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Clifford Roberts, the president and co-founder with Bobby Jones of the Augusta National Golf Club, died there last week at the age of 84. In ill health for several months, Roberts shot himself during the early morning hours near Ike's Creek, named after President Eisenhower, a friend and club member.
Roberts was austere, demanding and obsessed by golf. Born in Iowa, he was a self-made man who became an investment banker in New York. During the 1920s, he became friends with Jones, and in 1930, when Jones retired after winning the Grand Slam, Roberts took him up on his idea of building the ideal golf course. They selected an old indigo plantation in Augusta that had been turned into a tree nursery, the first in the South, by a Belgian baron after the Civil War. The 365-acre property, named Fruitlands, had a variety of flowering shrubs and trees, many of which still grace the grounds, and at the end of 1932 the course was opened.
Over the years, it was altered because, as Roberts said, "There have been some changes in the technique of hitting a golf ball, a big change in the quality of equipment, and our policy has always been to keep this golf course in tune with changing conditions. It's no trick to make a golf course hard. What we try to do is to give an exacting but fair test of golf. If a golfer hits his shots well and if all conditions are favorable, it doesn't hurt our feelings a damned bit if he makes a low score."
Roberts set strict rules for members. A guest cannot play the course unless accompanied by a member, and should the member be called away, the game is over. Roberts did not seize power at Augusta—at the first meeting of the members in 1933 Grantland Rice proposed that Jones and Roberts be given the power to run the club as they saw fit, without the hindrance of meetings. Every member stood and yelled "Aye."
Roberts kept the dues and the names of members secret. Membership, about 220, is by invitation only, and Roberts and Jones did the inviting. Despite the affluence of its members. Roberts maintained, "We don't give a damn about their social standing, not in the society sense. We are only interested in their devotion to golf. That's the basic qualification that we have: that a man be a golfer, really love the game, be a golf nut, so to speak."
Augusta's exclusivity is put aside for one week each year for the Masters, which began in 1934. As tournament chairman, Roberts ran the Masters as strictly as he ruled members. Arnold Palmer said after hearing of Roberts' death, "Everybody in golf studied the operation of the Masters and considered it probably the best-run tournament in the world. So many of the things that are now standard and a normal part of tournament operations, such as on-course leader scoreboards, total roping of courses and other elements of gallery control, have been copied from the Masters, and Cliff Roberts was the man responsible."
Last week was a tough one for the Emprise Corporation, the once thriving sports and concession conglomerate controlled by the Jacobs family of Buffalo (SI, May 29, 1972). First the White House refused to grant a presidential pardon to Emprise, which was convicted in 1972 of conspiracy and interstate transportation to aid racketeering. That conviction came about after Emprise lent money to businessmen fronting for alleged mobsters in the purchase of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Emprise sought the pardon because a number of states want to take away racing and liquor licenses it had farmed out to subsidiaries after the conviction. Among the lawyers Emprise retained in its quest was Henry Petersen, head of the criminal division in the Justice Department during the Nixon Administration. Following the rebuff from the Carter Administration, Emprise was penalized by a Michigan Liquor Control Commissioner. At the instigation of Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley, the commissioner revoked four liquor licenses controlled by Emprise subsidiaries at three racetracks and Tiger Stadium.