12 Things You Might Not Have Known About Augusta National

In 1986, Charles Price wrote a history of Bobby Jones, The Masters, and Augusta National Golf Club titled A Golf Story, which he noted in the afterword was not the “official” story of any of them, but rather an “authorized” version. The founding editor of Golf Magazine and later a contributing editor at Golf Digest, Price had been given the keys to the kingdom by then ANGC and Masters Chairman Hord Hardin, and, with access to the club’s and tournament’s archives, wrote the first truly insightful account of how it all happened (Dick Schaap’s 1971 The Masters, though enjoyable, skimmed the surface in comparison).

But Price, whose fame and talents have largely been forgotten in the 30 years since he died, wanted his book to have the feel of an insightful, play-by-play commentary rather than a slow-moving, colorless, reference guide. “I did not want the book to take as long to read as would going to Augusta National to watch The Masters actually take place,” he wrote.

augusta things
(photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I read A Golf Story for the first time in 2023. After watching the Masters for 38 years (Jack Nicklaus made 1986 a decent year to start watching); listening to Jim Nantz, Verne Lundquist, Ken Venturi, Peter Oosterhuis, Nick Faldo, and the rest of the CBS crew; and reading tens of thousands of words about the course, club, tournament, Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts, Alistair MacKenzie, etc., you’d think I’d know everything I needed or wanted to know about them.

How wrong can I be? There was a “Huh, I did not know that” moment on virtually every page. Here’s a dozen of my favorites.

1) The building that became the clubhouse at Augusta National was built in 1854, three years before Louis Berckmans purchased it and the surrounding 400 acres (south of what is now Washington Road). He turned what had been an indigo plantation into a commercial nursery, called “Fruitlands.” Berckmans died in 1883, leaving the property to his son, Prosper, who lived there until he died in 1910 and always referred to the building as “The Manor.” The building was the first in the South to be constructed of lime, gravel, and sand (concrete) and had seven rooms downstairs and seven up.

2) In September 1925, hotelier Commodore J. Perry Stolz visited Augusta with a view to building a 15-story hotel topped with a 100-foot radio tower and costing $2 million on what had been the Berckmans’s property. Stolz owned the glitzy Fleetwood Hotel on Miami Beach and envisaged something similar for people from New York and Chicago traveling south to Florida. In January 1926, the Augusta Chronicle announced Stolz’s chief engineer had drawn up plans for the new hotel and would also be designing an 18-hole golf course. The Commodore broke ground in February but, in September, a huge hurricane hit southern Florida, all but demolishing the Fleetwood Hotel and leaving Stolz bankrupt.

On June 30th, 1931, the newspaper reported that the undeveloped property had been purchased by an entity called the Fruitland Manor Corporation whose officers were not identified. Two weeks later, the Chronicle ran the headline: “Bobby Jones to Build His Ideal Golf Course on Berckmans’ Place.” Jones, whose corporation had purchased a $70,000 option on the land from Washington Heights Development, was pictured with a set of plans alongside Alistair MacKenzie whom he had met and spoken with at length at Pebble Beach in September 1929 after being beaten in the first round of the U.S. Amateur Championship by Johnny Goodman. Jones had played MacKenzie’s Cypress Point prior to the tournament and was obviously impressed with the Englishman’s thoughts on course design. Part of his statement in the newspaper said, “I am not having this dream alone or without the most expert collaboration. Dr. MacKenzie is the man who will actually design the course… I am happy to accompany him this morning on a tour of the property and to assume the role of consultant…”

3) Jones felt uncomfortable asking anyone in Atlanta (his hometown) for funding after deciding to build his dream course/club 150 miles away in Augusta. Jones chose Augusta because it sat 1,000 feet below Atlanta and, therefore, enjoyed much milder winters; its wealthy winter residents had survived the now two-year-old Depression; and it had a couple of other quality courses—the No. 1 course at Augusta Country Club (which then had two) and the Forest Hills course at the Ricker Hotel, which became a hospital for veterans in World War II.

Those involved in the purchase of the property and formation of the club included sportswriter Grantland Rice; Walton Marshall, President of Vanderbilt Hotel in New York; Fielding Wallace, President of the Augusta Country Club; Alfred Bourne, whose father had headed the giant Singer Sewing Machine Company and whose inheritance amounted to $25 million; Thomas Barrett of the local Chamber of Commerce; and investment broker Cliff Roberts, who had met Jones at the nearby Augusta Country Club, and who would handle the financing.

Besides Rice, an important member of the press who would write about and promote Jones’s fledgling club was Oscar Bane (O.B.) Keeler, who had covered all 27 of the national championships in which Jones had played. Keeler wrote for the Atlanta Journal and knew Jones better than anyone, traveling with him to Europe three times and crisscrossing the U.S. at his side.

4) Roberts no doubt had a say in how it would work financially, but membership at the club would be by invitation-only largely because Jones didn’t want to disappoint anyone by turning down their application.

