Plantation Pines, a ragged nine-hole course tucked away at the end of a long dirt road, has a full-time staff of one, a clubhouse the size of a toolshed, two vending machines for refreshments and a driving range where a bucket of 100 balls costs $3.50, the same as the greens fee.
Spartan though it is, golfers of all sorts, from touring pros to hackers, regularly make the pilgrimage to this clearing in the woods on Johns Island, 18 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C. They come not to play the scruffy course but to take lessons from Henry Picard, who at 88, still hale and husky, is the second-oldest living Masters champion (at 93 Gene Sarazen, the 1935 Masters champion, is the oldest).
On most sunny days Picard, who won the Masters in 1938, can be be found seated on a lawn chair on the far side of the range, whipping somebody's swing into shape. "I'll be in the shop, staring across at him," says the head pro at Plantation Pines, Geoff Conine, 41, "and I'll get goose bumps because I feel like the luckiest fellow on earth. I'll think, Gosh, that guy's a living legend. He won the Masters before I was born."
Henry Picard (PICK-crd) also won the 1939 PGA and 23 other tour events. He was the leading money winner in 1939, ahead of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan with $10,303; was a member of victorious U.S. Ryder Cup teams in 1935 and '37; and in a sizzling stretch from 1934 to '35, broke or equaled par in 51 of 54 events.
But Picard hated traveling—mostly because he didn't like being away from his wife, Annie, and four children—so after only 10 seasons he quit the tour and in 1945 went to work as the head pro at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club. He went on to head-pro jobs at some of the country's most prestigious clubs, including Canterbury in Cleveland and Seminole in West Palm Beach, all the while building his reputation among the sport's cognoscenti as an outstanding teacher. Hogan, who rarely dishes out compliments, calls Picard "the greatest teacher I ever knew."
With his glamorous credentials, Picard was one of the most popular figures of his era. But he was also shy and never enjoyed the spotlight, which is why he refused offers to teach at many of Charleston's posher clubs. "Money and fame, they never meant a damn to me," says Picard. "And I would never want to intrude on another pro's turf. You don't do those things. I have too much respect for other pros."
Picard learned his brand of respect from his first boss, Donald Binton. As a boy growing up in Plymouth, Mass., Picard was a strong student who planned to study accounting, but that changed when he was 18. "It was 1925. I was caddying and working as a steward at Plymouth Country Club," he says. "Donald Binton, who was the head pro at Plymouth, asked me if I wanted to go south to work over the winter with him at Charleston Country Club. I told him I'd have to ask my father. Dad said he thought it would be a great opportunity."
Picard never looked, or went, back. For the next five years he apprenticed to Binton in Charleston, learning everything from club making to teaching to managing the pro shop, meanwhile improving his own game in the process. Binton retired in 1930, and Picard succeeded him. The lanky kid with huge hands worked arduously. He patterned his long, powerful swing after that of Bobby Jones, whom he met at the Savannah Country Club. His competitive gusto was forged by ambling on the course with Charleston's members.
Picard won his first big tournament in 1932, the Mid-South Open, and in 1934 he won his second, the North & South Open, which at the time was considered almost a major. When Picard won the 1938 Masters, shooting 284 to beat Harry (Light Horse) Cooper and Ralph Guldahl by two shots, he still thought the North & South was a bigger accomplishment.
"I guess when they started the coat thing [the first winner to get a green jacket was Sam Snead, in 1949], all of a sudden it got bigger than anyone could have imagined," says Picard, whose own green jacket now hangs in his closet. "When I won I think they had to take up a collection from the members to pay me. And the prize money was $1,500. Now it's the best tournament in the world. Going back to Augusta for the annual champions dinner is the highlight of my year. It's the only time I get to see all my old friends."