As a child raised in Augusta during the 1960s, I never thought much about the Masters Tournament. I just naively assumed that Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and the like came to everybody’s hometown once a year and played a little golf.
Of course, I’ve known for years that it was as far from the truth as the par-5 eighth hole at Augusta National Golf Club is long.
While learning the game from my father as a pre-teen, I was puzzled by his outlook on the gentleman’s aspect of the sport. I vividly remember asking him, “Why does everybody clap for just anybody’s great shot?” As a football and baseball fan, that made absolutely no sense to me at all. Were there no bad guys or enemies anywhere on the course? Geez!
His warm reply said it all. “Son, the golfer plays against the course, not the other golfers. We are supposed to applaud all great strokes.”
He then reached into his back pocket and handed me his sweat-soaked copy of the Masters etiquette booklet that Bobby Jones made readily available to all patrons. He pointed out the paragraph that included “contestants are invited guests and everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect.”
“See, son,” he said, “just treat every golfer as if they are guests in our home because as Augustans, these golfers are our guests.”
In the ’60s (and early ’70s), tickets, eh, make that badges, were in plentiful supply and almost all of your friends had easy access to them. If you wanted to go, you could.
Many Augustans would meet up at the 16th green where it seemed you would see most everyone you knew. It was “party central” on the course and besides, the grown-ups were real close to the beer tent. I liked the egg salad sandwiches the best but if you got to the course early you might be able to get a fried chicken sandwich, which always sold out before lunchtime.
For locals in those days, it was always great fun to hang around 16. Since it’s a par-3, my friends and I would wager dimes on which golfer would get closest to the hole.
It was a neat thing to do while waiting between twosomes and besides, you learned about lesser-known golfers like Gardner Dickinson, Johnny Pott, and the fiery-tempered Tommy Bolt, the latter of whom had those cool lightning bolts on his bag.
As I got older, my friends and I graduated to the par-5 15th green where there was more at stake for golfer and patron alike. On that hallowed hole, the player has the option of playing it safe by laying up in front of that daunting pond or going for the green in two. The latter was our favorite, as it courted disaster of either the water or sand variety.
On that hole, much to our great delight, long hitters like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf almost always got out their woods or long irons and let it rip. However, the conservative types like 1970 Masters champ Billy Casper (and much later Chip Beck) almost always played it safe and laid up, much to our chagrin.
Everyone who was fortunate enough to have witnessed the Masters in those days has a favorite story. One of mine is a rather obscure moment from 1964 when Arnold Palmer won at Augusta his fourth time. It was at the 18th green on Sunday and Palmer, who had a commanding six-shot lead, was paired with the late, great Texan Dave Marr.
Marr was away and had a long, breaking snake of a putt for birdie to tie him and Nicklaus for second place. To everyone’s delight, Marr sank the tricky putt, and I, a 10-year-old, had never, ever seen a golfer so happy at the Masters. A grinning Marr retrieved his ball from the bottom of the cup and waited for Palmer to finish the hole and the tournament.
I looked at my father and asked, “Dad, why is Mr. Marr so thrilled? All he did was make a real good putt.” He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye brighter than Masters crystal and told me, “Son, that one putt just made Dave Marr $4,000.” FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS? That, I understood!
Those were the days, but these are the days, too. It’s time for some great new memories.
Welcome to Augusta, everybody. It’s Masters time and we are delighted that you are here as our guests. Please make yourself right at home!