SI Vault
Bil Gilbert
April 05, 1971
A skeptical visitor casts a jaundiced eye on the most sacrosanct golf tournament of all and, come Bobby Jones or high water, finds some things he doesn't like
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April 05, 1971

The Other Side Of Paradise

A skeptical visitor casts a jaundiced eye on the most sacrosanct golf tournament of all and, come Bobby Jones or high water, finds some things he doesn't like

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An Augusta matron was walking with Arnie's Army when a small airplane flew overhead towing a sign that read, SUPER GOLF AT 7 LAKES—DAY OR NITE. The woman watched it disapprovingly for a moment, then said, "Wouldn't you think that even they would have better taste than to fly over during the tournament with a sign like that?"

Wives of golfers are careful about what they wear at the Masters, avoiding pants suits, alarmingly brief skirts, shorts or, this year, heaven forbid, hot pants. Only reverence controls the dress of other customers, but its effect is mighty. Last year even the swingers around the clubhouse veranda came down hard on a bare-mid-riffed girl and her escort, a minor media man. You do not prance around Augusta National with your belly button hanging out.

Autocrat of Augusta

Ever since the Masters was established, Clifford Roberts, a New York investment banker, has run it with a high, hard hand. As one of the original five organizers of the club, he also has a lot to say about things in general at Augusta National, but the Masters is indisputably his chick and child. Though he makes frequent disclaimers and insists on his amateur status, Roberts is generally regarded as the most expert living golf tournament arranger and promoter. He has also come to be a formidable, almost mythical presence on the Masters scene. It is hard to say what kind of man Roberts really is, since he is not given to autobiographical small talk and is seldom seen except in formal and official circumstances. On such occasions he appears terse, humorless and efficient, a man hardened by close and continuing exposure to money and authority.

Roberts is above all a fanatical idealist, largely unconcerned with customary amenities if they do not contribute to his notions of what the Masters should be. "Old Cliff comes on pretty strong sometimes, but we manage," says a member of the Augusta Country Club, a neighboring golf course that happens to have a common boundary with Augusta National. "We look right down on their 12th green and 13th tee. Last year Cliff wanted us to plant a hedge on our land so nobody could peek at his tournament. We said no. Old Cliff went and talked to some of our members, sort of on the quiet. Pretty soon he sends over a truck with some bushes, and I'll be damned if they don't get planted on our land. He was big about it, though...he didn't bill us for the bushes."

Later, when the rest of the club members found out about it, the hedge was ripped out. There was even some discussion about erecting a grandstand to overlook the 12th hole and filling it with Augusta Country Club members in funny hats and horns, as at a New Year's party. Nothing came of it, and later the two clubs effected a trade that gave Roberts a hedgeable strip of land overlooking the 12th and 13th.

Rumors have it that one reason Jack Whitaker of CBS may never broadcast another Masters is Roberts' reaction to a comment Whitaker made on the 18th hole of the final day five years ago. The gallery had started charging up the hill to get where they might see the leaders putt and Whitaker said something like, "Here comes the mob." The network gave no reason for his absence the next year, but insiders say it was because Roberts didn't like to have his galleries called a "mob."

A year ago Roberts wrote a long memo concerning the Masters. The document, prepared in the classic style of the late George Apley, stands as a sort of official history and operating manual:

"At the beginning [the course was opened in 1932] no one had any thought of holding a tournament. The Masters came into being because of some discussions about holding the USGA Open Championship on Bob's [Jones'] course. In the end it was decided that the Augusta National could render a more important service to the game by inaugurating and holding regularly a tournament of its own. . . .

"The Jones and Roberts way of running a tournament was costly. Consequently, Roberts passed the hat among the members to provide the $5,000 of cash prizes. In fact, this was necessary for several years. Bartlett Arkell (the founder of Beech-Nut) regularly donated the first prize of $1,500 while Jay Monroe (founder of Monroe Calculating Machine Co.) would provide the second prize of $1,000....

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