he shouted, “What goddamned fool put a goddamned bunker right in the goddamned center of the goddamned fairway?” or words to that effect. His son, who was playing with him (along with Roberts), had to answer, “I did.” The bunker was eventually filled in.

The Colonel was one of the club’s most colorful personages. Roberts, in his book about the club, wrote, “When I first knew the Colonel, he could play to a handicap of about eight. When he played worse than that it was the fault of the ball, the way some green had been mowed, a divot hole, an unraked bunker, or some bad luck demon. On such days he was prone to express his feelings with swearwords; not just the usual kind of swearing, but original, lengthy, and complex imprecations that were classics. Numbers of people who were regular companions felt disappointed when the Colonel played well, as they always looked forward to a prolonged blast of cussing that they had never previously heard.” On a trip to Philadelphia for the 1934 U. S. Open, Roberts and Bobby Jones lost track of the Colonel in the hotel where they were staying. After a lengthy search, they found him in the ballroom. Roberts wrote, “The Colonel, baton in hand, was directing the orchestra, and at the same time singing the words for the music that he was conducting.” The Colonel died in 1956.

Masters Countdown: Cattle, Turkeys, and Prisoners of War

Soldiers from Camp Gordon, with WAC caddies, putting at Augusta National in 1942, before the club closed for the duration. You can see the clubhouse in the background.

Soldiers from Camp Gordon, with WAC caddies, putting at Augusta National in 1942, before the club closed for the duration. You can see the clubhouse in the background.

On Tuesday, I swapped spring weather in Connecticut for summer weather in Florida by flying to Orlando to talk about the history of Augusta National and the Masters on Morning Drive, on the Golf Channel. Among the many topics we covered was the club’s struggle to remain solvent through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Clifford Roberts, who co-founded the club and the tournament with Bobby Jones, said later that if he and Jones had known at the outset how long the Depression was going to last they wouldn’t have had the nerve to proceed. The Masters field actually shrank steadily during the early years—from seventy-two players in 1934 to forty-six in 1939—and then, just as the club’s fortune’s seemed to be turning, the country went to war.

Augusta National closed for the duration after the tournament In 1942, and Jones suggested to Roberts that the club might both contribute to the war effort and improve its financial situation by raising cattle on the golf course.The idea was that the cattle would keep the Bermuda grass under control while fattening themselves to the point where they could be sold at a profit. One of the club’s members had a son who knew about livestock, and he determined that the club had enough grass to support two hundred or two hundred and fifty head. Roberts suggested that the club might also want to try raising turkeys, geese, fish, “and what-not.”

ANGC cattle

Towards the end of 1943, Roberts reported to the members that the club’s agricultural efforts were going well. The cattle herd numbered about two hundred, and the plan was to purchase another two hundred as soon as the original animals could be sold. “The Club also purchased 1,423 day-old turkeys and was successful in raising 1,004 of them,” Roberts wrote. “These turkeys will soon be ready for market but over 100 are to be retained for Christmas distribution to our members—one to each member.” (These Christmas presents were popular.  A member who had received one wrote to Roberts, “It was a peach all right and doubly welcome in these days of tight rationing.”) The club also harvested pecans from its own trees. It donated half the crop, through the wife of the sportswriter Grantland Rice, a founding member, to an Army canteen, and it sold the other half in ten-pound bags to members. There was talk of growing corn and peanuts in a field that is now the practice range, but that idea was abandoned as unlikely to succeed.

That's Grantland Rice on the left and Bobby Jones on the right, during an early Masters. I don't know who is in the middle.

That’s Grantland Rice on the left and Bobby Jones on the right, during an early Masters. I don’t know who is in the middle.

Despite Roberts’s enthusiasm, the livestock experiment was a failure. A price ceiling had been imposed on  turkeys but not on feed, and the market for beef was hurt by a sudden cattle glut resulting from drought conditions in the West. By the fall of 1944, the club had lost about $5,000 on the beef operation, not including the cost of damage to the course and its plantings. (The damage had been caused by what Roberts described as “the voracious appetite of the cattle.”) The loss was partly offset by a profit on the turkeys. But Roberts concluded, in a letter to the members, that “we have a better chance as a golf club rather than as live-stock feeders.”

Returning the course to playing condition began in late 1944, when the end of the war had begun to seem imminent. Military use of local hotels was slackening, and Roberts had calculated that the cost of restoring the course would no longer be significantly greater than the cost of maintaining it as it was. He announced that the club would reopen on December 23, 1944, and that the course would be ready for play sometime later.

Much of the restoration work on the course was done during a six-month period by forty-two German prisoners of war, who were being detained at Camp Gordon, in Augusta, and were available for hire as day laborers by local businesses. The prisoners had been part of an engineering crew in Rommel’s Afrika Korps. They had been surprised, upon arriving in America, to find that New York was still standing, because they had been told by Nazi propagandists that German bombers had leveled the city. The club arranged for transportation to pick them up at Camp Gordon each morning and return them at the end of the day. A local member, who used to bring them fruit and visit with them while they worked, told me that the army had sent them out “mostly just to give them something to do.”

