Masters Countdown: Clifford Roberts and the Range Balls


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 Countdown: Bobby Jones in Color

Bobby Jones in Color

The photograph above was taken in 1947, during the next to last Masters that Bobby Jones competed in. His badge identifies him as Player No. 1. The photographer was apparently experimenting with an early color film. The negatives were discovered in an envelope in an old file cabinet at Augusta National almost fifty years later, around the time I began researching my book The Making of the Masters. No prints are known to have been made before that time.

There is a great deal of confusion about Jones and his status as a player. Augusta National, in tournament publications, lists him as an amateur, but by the rules of the U.S.G.A he became a professional in 1930, when Warner Bros. hired him to make instructional films, and when, a little later, he began designing and promoting golf clubs for A.G. Spalding & Bros.

Jones retired from competition not because he had no worlds left to conquer; he retired because he abhorred the idea of being labeled a professional. In a letter to Clifford Roberts many years later, he described the typical pro as “an uneducated club servant”—a prejudice that dated to the early days of his competitive career, when only amateurs were accorded the honorific Lyrica to buy Mr., professionals weren’t allowed inside clubhouses, and tournament organizers distinguished between “gentlemen” and “players.”

“So long as I played as an amateur, there could be no question of subterfuge or concealment,” he wrote in 1960—a statement that clearly shows what he thought of playing golf for money. Roberts secured Jones’s participation in the first Masters, in 1934, by cleverly dodging the issue: in the tournament’s program listings and pairing sheets, he made no distinction between amateurs and professionals.

But the distinction was invariably noted elsewhere. The Associated Press and all other news organizations, in their coverage of the tournaments Jones competed in, listed him with the pros. Even O.B. Keeler, who had built his sportswriting career by celebrating Jones’s amateur accomplishments, took it for granted that Jones was now a professional. And so did Augusta National, officially.That’s why Charles Yates, not Jones, was honored as the low amateur in the first Masters, even though Yates’s score was three strokes worse than Jones’s.

Would Jones have played in the Masters if the club had been compelled to label him explicitly as a professional? Roberts said in later years that he suspected he probably would have, in order to help the club. But Roberts was uncertain enough that he never raised the matter with him, either then or later.

In Golf is My Game, Jones wrote that to give up his amateur status would have been “like giving up part of myself.” But, in fact, he gave it up in 1930. And he had a powerful incentive for doing so. His golf-related income in 1933, when the first tournament was being planned, was over $100,000; in contrast, Paul Runyan, who won nine events that year and was the tour’s leading money-winner, had gross tournament earnings of less than $6,500.