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The Redwood, the Dogwood, and The Masters

By John M. Ross,
Correspondent
Augusta National
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The greatest tribute to Bob Jones is the Masters and the Augusta National. (.)

Looking out my kitchen window, I see the signs of spring on the Redbud tree and on the Pink Dogwood, just beyond the wall, and the message is clear: "Pack up for the Masters!"

There has been an abundance of golf excitement since the curtain went up three months ago: new faces, new records, and an Annika Sorenstam who is playing like she has no intention of losing again. But, somehow, for me, and for millions of others, the golf season really doesn't begin until they tee it up for the Green Jacket in early April.

And the Masters has reached this pinnacle because it is, indeed, one of a kind. It hasn't been blown up to its present dominant size by hype or the drumbeat of commercial sponsors. It has simply remained faithful to the purpose set for it by the immortal Bobby Jones some 67 years ago. And at this point, there doesn't seem to be enough influence or money on this planet to change that, even though Bobby is long gone.

Surely, there never was enough money or temptation to lure Jones from the path he had chosen for himself as an amateur golfer. Even after he had completed what many sports historians consider the greatest athletic achievement of all time, The Grand Slam. he turned away from the lucrative offers that awaited. He retired from competitive golf at age 28.

His golf goal at that point, while ambitious, was simply to design a golf course where his friends and former competitors could come and play. And that's precisely what we still have today: the Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters Tournament, and together they stand as an incredible tribute to a humble man who put American Golf on the map.

Jones' Grand Slam was the original appellation given to victories in the British and U.S. Amateur championships, and the British and U.S. Open championships. When the amateur ranks became weakened by the desertion of the top players to the burgeoning pro tours, the amateur championships lost prestige and eventually were replaced by the Masters and the PGA Championship. This is now the modern Grand Slam.

Bob (he never really liked being called Bobby) held the distinction of being the only player to achieve the Slam, and no one has accomplished this in the modern form, either. Currently, there is some spirited debate on the issue of giving Tiger Woods credit for a Slam if he wins this year's Masters, since he won the other three majors last season. Most historians feel the Slam must be accomplished in one season, when the golfer has to be at the very peak of his game for four straight months. Otherwise, it's merely a footnote to history.

Jones' Slam, which was given the fanciful name of "the Impregnable Quadrilateral" at the time, while unmatched, was but one of a long list of triumphs. He won 13 of the 27 major championships he entered, and a total of 23 of the 52 events of his overall career. He retired when he had no more goals to conquer, and incredible as it may seem, he accomplished this record while being just a part-time golfer. Along the way, he had picked up a degree in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, a degree in English Literature at Harvard, and a law degree at Emory. Often he would go for months at a time without picking up a club, seldom suffering any ill effects.

When he finally put his clubs away, honors and tributes came to him in abundance. The U.S. Golf Association created the Jones Award for Distinguished Sportsmanship; the Associated Press anointed him "The Greatest Golfer of the Age,"' the Boy Scouts of America gave him the "Silver Buffalo," their highest award and the Golf Writers Association named him their "best ever" too. And, of course, he was named a charter member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

The greatest tribute to Bob Jones, without question, is the Masters and the Augusta National, and since he helped create both, they could be his most important contributions to the game.

When his competitive days were winding down in 1930, Bob turned more of his attention to his long-latent thoughts of designing his own golf course - but not for profit or glory. Over the years, in playing such a wide variety of championship courses, he had developed his own ideas of what should be a good test of golf and an enjoyable outing at the same time: something that would help increase the popularity of the game.

To assist him, he knew he needed an experienced golf course architect, and he knew immediately that he wanted Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the Scotsman who had designed California's Cypress Point, one of his favorite courses. With the scenic beauty of the Monterey Peninsula as a backdrop, Cypress Point has been called "The Sistine Chapel of Golf," and ranks high on every "best in America" list of courses.

With MacKenzie willing to help, Jones then set out to find the piece of natural, rolling land he had dreamed about for so long. He wanted it to be in Georgia, not far from his Atlanta home. But where? Enter Clifford Roberts.

Roberts, a native of Morning Sun, Iowa, had made a rather remarkable transition to the lofty financial district of New York City and was a staunch admirer of Jones. A hero-worshipper, really. An ardent golfer, he'd met Bob on some of his trips to Augusta, which flourished as a winter resort at that time, and at one meeting he learned of Jones' plans for a course. When Bob admitted his uncertainty about its location, Roberts cast a strong vote for Augusta. Indeed, he even had the perfect spot.

He had just heard that Fruitlands, the South's first commercial nursery, was up for sale, he told Bob. It was a huge piece of choice land with a pine forest, shrubs and plantings galore. Bob went with Cliff to see it, and he made a simple, on-the-sport decision: "Perfect!" And so was the price - $70,000 for 365 acres!

Jones asked Cliff if he would assist with the plans for financing the purchase as well as the organization of the club. He would concede years later that it was one of his best decisions. Roberts, with his Wall Street background and a host of friends who were corporate executives, captains of industry, and gung-ho golfers to boot, was the perfect choice. And the game's most spectacular joint venture was born - the Augusta National Golf Club.

With MacKenzie at his side, Jones tramped over every yard of the land making suggestions and giving directions. And when the designs were done, he went out with his clubs and tested the layout before the grass was finally planted. The result put it right up there with Cypress Point, as it stands today, in every poll of the best courses in America.

With the course completed in 1932, and the by-invitation-only memberships filling up rapidly, Jones and Roberts turned their attention to the tournament. This, too, would be by invitation only, concentrating on the past and present winners of the Grand Slam championships. Roberts wanted to call it the Masters from the outset, but Bob thought it "too presumptuous." It took Cliff four years of needling before Bob relented. At the start it was simply the Augusta National Invitational.

It was an attention-grabber from the beginning, but when Gene Sarazen fired a 220-yard 4-wood over the water and into the hole at the 15th for an incredible double-eagle, it had immediate history in only its second year.

Roberts' friendship with Dwight D. Eisenhower - he was his financial advisor during his run for the presidency - also triggered another prominent chapter in Augusta National's glittering history. Ike, the country's No. 1 golf nut at the time, became a dues-paying Augusta National member, and before long, the club became the Second White House for eight years, with some of the world's most prominent figures roaming its fairways.

Television, completely controlled by the club to hold down commercial interruptions, has made the Masters one of the most watched sporting events in the world. The heroic escapades of Palmer and Nicklaus, the dazzling beauty of the azalea and the magnolia and the dogwood, the donning of the Green Jacket, are scenes held dear by many. Watching it has become a tradition.

The saddest note of the Masters story also centers on Bob Jones, himself, who suffered severely with a crippling nerve disease before he died in 1971. But the impact of the Masters on the game will stand forever as his monument.

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

 
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