Relive the reversal of the nines, azalea-eating cows and other November moments in Masters history
A national pandemic might have moved this year's Masters Tournament from its usual April dates to November, but that doesn't mean many important events surrounding the club didn't happen in the calendar’s penultimate month.
It is the month in 1934 when Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts and others decided to reverse holes 10-18 with 1-9. The change, reported Nov. 16 in The Augusta Chronicle, returned the layout to Alister MacKenzie’s original design.
According to author David Owen in “The Making of the Masters,” MacKenzie’s original plans had the holes numbered the way there are today, but during course construction in 1931, the nines were reversed. No reason was announced, but there is speculation it allowed members near the clubhouse to better see who was finishing their round and coming up today’s No. 9. The first Masters used this configuration.
There was, however, a drawback.
In his 1976 book “The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club,” Roberts wrote that seasonal frost was a problem on the lower elevation holes, such as today’s No. 12. Switching “the nines” allowed members to begin morning play earlier by starting their round on the higher holes.
It has also been suggested that today’s back nine is more difficult, so beginning with the easier half of the course allows the golfer to “warm up” to the challenge.
Speaking of challenges, few could match the disruption of World War II. Facing wartime restrictions, as well as loss of most of the nation’s top golfers (even Bobby Jones) to military service, Augusta National Golf Club suspended member play, as well as the Masters Tournament for 1943-45.
On the bright side, the golf club offered home-grown Thanksgiving turkeys for local tables in November 1944.
“Turkeys!” proclaims an advertisement that month in The Chronicle, “On Foot, Feather Picked, Dressed and Drawn.”
Roberts credited Simk Hammack, the club superintendent and “an experienced turkey man” with the gobbler success. Others had doubted turkey farming would pay off, but Roberts had faith in Hammack and he delivered. The golf club not only sold turkeys that Thanksgiving, but sent them to members for their holidays.
The turkey profits were crucial because the golf-less club’s original plan to raise 200 beef cattle on its empty fairways then sell them for a profit had not worked out.
The cows ate the azaleas. They ate other flowering plants. They ate small trees.
In his book, Roberts said they had to buy expensive cattle feed to save the shrubs, then when they sold their steers, wartime prices were low and they lost money.
Turkeys to the rescue.
“With the use of very little capital, a profit sufficient to offset the $5,000 cattle loss was realized,” he later wrote.
There was still a problem – the damage the hungry cows had done to the course.
Again, Roberts applied a unique wartime solution – he hired the enemy.
German prisoners of war were being held at nearby Camp Gordon. Usually well-behaved, they were allowed to work for local farmers and businesses to make a little money and to ease the local labor shortage. Roberts employed 42 of them.
They not only repaired the damage done by the livestock, but several said to be former engineers for Rommel’s Afrika Korps built a wooden bridge near the 13th hole, which stood for a decade before it was replaced with more permanent structures such as the Byron Nelson Bridge.
If anyone knew something about the World War, it was probably the Augusta National Golf Club’s most prestigious November visitor – President Dwight Eisenhower.
Beginning with his 1952 visit weeks after his election to the White House, and concluding on a sunny week in 1960, the first family often found its way to Augusta in November.
Known for his fondness for golf, “Ike” was often on the course within an hour of landing at Bush Field. A club member, he made 45 trips to Augusta - five before he became president, 29 while president and 11 after his last term.
“We always come here with great delight and go with regret,” he said before departing in November 1952.
He would be inaugurated weeks later and then spend his first Thanksgiving as president of the United States at Augusta National in 1953.
The family spent the holiday in “Mamie’s Cabin,” a special residence erected by members of the club for use by the president during his visits. Construction began the day after the 1952 Masters ended and was finished by October.
Thanksgiving 1956 should have been a good year for Eisenhower, but there were challenges that November. After easily winning re-election early in the month, world affairs intruded on his Augusta holiday. A crisis with the Suez Canal delayed his trip, but the town didn’t mind waiting. When he got off the plane at on a windy Monday afternoon, a crowd of 200 was there.
“Hi, folks!” Ike said before heading to the golf course where Bobby Jones himself was ready to begin the president’s golf vacation.
The Eisenhowers enjoyed a big Thanksgiving in 1958, The Chronicle reported, holding not one but two holiday dinners. The president and son John also got in 18 holes that morning.
Ike’s final presidential visit came in November 1960, and was one of his shortest. He played golf then left town on a hunting trip. It was only a few weeks after his longtime vice president Richard Nixon had been defeated by Democrat John F. Kennedy, and maybe he didn’t feel like celebrating.
Others, however, could celebrate this month. It joins January with producing the most Masters champion birthdays – seven.
They include Bubba Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Art Wall Jr., Ralph Guldahl, Henry Picard, Craig Wood and Gary Player.
A three-time Masters champion, Player turned 85 on Nov. 1, and has never hidden his love for Augusta.
“If they have a golf course like this in heaven,” he once said, “I want to be the head pro.”
November 8 in Masters history
1961: Jack Nicklaus, 21, generally considered golf's foremost amateur since Bobby Jones, announces he is turning professional.
The two-time national amateur champion told reporters gathered at his Ohio home of his decision.
“Due to several sources of income available to me at the professional level, it would be unfair to my family not to accept,” he said.
He said Mark McCormack, of Cleveland, would probably handle his business affairs, as he does for Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
1939: A five-hole Scotch pitch-and-putt course is in process of construction on the lawn of the Bon-Air Hotel, recently designated headquarters for the Augusta National’s Masters Golf Tournament in April.
Plans for the construction of the compact course, a type which has proved exceedingly popular with winter guests, were announced by Alfred Battey, newly elected president of the hotel. It should be completed by Feb. 1.
Selection of the hotel as headquarters for the golf tournament, crowning event of Augusta’s unmatched links activities, was made by Clifford Roberts, chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club.
1979: Jack Nicklaus tells the Miami Herald he will focus on major championships and not money in the upcoming 1980 season. Specifically, Nicklaus cites the “Big Four” tournaments – The Masters, the PGA, and the British and U.S. Opens, as well as the Tournament Players Championship and his own tournament at Muirfield in Dublin, Ohio.