No one could imagine when amateur golfer Bob Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930 at the age of 28 that he would leave the game a comparable legacy, Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. Bob had a vision to design a course that would be a National Treasure, challenging enough for the expert player, yet not so intimidating for the average player; a course that required brains over physical strength.
Bob Jones and his business partner Clifford Roberts became the co-founders of Augusta National Golf Club. They discovered the property of the Fruitland’s nursery just outside of Atlanta in Augusta Georgia that would become the home for Augusta National. From the entrance that greets you with 250 yards of towering Magnolias planted before the Civil War, to the first Wisteria brought to the United States planted behind what is now the clubhouse, Augusta National is breathtaking both in physical beauty and competitive wonders.
Construction of a golf course in the 1930’s was a labor of love. It took brute strength of horses, mules and man to transform the landscape of the nursery into a challenging golf course. This was accomplished under the leadership of Bob Jones and Dr. Alistair McKenzie, golf course architect. Fruitland’s Nursery was molded into one of the most beautiful golf course landscapes in the world.
During WW II play was suspended from1943 – 1945 as Bob Jones and other members went to serve their country. The membership even gave the use of the land to graze sheep and turkey for the war effort. The course was almost lost due to damage from the grazing animals and lack of care. There is no official count, but thousands of trees, shrubs and plants were lost from the property during that time.
After the war Augusta National was on a path of recovery. WW II POW’s held at nearby Fort Gordon were brought in to restore the property after the war and the course re-opened. The Augusta membership has been a strong force in the local military community. They gifted a driving range, putting green and 9-hole golf course to the soldiers of Camp Gordon. In fact, the legend of Arnold Palmer’s fans named “Arnie’s Army” came from the soldiers from Fort Gordon who followed and cheered Arnie around Augusta early in his career.
The course and tournament we know and love today can be attributed to the combined efforts of Bob Jones vision and Clifford Robert’s eye for detail. Cliff was a perfectionist as reflected in his demands for placing 2 hooks for every picture frame in the clubhouse to ensure they hung properly, ordering that fresh bills were brought in from the bank daily to make change for the patrons, and replacing oak & maple trees with pines so there were no leaves to litter the course.
Cliff was a type “A” personality, a left brainer, consistent with his profession as an accountant. In fact he was the accountant for another famous American from WWII, General Dwight Eisenhower. “IKE” first visited Augusta National in 1948 when he was in between jobs. He had just left the position of Chief of Staff for the United States Army and hadn’t yet become President of Columbia University when he became a member of Augusta National.
Ike visited Augusta 5 times before becoming president in 1952. Legend has it that it was the membership of Augusta who put IKE on his path to becoming the President of the United States. Bumper stickers circulated by the opposition stated “BEN HOGAN FOR PRESIDENT – if we are going to have a golfer, let’s have a good one.” Ike, Bob Jones & Cliff Roberts enjoyed golf & playing bridge and IKE had another passion for painting. When IKE became President the membership built a cabin for him on the property with an artist studio that overlooks the PAR 3 course at Augusta. IKE’s paintings include a replica of a Bob Jones portrait that still hangs in the Jones Cabin and one of Ike’s grandson hanging in the Eisenhower cabin.
The “cabins” of Augusta were built for members so they would not have to look for a place to stay when they visited Augusta National. Membership consisted of captains of industry from all over the country compared to most courses that had a local membership. It is hard to believe that the initial members had to be talked into to becoming a member and the cabins were an added benefit of membership. The cabins are more like a white brick 1 ½ story home and are distinctive neighborhood on the property separating the regulation course from the par 3 course.
Roberts’ eye for detail and Jones’ passion for the game have created the most sought after ticket of all sporting events ”THE MASTERS.” Roberts went as far to make sure all trash liners and food containers were green so they would blend in to the grass and go unnoticed by the cameras televising the event.
The Master’s is truly a unique sporting event, being the only “major” golf tournament played on the same course each year. The Tournament is steeped in traditions. The previous year’s winner selects the menu for the Champions dinner that only the select few who have won the “Green Jacket” can attend. A Par 3 Tournament is held each year when spectators can see the legends walk alongside the young champions of today. If a player is successful enough to win a tournament that qualifies him to compete at Augusta, their name is announced by the honorary starter, a tradition dating back to 1935 with Fred McLeod being the first of the honorary starters. Since 1935 these players have all been in search of the coveted “Green Jacket,” not a trophy. From the first winner Horton Smith to the 2010 winner Phil Mickelson with Arnold Palmer being the honorary starter, The Masters is a reflection of time honored traditions and sportsmanship reflecting the “spirit of the game of golf.”
The Masters drama is a palpable. In 1935 the shot heard around the world came from the 15th Hole when Gene Sarazen had a double eagle. We all felt Ben Crenshaw’s bitter-sweet victory at the 1995 Masters as he stood on the 18th green after sinking the winning putt, depleted of strength, hands dropped to his knees and tears in his eyes, after being a pallbearer the previous Tuesday for his friend, mentor & coach Harvey Penick. Who can forget Tiger Woods in the 1997 Masters with the lowest tournament round of 270 averaging 67.5, or his famous chip in at the 2005 Masters Tournament on the Par 3, 16th hole?
If you are not one of the lucky ones to attend the Masters in person you can still enjoy the tournament that is televised each year. You might want to stock up on Bob Jones lunch of choice: pimento cheese sandwiches, moon pies & Coke-a-Cola, get comfortable in your favorite recliner, and tune into The Masters Tournament held the first full week of April each year. It will not disappoint. The scenery, traditions and competition will serve as a beacon announcing the arrival of spring, and the return of the great game of golf to the Erie Community.