Well, the Beast from the East has arrived and with sub zero temperatures and a white vista outside the window I wondered how to put my unexpected free schedule to good use. I then remembered Mum used to love watching golf from sunny, warm climes while we were in the depths of our winter. She said it made her feel that our spring and warm golf were just around the corner and so I decided to make a start on my research for commentating at this year’s Masters, hoping for a similarly uplifting experience.
It worked! I immersed myself once again in the history and mystery of Augusta in April and rediscovered all sorts of little gems about the tournament.
Did you know, for example, that the Manor House, which still serves as the main part of the clubhouse was built in 1854? In 1961 the official Masters Trophy, featuring the oft-updated and extended clubhouse, was commissioned and made in sterling silver . It is kept on permanent display in the clubhouse but every Masters Champion receives a splendid replica, 13.5 inches wide. But, unless you’ve been to the tournament I bet you’ve never seen the trophy. Can you think of any other major sporting event where that’s the case? And how much money do you think the winner takes home? Well………that’s another thing that’s kept under wraps. It’s not the done thing to talk about it. The victor also receives a gold medal and a lifetime’s invitation to the Masters.
What we are more familiar with is the Masters green jacket, or coat, as it used to be called back in the day, arguably the most coveted piece of clothing in all of sport. Bobby Jones, founder of the Masters, attended a dinner prior to the 1930 Open Championship at Hoylake and was fascinated by the tradition entitling the past captains of Royal Liverpool Golf Club to wear distinctive red coats with tails, blue collars and brass buttons. He found himself placed next to the immediate past captain, Kenneth Stoker, and when Jones expressed his admiration for the jacket and the tradition, Stoker promised to give him his jacket should he lift the Claret Jug at the end of the week. The rest is history and Stoker’s jacket hangs in Jones’ club, Atlanta Athletic Club, to this day.
The seed of an idea had been sown although it did take a wee while to germinate. In 1937, chairman Clifford Roberts bought a supply of green jackets, encouraging the members to wear them so that they would be instantly recognisable to the spectators at the tournament and an easy source of information. Soon the members began wearing the jackets when they visited the club and when Sam Snead won the Masters in 1949 he was presented with a green jacket of his own to signify he was an honorary club member. That tradition continues and all Masters winners prior to 1949 were retrospectively presented with their own jackets. All the jackets are kept at the Augusta National Golf Club for use when the players visit and it is only the current champion who is permitted to have his jacket with him for the year he holds the title.
From one item of clothing to another – and the dreaded, much hated (by the wearers) white boiler suits, the required dress code for the caddies. Made of non-breathable, thick material the caddies swelter their way around one of the most undulating, challenging layouts they see all year, doing their best to stay mentally tip-top for their player while lugging a huge tournament bag. The caddy of the defending champion wears the number one on his suit and everyone else gets their number from the order in which their player arrives to register for the tournament.
And that’s another thing – it’s a tournament, apparently, not a championship…….and the people who come to watch are not spectators, fans or galleries. They are patrons. Whatever you call them, they are the most immaculately behaved sports fans you will find anywhere and exceptionally knowledgeable to boot. I do think, however, they should be allowed to bring periscopes into the grounds to aid their viewing experience – essential at any well supported golf event, where it’s often twelve to fifteen deep around greens and tees.
Back to one of my pet hates – spitting. You certainly won’t see any of that going on at Augusta. It really is a little bit of heaven – and frequently warm heaven at that. As I look outside the window again I see that the Beast from the East is still prowling around and seems to have been joined by another playmate, Emma from Portugal. Oh dear, roll on April, the Masters, azaleas and green, green vistas.