Keeping in mind how well our arrangement with the Turners has worked out, let us now address ourselves to Mr. Murdoch's offer. Two months ago he requested an audience with the Board, which was granted, though I must admit we were somewhat taken aback when he landed his helicopter on the 1st fairway. We were even more startled to hear his proposal. He wishes to buy the acreage of our entire front nine, and plans, he says, to build a huge television studio on the 5th hole, wherever that is.
I know, I know. I can hear your cries of protest. All of us in attendance reacted the same way. With no front nine there would be no 18, and without an 18 there would be no Masters. We told Mr. Murdoch as much.
He was, of course, prepared for our reaction. He opened by mentioning a price: $1 billion. That certainly got our attention. We quickly calculated that if that sum were invested wisely, it would not only take care of the escalating Masters purse for years but would also rid us of membership dues as well, which, as you know, have reached $250,000 a year. But the question remained: How could we accept his offer and still hold the tournament?
Mr. Murdoch had several suggestions, all of which merit consideration. Could not the competitors, he asked, play the back nine twice? Or perhaps tee off at number 10 playing two balls and record a score for each?—and so on for all nine holes. Perhaps the simplest solution of all, he said, would be to have the competitors play the back nine once and merely double the score, a 34, say, converting to a 68.
Needless to say, our Board wanted time to consider Mr. Murdoch's offer, and we retired to the Arnold Palmer Pub Room to think it over. While intrigued, I felt that if we acquiesced we would lose a bit too much. On Thursday morning, when by tradition the tournament begins with Jack and Arnie hitting their ceremonial first shots and men driving their Caseycarts down the 1st fairway, there would be no 1st fairway to drive on. It is also true that during the tournament many of our members and their wives sometimes leave the veranda to observe the action on the 9th green, 50 yards away. Now there would be no 9th green.
It was young Hathaway who hit on what I think is the perfect solution. If Mr. Murdoch would agree to purchase only holes 2 through 8, no one would ever realize they were gone. It's no secret that we have always been embarrassed by our front nine, which is why we have never allowed permanent TV placements there. We dropped CBS because the network became too insistent on televising all 18 holes, as all those pedestrian tournaments permit. And, of course, because of Mr. McCord's comment that Clifford Roberts should have taken some of us with him.
The Hathaway suggestion is simple, if a tad unorthodox. Front nine play would begin at number 1 as usual so that our loyal patrons can see their favorite players hit their tee shots and ride off down the fairway. Some two hours later they will reappear at the 9th. Holing out, they will enter a small tent not unlike the one at 18, in which they check and sign their scorecards.
Inside, each player will be handed a pair of dice. One will have the number 3 engraved on all six sides, so that when rolled it will, of course, come up 3. The second will have numbers 3 through 8. The player rolls that die. If it comes up, say, 5, he marks down 35 for his front nine and heads off for the 10th tee. When 8 comes up, it means a 38, I'm afraid, but then again, it might come up 3 for a 33. Statistics show that 95% of the players shoot between 33 and 38 on the front nine, so little is lost.
The beauty of this plan is that no one, save the players and a handful of nosy spectators, will ever know that seven holes are missing. No television cameras will betray us, and certainly no writers. In fact, I can't remember when I last saw a writer 25 feet from the veranda bar. Tournament leaders brought into the media center after outstanding rounds can simply ad lib how they shot that 33 on the front nine.
You might ask what the players will do for the two hours between playing the 1st and 9th holes. Mr. Murdoch has what we feel is a superb solution. On what used to be the 2nd fairway, he will set up a huge tent, inside of which will be a variety of entertainments for the players, pinball machines, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and giant TV screens showing reruns of The Flintstones as well as tapes of past Masters highlights and disasters, such as the famous 1998 tournament in which Greg Norman set a 54-hole course record on the way to an 11-stroke lead, only to shoot 87 on Sunday and lose to the highly regarded Gabriel Hjertstedt.