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Bobby Jones And The Ghost of Masters Past

El Sid on Augusta

By Robert Sidorsky

Tom Watson stood in the center of the Bosky Amphitheater at the 18th green of the Augusta National golf course last Sunday and stroked in a tap-in to win the Masters. Watson was not quite as resplendent as Jimmy Demaret was when he won the tournament on Easter Sunday, 1947, clad in canary yellow from head to foot, but then all anyone notices in the end is the green jacket traditionally given to the Masters champion.

It's also a hallowed tradition for the previous year's winner to present the green jacket to the incoming champ, which presented a thorny problem of etiquette when Jack Nicklaus repeated in 1966. Nicklaus was once again present in the winner's circle on Sunday, but this time as the runner-up to Watson, because his stretch drive fell short by two strokes.

With the sepulchral pines of Augusta and the select high priests of the game who grace the field, it's not surprising that the Masters is viewed with an almost religious reverence by the golfing world. The tournament has evolved into as integral a part of spring as the vernal effluorescense of woodbine and spanish dagger that line the fairways of Augusta National.

The Augusta National was the brainchild of the late Bobby Jones, and the Masters pays homage to his memory.

While attending Harvard graduate school in 1924, Jones served as the Crimson golf coach. The current Harvard coach, Bob Donovan, felt the prestige of the Jones name might convince the tournament directors to allow the Crimson golf team to watch the Masters this year on the way back from its spring trip to Florida.

But Donovan received a polite but firm refusal from Frank Broyles, the former Arkansas football coach, who is a member of the Masters Committee. Broyles offered some solace, however: in past years the golf teams of both the University of Georgia and Wake Forest, which boasts Arnold Palmer as an alum, had also been denied permission to be a part of the Masters gallery.

Jones secured his position as the greatest and most popular golfer of his era when he won the U.S. amateur in 1930 in the final leg of the incomparable "Grand Slam". After beating Gene Homans nine and seven for that fifth amateur title, Jones went into retirement and began to envision a golf course that would serve as a monument to his philosophy of the game. Jones wanted his club to be a truly national one, where "men of means might play with kindred spirits."

By the time the first Masters was held in 1934, Jones had become a living legend. Soon after his retirement, he was squired down Fifth Avenue in a tickertape parade. Jones's popularity forced him to play in his own tournament against his will. He was never in the running, but the press retained an unflagging belief in his invincibility. After the first day's play, The New York Times ran the headline, "Unsteady Putting Drops Jones to Tie for 35th, Six Shots Behind Golf Leaders".

In 1958, Jones served as the non-playing captain of the United States team in the first Eisenhower Trophy Cup Match. Harvard golfer Alex Vik played in this tournament last fall as a representative of Norway. In 1958, the event was held at St. Andrews, the course which Jones most cherished. He was honored by being made a freeman of the burgh of St. Andrews. At the end of the ceremony, Bobby made his way through the throng of wellwishers in an electric trolley that his crippling illness forced him to use to the refrain of "Will ye no' come back again."

It was at St. Andrews that Bobby Jones first met the Scotchman Alister Mackenzie, whom he later hired to design the Augusta National. Mackenzie was an outstanding British golf course architect who designed Cypress Point and shared Jones's views on the game.

Mackenzie was originally a practicing doctor who had earned degrees in Medicine, Chemistry, and Natural Science before his Highland blood drew him to his true vocation in life.

It remains a mystery as to how Mackenzie actually entered his field, but it is known that he developed an unerring eye for golf course topography while serving as surgeon to a British brigade during the Boer War. It seems that Mackenzie was astounded by the Boers' use of camouflage to consistently surprise the attacking British. Before building Augusta, he had founded in Hyde Park the first school to teach the art of camouflage, and provided a demonstration for King George V.

The site Jones slected on which to build his ideal course was a 365-acre nursery in Augusta at the foot of an antebellum southern mansion. The acreage had first come to the attention of Clifford Roberts, who served as President of Augusta until this year.

The land had been owned for three quarters of a century by the Belgian baron Louis Edouard Mathieu Berkmans. His sons, Prosper Jules Alphonse Berkmans, was a famous horticulturist who was responsible for the popularization of the azalea. Prosper converted the land into a nursery named Fruitlands.

Mackenzie succeeded in preserving much of the boundless flora that is in full bloom during the week of the Masters. The stands of dogwood, camellia and magnolia planted by Prosper Berkmans still line the fifth, tenth, and 11th fairways.

Jones and Mackenzie wished to build a course that would challenge the pro without overwhelming the weekend golfer. At the time, the concept was a radical one. Punitive sand traps were the contemporary vogue, but August National originally had only 29 bunkers.

The pair placed a new stress on approach shots and strategical golf. They revolutionized play around the green by mapping out 126,000 square feet of sculptured, undulating greens on their new course.

The peculiar design of Augusta National allows both sizzling scoring streaks and unmitigated debacles. Since the Masters began, every hole has been eagled during the tournament. On the other hand, Frank Walsh needed 12 strokes on the eighth hole, Herman Barron took an 11 on the 16th, and Dow Finsterwald carded a 12 on the par three 12th in 1951.

The heart of the Augusta National lies in the 11th through 13th holes, the so-called Amen Corner, which is crisscrossed by meandering Rae's Creek. No one knows who coined the name Amen Corner, but former pro Dave Marr remarked, "It's called that because if you get around it in par, you believe a little bit more in God."

Watson did better than that on Sunday, going around in one under by getting a birdie on 13. Nicklaus applied the pressure by birdieing the 12th, a 155-yard par three that he calls "the most demanding tournament hole in the world." In the previous five Masters, however, Nicklaus's average score for the 12th was a phenomenal shade under par.

Over the years, the lethal 12th has been the site of countless tragedies. In the 1937 Masters, Ralph Guldahl, a stolid Norwegian, had a four stroke lead coming up to the 12th. His tee shot rolled into Rae's Creek for a double bogey and Byron Nelson went on to win by shooting a birdie on the same hole and an eagle on the 13th. In 1959, Arnold Palmer also met a watery grave as Art Wall birdied six of the final seven holes to catch him from behind.

The Masters has had very few dark horse winners. Between 1955-1967, Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player won eight out of nine. Ben Hogan and Sam Snead both won three times. After winning with a tournament record of 274 in 1953, Hogan said, "I hope I can come back next year and play the same caliber of golf." Byron Nelson, his playing partner, replied, "If you do, you'll be playing here all by yourself."

Perhaps the most famous shot ever hit in the Masters was a 4-wood hit by Gene Sarazen on the par five 15th in 1935. Craig Wood was the leader in the clubhouse and was already accepting congratulations. Bobby Jones had ambled down from the clubhouse just in time to watch Sarazen's second shot take two hops and dive into the cup for a double eagle that enabled him to snatch away the victory.

Exactly 30 years later Bobby Jones was once again on hand when Jack Nicklaus set the current Masters record of 271. In the winner's circle, Bobby declared: "Palmer and Player played superbly. As for Nicklaus, he plays a game with which I am not familiar."

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