This POW camp was in Williamston, North Carolina, not Augusta, Georgia, but it was similar to the one at Camp Gordon.

This POW camp was in Williamston, North Carolina, not Augusta, Georgia, but it was similar to the one at Camp Gordon.

In Africa, the German soldiers had built bridges for Rommel’s tanks. At Augusta National, they built a similar bridge over Rae’s Creek near the thirteenth tee. It was a truss bridge made of wood, and it was marked by a wooden sign on which the soldiers carved an inscription. The bridge, which is visible in a few old photographs, either washed away in a flood in the early fifties or was taken down in 1958 to make way for a stone bridge dedicated to Byron Nelson. The Ben Hogan Bridge, which crosses Rae’s Creek near the twelfth green, was built and dedicated at the same time.

The photographer Frank Christian, in his book Augusta National & The Masters, recalls spending summer afternoons on the course during this period, when he was a young boy. “[M]y older brother, Toni, and I would gather our playmates and walk the few blocks from our house to the inviting shores of Rae’s Creek, where we had discovered the ideal swimming hole in front of the twelfth green,” Christian writes. “We would take rocks and dam the creek to create several deep holes within the pond, just perfect for running jumps taken from the high side of the creek. . . . After swimming, a great part of our fun was to throw cow biscuits at one another and chase the cows up and down the fairways.” Fred Bennett, who would later become a caddie and then the club’s caddie master, also came to Rae’s Creek to swim and fish. “I remember those cows very well,” he told me in the late nineteen-nineties. “And when the war was over you could tell they’d been there, because all over the fairways there were circles of bright green grass about a foot across.”

Wounded soldiers watching the Masters from litters placed beside the eighteenth green in 1947. The club gave them free tickets and preferred seating.

Wounded soldiers watching the Masters from litters placed beside the eighteenth green in 1947. The club gave them free tickets and preferred seating.

Masters Countdown: The Origin of Magnolia Lane

Members of the Berckmans family on the veranda of what is now the Augusta National clubhouse, late 1800s.

Members of the Berckmans family on the veranda of what is now the Augusta National clubhouse, late 1800s.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, a horticulturist and landscape architect named Prosper Julius Alphonse Berckmans planted a double row of magnolia trees leading into a piece of property that he and his father, a Belgian nobleman, had bought on the outskirts of Augusta. He grew the trees from seeds. The two rows were two hundred fifty yards long, and between them ran a bumpy dirt road that the Berckmans family used as a driveway.

Magnolia Lane, at Washington Road, 1900.

Prosper Berckmans’s double row of magnolias, at Washington Road, 1900.

In the late 1990s, Lawrence Bennett—who was the son of Augusta National’s director of outside personnel and a part-time employee of the club as well as a high-school history teacher—told me that his grandmother, whose own grandmother had been a slave, remembered noticing the magnolias just after the turn of the century, when her family came to town in a covered wagon once a month to buy supplies. By 1931, when Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, the club’s co-founders, first visited the property, the magnolias were good-size trees and the driveway was known locally as Magnolia Avenue. Because the branches were long and close to the ground, two cars could not pass side by side between the rows, and Roberts and Jones briefly considered placing the club’s main entrance well to the left.

The magnolia trees are on the right side of this  photograph, which was taken around the time of the first tournament. The road that Roberts and Jones considered using as the club's driveway is at the lower left.

The magnolia trees are on the right side of this photograph, which was taken around the time of the first tournament. Roberts and Jones considered using the dirt road that slants across the lower left as the club’s driveway, because they worried that two cars wouldn’t be able to pass each other in the narrow opening between the rows of trees.

Roberts loved the magnolias and worried about them, as he did about most of the trees on the club’s property. If a loblolly pine on the golf course died, he wanted to know why it had died, and he wanted the tree removed immediately in case the thing that had killed it was catching. He didn’t like deciduous trees, because in his view fallen leaves were a species of litter; he thinned oaks and maples in favor of half a dozen varieties of pine. He read scholarly articles about tree care and consulted forestry professors. When a contractor who was building a new tee ignored his warning to keep construction machinery away from some old trees that he was especially fond of, he ordered the contractor to leave the grounds.

One night in the nineteen-sixties, Roberts and his wife had dinner in New York with another Augusta National member and his wife. They got to talking about the plantings on the club’s property. The member asked how old the Magnolia Lane magnolias were. Roberts said they were a little more than a hundred years old, and that with proper care they ought to live another hundred or hundred and fifty years. The member’s wife said, “Well, that certainly ought to be long enough.”

Roberts turned on her the same fierce stare with which he pinned neglectful committee members to the backs of their chairs. “No,” he said, after what to the wife seemed like the better part of the life span of a magnolia, “that is not long enough.”

Fruitlands Catalogue