For the people on The Hill, Tbo's Traditional Brunch was always a tougher ticket than the Masters. In the days when the ladies from the Junior League were practically giving away tournament badges down on Broad Street, what old Augusta coveted was an invitation to the annual April masterpiece of J. Robert Teabeaut II, M.D. But even later, when Masters tickets got as hard to find as good help. Tbo's party was still the thing.
Consider. After four or five nights of drinking and not much in the way of solid food, devotees of the game were in sore need of a stick-to-the-ribs kind of meal—along with a couple of pick-me-ups to fuel the final hours of Masters week. A specialist in forensic pathology, the doctor understood this. "In those days, if you didn't go to seven parties every night, you hadn't been out," says Tbo. "You can imagine. By Sunday morning...."
By Sunday morning old Augusta needed a doctor. So every December, for more than 20 years, he would have 350 pounds of prime, boneless beef hung for aging. He would get his chairs reupholstered and send the drapes out for cleaning. He would call down to Smoak's on Walton Way and order enough tomato aspic and cauliflower with cream sauce to feed, well, who knows?
Tbo could invite 50 or 80 local friends to the Traditional Brunch, but everybody had seven or eight houseguests, and before he knew it, there were 500 people out there in his garden up on The Hill, drinking Irish coffee and brandy milk punch and bourbon on the rocks, popping champagne corks over the house in the direction of Summerville Cemetery and telling Mr. Robert Johnson and his crew exactly how they wanted their steaks cooked.
Those weren't the only attractions. If the winter had been mild and Tbo's bulbs threatened to bloom early, he would pack them in ice so that everything would burst into full splendor on the crucial Sunday. When his guests started arriving at 10 a.m., straight from church, the garden was always a blaze of color. He might also freeze spring flowers into huge blocks of ice. Or furnish the grounds with bunnies and chicks for Easter. One year his old friend Martha Boardman Fleming surprised Tbo with a bagpiper. Another time he asked one of his students from the Medical College of Georgia to show up in a Playboy bunny costume. And no one who is anyone on The Hill, in the fine old neighborhood called Summerville, will forget the Sunday morning when the Doctor's housekeeper, Mattie Devoe, burst from a huge papier-mâché Easter egg, shimmying and shaking in her maid's uniform. In old Augusta that was the kind of touch people appreciated. It was the perfect send-off for Masters celebrants en route to stand Sunday vigil at Amen Corner or on the cool veranda of the Augusta National clubhouse. Mattie, dancing out of an egg.
This was also the party where outsiders could always get tournament badges. Even after Arnie and television and burgeoning throngs of middle-class golfers had turned Augusta's simple old game into something else—into something they thought they understood up in New York or out in California—after Ben Hogan and Sam Snead and lesser mortals had stopped parading through downtown in white Cadillac convertibles provided by the Johnson Motor Company and a Masters badge had become a status symbol, you could still get one in Tbo's garden, sometimes just minutes before the leaders teed off in the final round. Way back, the doctor pitched in by buying eight badges, but even when the National cut him back to two, he more often than not gave those away.
Call it Southern hospitality. The people who lived in the willow-shaded mansions of Summerville had been going to the Masters since Rae's Creek doubled as a kids' swimming hole. When cows from the adjacent dairy used to wander onto the fairways. When the caddie master at the neighboring Augusta Country Club used to lock his charges in a pen and keep order with a bull-whip and pistol. They remembered how Eisenhower campaigned to have that big pine on number 17 at the National chopped down because he was always knocking his drives into it—and how Clifford Roberts, chairman of the Masters, turned down the President of the United States. They even remembered when a visitor to town could deliver a country ham to anybody who lived along Washington Road and get Masters tickets in return, along with a parking spot.
The people up on The Hill had seen it all. So they were usually happy to pass their tournament badges on to eager first-timers and assorted houseguests. Even Yankees. Not that the tickets weren't precious. "The Augusta National people watch the local obituary column religiously," Teabeaut says. "If somebody dies two days before the tournament, their tickets are gone. You lose friends in a hurry around here when you die."
On the other hand, a lot of people in old Augusta don't even bother with the scene at the National on Sunday. In Tbo's prime, if Augustans hadn't already rented their houses for the week, for $2,000 or $5,000 or more, and gotten out of town, many of them were likely to remain in his garden for the afternoon, availing themselves of his hospitality and wit, maybe even watching the last few holes on TV. Over the years there were no fights that he can think of. And if someone occasionally blundered into a serving table or took a three-hour nap in his azalea bushes, so be it. Tbo always threw a splendid, life-giving brunch, and the champagne flowed, but he never hired a photographer.
In Squeaky's Tip Top, Sonny Hill is explaining golf and the hold that Augusta National exerts on the local psyche. "Now to tell you quite honestly, I am more of a fisherman than a player," he says between gulps of beer. As if to underscore the point, Sonny is wearing a blue baseball cap with a plastic catfish stuck through its crown—bewhiskered snout in front, tail fanning out in back.