“The modern golf season never ends, but it does begin. When the first contestant tees off at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday morning, golfers all over the world reset their internal clocks. The first page in a golfer’s calendar has just been turned.”
That’s how David Owen opens his book The Making of The Masters. This book presents one of the most interesting stories you can read. It is the life story of Augusta National Golf Club, The Masters Tournament, Clifford Roberts, its founder and Bobby Jones, the inspiration for everything Masters. The Making of The Masters is one of the few books that are actually sold at Augusta National GC. It’s factual, compelling, behind the scenes account of the life and times of America’s most renowned golf club is, in my opinion, one of the great reads of all-time.
For tournament spectators, the Masters is an annual reunion where the passage of time is measured not in years but in the names of champions. My six Masters would be measured by Ballesteros (1983); Crenshaw (1984); Cabrera (2009); Mickelson (2010); Schwartzel (2011) and B. Watson (2011).
The principal viewing areas have the settled feel of old neighborhoods and the course is as familiar as a friend’s backyard. I will never forget the first time I played Augusta National in 2009. It was like I had been on the course a hundred times before. So many rounds in front of a television set over the years had made this place seem like the home course I grew up on.
Each year, in countless gatherings beneath the pine trees, acquaintances are renewed and records are brought up to date: deaths, marriages, children, grandchildren, new houses, old jobs. The dogwood blossoms are compared with dogwood blossoms of previous years.
For distant golf fans, the first glimpse of Amen Corner on TV is proof that winter is actually gone. Northerners who haven’t swung a club since Thanksgiving scrounge an old ball from the garage and roll a few putts across the carpet during commercials.
There is probably no more famous patch of ground in the world than Amen Corner. This would be defined as the walk down the hill to the 11th green and the beginning of Rae’s Creek just right of the green. Next up is the scenic and treacherous 12th hole, which is a short par three with carry across the pond formed by Rae’s Creek. Finally, the 13th is a dogleg left par five that features the most brilliant color in the world with its azaleas and dogwoods along the left side of hole and behind the green. Rae’s Creek guards the front of the 13th green and it waves good bye as it meanders through the woods.
Furman Bisher, the great writer from the Atlanta Constitution, described the origin of Amen Corner. “Actually, Amen Corner in Southern terminology originated in Protestant churches, where the menfolk collected in one corner, womenfolk herding the children into another, and when the pastor might strike a sensitive note, the menfolk would utter an approving “Amen” from their pews. So be it.”
For nongolfers, the Masters is the one tournament of the year that draws their attention.
My best drive of the year? It will be the first one down Magnolia Lane at this year’s Masters. That trip down Magnolia Lane may be the most dreamed about entrance in all of sports. The speed limit is 10 mph and even a lead foot driver like me will abide by the rules, if for no other reason, to prolong the experience of that drive.
Gary Player once said, “The Masters is the only tournament I ever knew where you choke when you drive through the front gate.”
Sam Snead said, “If you asked golfers what tournament they would rather win over all the others, I think every one of them to a man would say the Masters.”
Late at night after Tiger Woods’ record-breaking victory in 1997, Earl Woods looked in on his son and found him curled up in bed, asleep with a smile on his face, his arms wrapped around his green jacket.
The Masters is unique among the four major golf championships because it is conducted by a private club and not by a national golf organization such as the USGA, R&A or PGA of America. Augusta National members chair nearly two dozen committees.
Founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, the club faced financial ruin repeatedly during its first fifteen years. As the club was being formed in 1931, the first business plan called for 1,800 members, each of whom would pay annual dues of $60. Three years later, as the first Masters got underway; the club was 1,724 members short of its goal.
The Masters, which began in 1934 as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament, was recognized from the start as an exceptionally well-run event, but it remained an economic burden for years. The club could not afford to pay the first winner, Horton Smith, or any of the other top finishers until seventeen members chipped in for a plaque. When Herman Keiser won in 1946, he was told that his plaque would be forthcoming as soon as the club could come up with the silver.
The club survived its early adversities because of the perseverance of its two founders, Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. It is usually said that Jones conceived the club and Roberts financed it, but the roles were arguably reversed. Without Jones’ popularity the club never would have attracted the financing and without Roberts’ vision and determination the club would have folded. Ironically, Roberts later said that if he and Jones would have known how long the Depression was going to last, they never would have embarked on the project.
The Masters is still the competition by which other competitions are judged. That’s a remarkable achievement given its humble beginnings. The credit belongs largely to Roberts. He built the club and tournament against insurmountable odds, and in doing so he probably did as much as any other single person to shape what golfers and golf fans think of as the world of competitive golf.
This week is truly a rite of passage for golf. Who will wear the green jacket on Sunday? Is Tiger primed for his fifth? Will Rory rise from the dead and get his first? There are lots of fearless young guns on the PGA Tour like last year’s winner Bubba Watson. This year’s Masters is guaranteed to be as good as ever.