The Master’s tournament has always been a favorite of mine. I have had the privilege of playing Augusta National 6 times. There is something very special about that place. The members stay on the course in these little cottages. One is called the Eisenhower Cottage, because it was built for President Eisenhower. Another is the Bobby Jones cottage, which is next to the 10th tee. Then there is the Butler Cabin, where they do the press conference awarding a green jacket to the new winner.
On the second floor of the club house there is a locker room, reserved for winners of the Masters. They each have their own locker, and the green jacket they were awarded is kept in that locker. This is one place where everyone plays by the rules. The first time I played there I was totally intimidated when we went to the driving range where I met my caddy, wearing the traditional white jump suit and a green hat. I felt very unworthy.
One of the traditions of the Masters is that it is against the rules to tip anyone, including the caddy. They warn every player about this, before every round. We were sternly told that the caddies are very well compensated and that if you tip one, and they accept it, they will be fired. There are no cell phones allowed on the course.
But my favorite was always someone telling the story about the Eisenhower tree. This tree was located about 210 yards from the tee on the left side of the 17th fairway. I never hit it but have certainly see professional golfers mess up a round hitting that tree. President Eisenhower hated that tree and was not impressed. He brought this up at an annual membership meeting. He asked why they couldn’t remove it. The Chairman of Augusta National at the time, Cliff Roberts, just said: “there being no further business, the meeting is closed.” That is why it was called the Eisenhower tree until it finally died of old age in 2014. Every time I played at Augusta someone told that story.
Today the current Chairman of Augusta National addressed the controversy regarding the Georgia voting law. His answer was perfect.
“I believe, as does everyone in our organization, that the right to vote is fundamental in our democratic society,” No one should be disadvantaged in exercising that right [to vote], and it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process.”
This did not surprise me. The first time I met Fred Ridley was when we played a round of golf together at the Fred McGriff invitational. After Fred has made 14 consecutive pars on a championship caliber golf course, I asked him if he ever played competitive golf. He admitted that he had won the U.S. Amateur beating Lanny Watkins. Fred was the senior partner is a law firm that did a lot of work for me in the Tampa Bay area.
A couple of years later Fred called me and asked how far I lived from the Olympic Club. I said it was about 25 miles. He said, “I don’t know if you know this, but I am the Chairman of the USGA rules Committee. I wondered if you would like PGA credentials for the U.S. Open.” I took a week off work and my wife and I attended all the practice rounds and the U.S. Open. A couple of years later he called and asked how far it was to Pebble Beach. At that time, he was the President of the USGA. So, we also spent a week in Monterey attending another U.S. Open.
Fred is a nice guy and while very competent he is also very real and friendly. I haven’t talked to him since I retired from ABM, but he called me to wish me good luck. I knew he was Chairman of the Masters Tournament committee but was pleased and shocked to learn he was the new Chairman.
NO, I would never call Fred and try to get anyone on Augusta National. It doesn’t work that way; you must be invited. But I do enjoy seeing someone I know and consider a friend do a marvelous job in a very challenging position.
My person memory of Augusta National was when I stupidly hit my tee shot over the 16th green. I was in a sand trap, taller than my head. I asked the caddy where to hit the ball. He pointed to a spot about 4 inches square, off the green, between two bunkers. He said this is the only place you can hit it and keep the ball on the green. I closed my eyes and swung and miraculous hit that exact spot. The ball rolled down to the green, then across the green ending up 65 feet below the hole. I, predictably, three putted from there for a smooth double bogie 5.
The next year I was at the Masters Practice round when one of the pros was practicing from the exact same shot. He hit the ball 10 straight times. Nine of them either landed in the other sand trap or rolled off the green. One and only one of them hit that 4 inch square and stayed on the green. This made me feel much better about myself. But, he didn’t three put. What many people don’t know is that Augusta National closes for the summer shortly after the Masters. That is one reason the course is always in such perfect condition.
Enjoy the Masters. They are not about to leave Georgia. But no one asked the question on my mind. Are they still going to serve Coke?