Each year that this thing called the Masters Tournament reemerges as such a scented and luxuriant success, it strengthens the notion that God must have been a two-handicapper from Georgia. At least it encourages the legend of how it all seems to get started every spring: either Bobby Jones or Clifford Roberts, who co-founded the tournament 34 years ago, goes outside the Augusta National clubhouse upon a certain divine morning in April, does a ver�nica with one of those green blazers and, all at once, wonders occur. Grandiloquent pines rise up. Acres of emerald turf appear. Obedient servants begin stirring around. And suddenly great swarms of happy people are encircling Arnold Palmer, who happens to be threshing about in a million or so fresh-blooming azaleas.
But the Masters does not happen quite like this, of course. It evolved painstakingly, year by year since 1934, building its traditions, its distinctions and its own unwritten history. It was caressed, loved, patted and prodded into shape until it finally bloomed as the most glorious scene that golf has to offer. Because it grew slowly and mellowed quietly, there is much to the Masters—and Augusta National—that goes unseen by the swarming galleries, and even unappreciated by the players, who are the people this particular tournament was made for.
Subtle sounds and sudden glimpses help reveal this hidden Masters. It might be the clinking of ice in a cocktail glass as a green-jacketed member moves through the white portals and multicolored umbrellas on the terrace, or a quick look toward a row of cottages along the 10th fairway, with the knowledge that one of them was built for a President. It might be the way the sun drifts through the dark row of magnolias on the avenue leading up to the clubhouse entrance, or Valerie Hogan sitting on the lawn with a handful of cables and letters of congratulation for Ben. It could be a gathering of caddies, lounging in a fenced-off yard, weary from trudging over the course's valleys and too tired to play pool at the table provided for them in the caddie house, or the clacking of typewriters from inside the massive Quonset hut that serves the press. It might be nothing more than the glow of the club at night during a private dinner of the past champions, or something as remarkably simple as a hand-lettered sign on a swinging door leading from the kitchen into a dining area called the Trophy Room where Jones's clubs are displayed on a wall, a sign that advises the waiters: "Please talk just a little louder than a whisper." Perhaps, most of all, it is a devastating orderliness and a Southern loyalty that almost hurls you back to the veranda at Twelve Oaks where the Tarleton twins are giggling with Scarlett O'Hara.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Masters can well begin with the man who put up the sign to the kitchen help, Bowman Milligan, the club steward. Bowman is a big fellow with a smudge of gray at his temples and a baritonish voice who has probably heard his name called out more than anyone in the history of Augusta National. But un-rattled and dutiful, he maintains the carriage and aplomb of one who has spent a lifetime catering to millionaires. Primarily, Bowman is in charge of hiring and overseeing the Negro employees at the club—the waiters, bartenders, chauffeurs, maids and others. But if during Masters week Claude Harmon cannot get a glass of iced tea fast enough, or if Ben Hogan does not like the look of the lettuce on his sandwich, a holler of "Bowman!" is heard, and somehow Bowman is always nearby. "I work from can't to can't," he says of Masters week. "I try to rise to the occasion. My main job is remembering—trying to remember everything there is to be done."
Bowman, whose father was a groundkeeper on the Harry Payne Whitney estate in Aiken, S.C., came to Augusta National in 1930, before the golf course was built. He cooked, washed dishes and shined shoes for Roberts and Jones and began to learn the things that have to be remembered for a Masters (there is now a 67-page notebook of single-spaced printed instructions called a Masters Tournament Checklist that spells out literally thousands of details of club operation during tournament time). At one point Bowman even earned himself some personal prestige by managing Beau Jack, an Augusta National shoeshine boy who fought his way to the world lightweight championship. In the old days, it is said, battle royals were staged in the ballrooms of the Bon Air Hotel for Augusta National people, affairs in which five boxers were in the ring at once, and there Bowman's Beau Jack reportedly won many a fight that does not show on his record.
Today Bowman gets into the spotlight, too, but in a different way. He is official custodian of the green coat, that cherished piece of either gabardine or Palm Beach fabric (the player gets his choice) that goes to the Masters champion. Those who have witnessed a prizegiving at the 18th green after a Masters may have wondered about the identity of the Negro gentleman in the dark suit, the one who marched, almost to an imaginary drum roll, from the clubhouse out to the course, carrying the green jacket and handing it to the past champion who, in ceremonial turn, slipped it on the new champion. It is Bowman Milligan who carries the coat.
"This is my favorite part of the Masters," says Bowman. "I like to take the coat out and see the new champion crowned."
Augusta National did not invent the idea of wearing blazers, even green ones, but it did start the custom of presenting one to its champion back in 1949, a ceremony that some other tournaments since have copied. However, in the case of the Masters, the champion may leave town, but the green coat rarely does. All the green coats are stored in lockers under the care of a houseman named William Tillman. There is an unwritten rule that the coats of the past champions and those of members are to be worn only at the club. No one knows exactly what would happen if a man walked into "21" wearing his Masters coat and Cliff Roberts were there, but one hates to guess.
The green coat and the winner's check for $20,000 or so are the most publicized of Augusta's rewards to the golfers, but there are many, many others. The champion receives a sterling-silver replica mounted on pine of the permanent Masters trophy. The permanent trophy is just that, permanent, principally because no one could lift it. Made in England of 900 separate pieces of sterling, it weighs some 125 pounds. The winner also gets a gold medal, a silver cigarette box and, finally, a year later at the dinner for the champions, a gold locket ( Cartier) made like a book, with the club symbol—a map of the U.S. with a flagpin where Augusta might be—on the front and a photo of Bobby Jones on the inside of the back cover.
Augusta National gives away almost as many prizes as it serves thin steak sandwiches on toast, a basic part of the club menu that Jimmy Demaret once described as "the back nine of Bowman's cuisine." The pro runner-up gets a medal, the low amateur and runner-up get medals, each day's low scorer gets a Steuben crystal vase, the maker of a hole in one gets a Steuben vase, the maker of an eagle gets a Steuben highball glass, the winner of the Wednesday par-3 tournament gets a silver tea service (Reed and Barton, Hampton Court design) or 12 Wedgwood bone-china plates decorated with an etching of the clubhouse, the par-3 runner-up gets one piece of a tea service or two plates, the third-place finisher gets two plates and anyone who scores a hole in one in the par-3 event gets six plates. There is one other prize for the competitors that may be tougher to win than the championship. The newest addition to the award list, it is a giant Steuben bowl given for scoring a double eagle. There have only been two—Gene Sarazen's back in 1935 at the 15th hole and Bruce Devlin's last year at the 8th hole. Devlin's led to the establishment of the prize.