Bobby, Clifford and the Fruit Nursery: A US Masters reflection

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By Chris Vogt. Time stands still at the Masters, yet Augusta National stays in touch with progress.

 

When Bobby Jones retired from golf, the greatest amateur of all set about building a course and club that would stand up to whatever the future might throw its way. His course would be inspired by all that is great about St Andrews, and the club to reflect the best of Southern hospitality and charm. When he and prominent businessman Clifford Roberts happened upon the sprawling Fruitlands Nursery, a deal was done.

With architect Alister MacKenzie in tow, they set about creating the course, club and tournament known to generations of golf followers the world over. Augusta National and the Masters are metaphors for tradition, perfection, and all that mattered most to Bobby Jones. He and Roberts believed in the values represented by golf, and their spirit lingers each April as the flowers bloom and the top players test themselves.

They got everything right. The course can bury the wayward or impatient professional, yet its members can have a day out. Its clubhouse stands on the high point of those rolling acres, dignified yet relaxed in that uniquely Southern way. The membership may be the leaders of American business and government, yet informality, courtesy and respect pervades. The spirit of Bobby again.

The Masters itself has set, retained and trail-blazed at will. So many firsts: the fairway ropes, grandstands, scoreboards with the red and black numerals later adopted worldwide. All on Roberts’ watch. The Champions Dinner, with its sharing of tales among the generations, growing larger each year. The great tradition of the honorary starters, commencing with Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, the torch later passed to Palmer, Player and Nicklaus. Arnold has left his favourite stage, but this is the Masters, so his place will be filled.

The galleries play a part too. They swarm over the property and are intrinsic to the landscape, filling the space between those towering pines. The area in front of the clubhouse evokes an Edwardian garden party, despite the progress of fashion. And their respect for fine play is unassailable.

At the centre of it all are the competitors. Each has the game to win, but there are two battles here. One they confront week-in, week-out on their respective tours. The other becomes apparent upon that first brush past the magnolias. Form matters little heading into the Masters.

In a rapidly evolving sport, Augusta National and the Masters represent much that is good about the game. Howls of protest from progressive corners have done little to detract from the virtues bestowed by the club and its fabled invitational. Something special happens there each April, more than swings and putts. Bobby Jones had some game, but did his finest work when the glove came off for the last time.

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