5) The initiation fee for the new club was $350 with annual dues set at $60.

6) Jones wanted the course to be playable for founding and future members, so fairways covered 80 acres as opposed to the more usual 30 or 40. The greens would total more than 100,000 square feet, and a carefully tended 36-inch collar of longer grass would surround each green. A special humus-rich soil was bought to the course from Florida by train having been donated by the president of the New York Stock Exchange. Laborers under the supervision of construction engineer Wendell Miller were paid 25 cents a day working six days a week from “can to can’t.” (The 40-hour work week was still a ways off, so workers were active from the moment they could see what they were doing to the moment they couldn’t.)

7) Jones and Roberts decided the course would not be part of a neighborhood and would have no visible houses nearby. One local member had built a cottage near what is now the 2nd tee before the decision was made, but the club soon purchased the building and razed it.

8) Two members suggested raising funds to erect a statue of Jones at the club. Jones was horrified at the idea, saying the course was monument enough. In future, all gifts made to him and the club were redirected to the USGA’s museum, and a wall surrounding the property was built to keep out the 200-or-so daily sightseers who wanted to see “the course that Bobby Jones built.”

9) MacKenzie’s original 1931 sketch of the course was found in a member’s cottage in 1983 and showed 29 bunkers with the nines routed as they are today. Jones switched the halves before opening day in January 1933, however, possibly believing the more difficult second nine (today’s front nine) would create a more stirring finish. MacKenzie’s sketch indicated each hole’s yardage with no pars and included a 19th “bye hole” from the left of the 18th green to an area in front of the clubhouse. MacKenzie would never see the completed course; he last visited the site in the summer of 1932 when it was built but had no grass. In 1935, the nines were reversed again, this time back to MacKenzie’s original configuration, because, Price wrote, it would give time for frost to clear on the low-lying holes (10–14) and because it was now felt the back nine would actually create more excitement.

Joshua Pettit of the Alister MacKenzie Institute has studied MacKenzie’s work at ANGC in great detail in recent years and sheds some light on the subject: “MacKenzie drew three routing plans—July 1931 with the current day routing; November 1931 with the nine flipped; and July 1932 also with flipped nines. The club has the first plan in its archive, the other two are elsewhere. I’ve heard a lot of speculation as to the reasoning for flipping the nines and then flipping them back, but haven’t seen anything in writing by MacKenzie or Jones. I have some theories for why Jones flipped the nines before opening day in 1933. The view looking down the present day 10th is a beautiful vista and it’s easier to see from the clubhouse. That would make it an ideal opening hole. Plus, the view from the clubhouse to the present day 9th green makes it better as a finishing hole. I believe the nines were flipped ahead of the 1935 Masters because of the early morning frost problem on the low-lying holes. But whatever the true reason(s), it does seem clear MacKenzie condoned the flipping of his original nines. He died in January of 1934, just before the first Masters, so wouldn’t have been in the loop when they decided to flip back in 1935.”

10) The club’s first manager was Prosper Berckmans’s son, Allie, who had been invited back by Jones “for old times’ sake” and had decided to stay. Allie’s elder brother, Louis, became the club’s horticultural advisor and, together with Jones and Roberts, gave each hole the name of a flowering plant or tree. Louis ensured each hole would have its namesake plant somewhere along its length, though not in play.

11) The club had no formal opening but held a party early in 1933 to which its 80 members were invited (there were also 20 guests), each contributing $100 towards expenses. At the evening event, Jones rose to address the members, but Rice interjected, saying the club should be run by Jones and Roberts in any way they saw fit. The approval was unanimous.

12) In the spring of 1933, confident the course was championship-worthy, Jones listened to the suggestion the U.S. Open be played at ANGC. The idea was rejected for many good reasons, but it was clear the club, course, and Jones should host something of note. The event would promote the club to prospective members and make it possible to decline requests from organizations to hold their events at ANGC, something Jones suspected might become a problem. Roberts suggested the tournament, to which Jones would invite his friends from the golfing world, be called the Masters.

Jones, liked the idea of the tournament but hated the name, thinking it too presumptuous. However, most people, including the press, referred to it as the Masters instead of its official name—the Augusta National Invitational. By 1939, the pressure to change the name had become too much even for Jones to deny.

Interest in the event was extremely high as it was known that Jones would play despite having retired from competitive golf following his Impregnable Quadrilateral in 1930. People drove to watch him from 38 states and even Canada. Roberts, fearing crowd trouble and people getting in for free, hired the Pinkerton Agency to keep order. There would be no one inside the ropes besides players and caddies; no volunteers (everyone that worked at the event would be paid so Roberts could keep strict control of the staff); there would be no advertising; all proceeds would go to improving future events; parking would be free; and there would be no entry fee for players because this was a get-together of Jones’s friends.

What do you think is the most interesting fact about Augusta National?