Dinner is feast for Masters champions
Imagine being at a special dinner, the food arrives and it’s … haggis.
You know, the Scottish specialty that is sheep innards.
What about blood sausages? Anyone care for some monkey gland sauce?
Welcome to the Champions Dinner, where it seems anything is “fare” game for Masters Tournament winners.
The most famous dinner in golf used to feature a traditional menu with a main course consisting of beef, chicken or seafood. Served on the second floor of Augusta National’s clubhouse, the Tuesday night tradition has become more exotic in its offerings as more winners hail from overseas.
Sandy Lyle, the Scot who served haggis at his dinner in 1989, even wore a kilt to his special night.
“That seemed to make quite a statement,” Lyle said of the delicacy. “The older guys, like (Jack) Nicklaus, had been to Scotland and knew what haggis was. But the newer ones, guys like Larry Mize, they weren’t too sure about that.”
Also known as the Masters Club, the tradition began in 1952 when defending champion Ben Hogan gave a dinner for previous winners. Tournament co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts were extended honorary memberships to the club, and all subsequent chairmen have been included.
The defending champion also receives an inscribed gold locket in the form of the club’s emblem.
Byron Nelson served as the dinner’s unofficial host for years, although Sam Snead would often steal the spotlight with some of his bawdy jokes.
Now, two-time winner Ben Crenshaw is the evening’s emcee.
“To have it every year at Augusta, it never gets boring,” Lyle said. “There’s new characters coming in, new winners, and the old ones are still hanging in there.”
The menu began to change in the 1980s when the defending champion, who serves as the host for the night and picks up the check, began to select a menu that reflected his individual tastes. The menu has ranged from a Texas-style barbecue served by Crenshaw, to wild game from Canadian Mike Weir, to cheeseburgers and milkshakes offered by Tiger Woods.
Vijay Singh picked Thai cuisine for his Champions Dinner.
“Every champion out there had their choice,” Singh said in 2001. “I’m going to serve something different.”
Singh’s menu required help from an Atlanta restaurant, but Augusta National prefers to handle the chores alone if at all possible.
Zach Johnson wanted to serve fare from upscale steakhouse Ruth’s Chris, and Charl Schwartzel wanted to have a South African barbecue on the back lawn of the clubhouse, but logistics did not work out for either golfer.
Perhaps no dinner drew more scrutiny than the one in 1998. Woods, then 22, selected a menu more suited to a drive-in.
“Hey, it’s part of being young,” he said at the time. “It’s what I eat.”
A few past champions went along with Woods, while others opted to order off the regular menu.
“I was surprised with the number of guys eating the meal; it was great, the chefs were great, and the food was superb,” Woods said. “It was a lot of fun, an experience I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life.”
Angel Cabrera’s 2010 dinner featured a traditional Argentine barbecue, but it also included morcillas. Known as blood sausages, they are thicker sausages that are often stuffed with rice, onions, spices and pig’s blood.
When six-time winner Nicklaus was asked about eating the delicacy, he laughed.
“Oh, I hope he enjoys it,” Nicklaus quipped. “No, I’m sure it will be very good. I don’t even know what blood sausage is.”
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HOW IT STARTED
Ben Hogan wrote a letter to Augusta National Chairman Clifford Roberts inviting him to a dinner for previous winners, and the Masters Club was born.
The first Champions Dinner was held Friday, April 4, 1952, at Augusta National’s clubhouse.
Nine Masters champions – Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Henry Picard, Jimmy Demaret, Craig Wood, Claude Harmon, Sam Snead and Hogan – attended the inaugural dinner.
Past champions Ralph Guldahl and Herman Kaiser did not attend the Masters that year.
According to The Augusta Chronicle archives, the new club’s first official act was to make honorary members of Roberts and Bobby Jones, Augusta National’s president.
JUST A TASTE
Are ‘bugs’ on the menu?
Adam Scott will have an Australian-themed menu for the Champions Dinner.
“My mom’s dessert’s on there,” Scott said in late February. “Mum’s Pavlova is on there. It’s kind of a meringue.”
A Pavlova is considered a fresh fruit pie with a meringue crust. It’s named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926. The dessert is considered “as light as Pavlova.”
According to Linda Stradley in What’s Cooking America, the origin of the dessert is a point of contention between Australia and New Zealand.
“While it has been suggested this dessert was created in New Zealand, it has also become recognized as a popular Australian dish,” she wrote. “Both countries claim to have invented this dessert and claim it as their national dish.”
Perhaps it’s a tip of the cap to Scott’s caddie Steve Williams, the New Zealander who gave Scott the correct read on the winning putt on the second playoff hole at last year’s Masters.
Scott’s mother, Pam, will not make the treats that will end the dinner.
“It’s her recipe, but she’s not actually going to be there making it,” he said. “I don’t know if I want her up there with Arnold (Palmer) and Jack (Nicklaus). I don’t know if she can handle the pressure.”
As for the rest of Scott’s menu, he lit up when asked whether Moreton Bay bugs would be served. The “bugs” are really a species of slipper lobster found in Moreton Bay near Brisbane, the capital city in Queensland where Scott grew up. Locals liken it to crawfish.
“Moreton Bay bugs is one of my favorites,” he said. “It’s a good guess. It’s a very good guess. I hope (the other champions) won’t be put off by the bugs. They’ll like it.”
– Scott Michaux, staff writer