"THE MASTERS," Alistair Cooke wrote, "is more like a vast Edwardian garden party than a golf tournament."
The comparison must have occurred to the distinguished journalist and former host of Masterpiece Theater as he sat at a table under an umbrella one afternoon, drink in hand, and watched the green-jacketed club members and their wives mingle with guests on the grassed terrace of the Augusta National Golf Club. Georges Seurat would have painted the scene with a thousand tiny daubs of green and white.
"The Veranda": 33 white tables shaded by green-and-white umbrellas set out in three precise rows on the golf course side of the Augusta National clubhouse and adjacent to "the Tree," another Masters landmark. For 60 years waiters in gold jackets and black ties have bustled back and forth from the kitchen in the old plantation house, ferrying peach cobbler and club sandwiches to the most elegant sports assemblage this side of Ascot. And for 60 years absolutely nothing untoward or memorable has occurred. No brawls, no duels. Says former Augusta National chairman Hord Hardin, "No, nothing ever happens."
Nevertheless, for one week in April the lawn between the clubhouse and the practice putting area becomes the most desirable address in sports. There royalty and film stars have brushed crumbs off white flannels; captains of industry have belched behind discreetly raised fists; and social-climbing sportswriters have reclined in springy chairs, as if to the manner born.
Defined expansively—a necessity because the dictionary identifies veranda as a porch or balcony, usually roofed—the Augusta veranda is made up of three distinct areas. There is the sunny, ryegrass lawn with tables and umbrellas; a furnitureless shade area defined by the drip line of the great live oak tree; and a path between the two that leads to the clubhouse. A nylon gallery rope marks the perimeter, with a polite Pinkerton at each of the two entries to check for the required badges. The arrangement is pretty much as club founder Robert Tyre Jones Jr. and longtime Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts had it for the first Masters, in 1934.
"I have never read in early records where they specifically call it a veranda," says club historian Barbara Spencer. Most club members, in fact, refer to the umbrella area as the Terrace. However, Spencer's own husband, head pro Dave Spencer, calls the area the Veranda, and so do visitors from the North.
Although nothing happens on the Veranda, the drama out on the course regularly laps up in the form of crowd roars from the nearby 9th and 18th greens and the players and caddies who climb the hill after a round. On their way to the locker room, contestants stop under the Tree to be videotaped and debriefed by knots of reporters. Some rush their interviews, change shoes and hurry off; others return for a sandwich and to wind down.
Ironically, the Terrace—the most prestigious perch at one of the world's most exclusive golf clubs—affords no view of the golf. The land falls away sharply toward Amen Corner, and though from one spot under the Tree a standing green jacket can catch a glimpse of the 1st tee, the view from the lawn is mostly that of milling spectators, i.e., belt buckles and ticket badges.
But then veranda-goers have each other to look at. And veranda-goers are a show in themselves.