Book of the Week: A snapper's tale of heaven's fairways

Augusta National & The Masters Frank Christian with Cal Brown (Sleeping Bear Press, hardback, pounds 35)
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The Independent Online
In the beginning was the word, but the word is not always God at Augusta. In the early 1970s, the final round of the Masters fell on Easter Sunday. The American television network, CBS, worried about losing church-going viewers, suggested changing tee-off times. In a wonderful story illustrating the self-obsession and autocracy of the man who created the Masters legend, Clifford Roberts is said to have angrily demanded "find out who's in charge of Easter and let's see if we can't get them to change the dates".

Roberts and the great Bobby Jones, so the historians would have us believe, moulded, shaped and endowed the Augusta National Golf Club with such a sense of history and tradition that each April, like pilgrims quietly taking to pews for prayer, we don't just watch golf, we worship. But like all gospels, things are never always kosher.

In the first Masters tournaments in the 1930s, procedures were far looser than they are today. There is a lovely story about Bobby Jones' father, Robert P Jones, or "Colonel Bob" as he was known. Short of officials, the old Colonel was sent out on to the course, waterlogged after a rainstorm. A young player's ball was lodged in a puddle. The Colonel asked what he wanted to do. "Well, sir, I'd like some relief". Perhaps unsure about the casual water rule, the Colonel asked: "Tell me, Son, how do you stand in the tournament?" "I'm 11 over par," the player answered. "Hell, you can tee the sonuva bitch up, if you want to," was the Colonel's final ruling.

The teller of these tales is Frank Christian. If thou shalt have but one God only, Christian, Augusta's official club photographer (a job he inherited from his father) clearly leans towards Arnold Palmer. Christian modestly subtitles his work "A photographer's Scrapbook" but, with over 100 unpublished photographs, some going back to the 1860s, alongside hagiographical tales of the great and good - not always complimentary - the result is a rich, entertaining, visually handsome chronicle and his Augusta tale of Palmer is damn near perfect.

Palmer was then at his peak: God-in-residence, army in tow. After an indifferent drive on the par-five 13th, Palmer was pacing back and forth "go for it Arnie" the gallery shouted. Palmer went to his bag and pulled out an iron. There was an audible groan. The hero was laying up on the treacherous hole. However, he hitched up his pants and, as Christian recalls, "smashed the ball as hard as I have ever seen, riding over the creek and on to the green, finishing within eagle distance. Arnold looked back at the gallery as if to say 'Ye of little faith' and he went crazy." Mr Tiger Woods, please take note.

James Cusick

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