Westin: Plenty has changed at Augusta National since 1979
40th anniversary: Golf writer David Westin, who is covering his 40th consecutive Masters Tournament for The Augusta Chronicle this week, looks back at how the art of the interview has changed since his first one in 1979.
I’ve covered so many Masters Tournaments that I’m on my sixth Augusta National chairman, fifth sports editor at The Augusta Chronicle and third press building at the course.
Things have changed around the course – and at Augusta National Golf Club – since I first walked into a metal press building on April 9, 1979.
My press building was an old World War II structure – a Quonset Hut – that had wooden tables and metal folding chairs with typewriters set up at each chair.
The Quonset Hut was used from 1953 through 1989. Yes, it was hot (no ventilation other than a few windows), loud (when rain, and sometimes hail, hit the tin roof) and a problem during heavy rain (it had a sloping entrance which meant water would flow down into it when it rained).
There was no interview room. Just a corner area with some chairs in the noisy lounge area where the reporters got their sandwiches and drinks. I can still see a young Seve Ballesteros sitting there in one of those chairs being interviewed.
Yet it was my favorite press building at Augusta National. It had a charm that the other two have lacked. My favorite part of the new media center, which opened last year, is in part of the restaurant. In one corner, there is mini-reproduction of the Quonset Hut, along with a picture of Ede “Tiny” Harike, the bear of a man who became a great friend of mine.
Harike, who worked 34 consecutive Masters, handled security at the door of the Quonset Hut, making sure only those with the proper credentials got in. Since he knew all the sports writers by name, I think his main job was to make sure no one took any food or beverages out of the Quonset Hut.
When people would protest, he always said the same thing: “I have my orders.”
I thought I would trick him by saying I was taking my drink to the second floor, which could only be reached from outside the hut and around the corner. But he was on to me and followed me, seeing that I was on the way to the course. The drink came back.
Around the course (not on the course, which is a whole different story) back then they poured your beer from a bottle into a cup, there were no bleachers to speak of and you could bring in any kind of folding chair you wished.
You could even buy chewing tobacco. A friend would always buy Red Man at one of the small concession stands. One year, it wasn’t available anymore. He asked why and was told the club “didn’t want people spitting on their grass.”
While the tournament badges were still treasured back then (a waiting list started in 1972), you could walk up and buy a practice round ticket the day of the event. It all ended after the 1994 tournament, when word got out around the country how much fun a practice round at the Masters could be. So that year, an estimate of more than 100,000 fans showed up. I can remember the long lines to the restrooms and concession stands. You could hardly move.
The next year, the club started a presale of the practice round tickets.
The club has grown in importance that about the only time the chairman can be interviewed is during his Wednesday afternoon news conference during Masters Week.
During the years Hord Hardin was chairman (1980-91), if I had a question any time of the year I would call his secretary and leave a message. He lived in St. Louis and would check in every day with her. She would give him my message and he’d answer my question.
One time Hardin wanted to get in touch with me because I’d quoted someone in a story who had told him he wasn’t going to talk to me. Hardin was upset when he discovered I had an unlisted number. When this got back to my boss, I was told to list my number immediately.
Back then, you never knew when the Augusta National chairman might call you.