Golf / US Masters: How Jones adapted nature to a grand design: What was a plantation grew into Augusta National. Tim Glover relates the history of a legendary golf course

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The Independent Online
OLD STOVEPIPE does not get enough credit for his role in the legend that gave Augusta National the green light. All everybody ever talks about is Eugene Saraceni, or they would have had he not changed his name to Gene Sarazen. Sarazen, who missed the first Masters in 1934, made up for it the following year with a shot that was 'heard around the world'.

Sarazen had confidence in his game and in his caddie, a tall negro who had the nickname of Stovepipe because he wore a tall silk hat. On the eve of the final round Sarazen, who trailed Craig Wood by three strokes, was presented with a 'lucky ring'. When he walked down the 15th, Sarazen heard a roar from the 18th green. Wood had holed for a birdie and was being acclaimed the winner.

Sarazen asked Stovepipe what was needed to win. Stovepipe replied: '3,3,3,3.' That meant eagle, par, birdie, birdie. For his second shot to the 15th, Sarazen finally settled on a four-wood. As he was standing over his ball, he was suddenly reminded of the ring. He took it from his pocket and rubbed it over Stovepipe's head. 'I rode into the shot with every ounce of strength I could muster,' Sarazen recalled. 'The split second I hit it I knew it would carry the pond. It tore for the flag on a very low trajectory.' A small gallery behind the green let out a terrific shout.

Sarazen had holed out from 235 yards at the par-five 485-yard 15th for an albatross two, or what the Americans call a double eagle. Having made three under par on one hole, he needed to par the last three to force a tie. He did so and defeated Wood the next day by five strokes over 36 holes. Was it the ring or Stovepipe's halo that worked the miracle? Bobby Jones asked Sarazen for the ball and the four-wood for display in the clubhouse. With a bit of luck Sarazen, in his 91st year, will be at Augusta National this week. He normally plays nine holes as an honorary starter.

Everything at Augusta National is green except the membership. The chosen few who are entitled to wear the Green Jacket have at their disposal one of the world's neatest playgrounds. It was created from a concept by Jones and his fellow founding father, Clifford Roberts. When, in 1930, Jones won the 'impregnable quadrilateral', the Open, the US Open, the Amateur and the US Amateur championships, he announced his retirement from serious golf. He was 28 years of age and he had another dream. To design and build a golf course like no other.

An Augustan, a non-golfer, showed him a piece of land which was up for sale. What was once an indigo plantation had been developed into the Fruitlands Nurseries in the mid-19th century by a Belgian horticulturist who ran the first commercial nursery in the South. Trees and plants had been imported from all over the world to take root in a fertile climate.

The first thing Jones saw was a double row of magnolia trees, planted before the Civil War, which formed a stunning entrance to the old manor house. He was the first golfer to journey down Magnolia Drive. He stood on the high ground, which is now the practice putting green, from where he could see most of the 365-acre property. 'Perfect,' he said, 'and to think this ground has been laying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a course on it.'

If Jones and Roberts had not been members of a privileged society, which was to become dramatically less privileged in the Thirties, Augusta, the course, would not have taken root. The price for Fruitlands Nurseries was dollars 70,000. Roberts, whose background was Wall Street, suggested a national membership, hence Augusta National. It was national in name only. It meant the membership would not be restricted to Augusta. It would be restricted to friends and was by invitation only.

It was a luxurious idea, a mini Ivy League set amid a bed of roses. The first black member was admitted in 1990 at a time when civil rights questions were being asked of America's exclusive clubs. Blacks always worked at Augusta National as staff and caddies. If a film was made, it could be called Driving Mr Daisy.

The friends stumped up the cash for the land and Jones's design was grand yet simple. Golf was a game to be enjoyed, albeit by those with the right connections. There was, he said, no fun in looking for lost balls. Therefore, there would be few man-made hazards; there would be mounds instead of bunkers and no rough to speak of. It was not his idea to penalise the poor, or poorer player. He employed Dr Alister Mackenzie, a Scottish physician who had turned his back on medicine and made a career as a golf course designer, inspired by Boer War camouflage techniques. His theory was that courses should be less artificial in appearance, more natural and less costly to maintain.

Mackenzie's boast was that, no matter what, no matter where, the job would not cost more than dollars 100,000. No hole would bear any resemblance to another; a creek provided natural water hazards; 80 acres of fairway compared with 30 to 35 on the average course; the greens, fast and contoured, amounted to more than 100,000 square feet and the bunkers were few and far between, 29 in all. On some courses, there were 400.

If it was a labour of love, it was also definitely labour. Construction began in 1931 and dozens of men were employed to kneel in a line and pick up stones. Labourers were available at 50 cents a day and farm workers 25 cents, but it was not an eight-hour day. The custom was work from 'can to can't', meaning from the time one could see until the time one could not. The course, which opened in 1932, would be open only in the winter months. The summers were too hot. Men only, no ladies' tees.

Augusta National's distinctive clubhouse was built in 1854 by the owner of the indigo plantation. On the top is a cupola with windows on all sides, the idea being that the master could watch the slaves at work.

The timing of the Augusta National dream was a nightmare. The Wall Street Crash was followed by the Depression, which was interrupted by the Second World War. Had they known, they would never have started. Three things sustained the project: Bobby Jones, the Masters tournament, and the frequent patronage of General Eisenhower. For Jones, the members were prepared to dig into their pockets. Alfred Bourne, the son of the head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, would have underwritten the entire cost but for the fact that he lost dollars 10m in the Crash.

When the club decided to hold an annual tournament, Jones objected to it being called the Masters on the grounds that it was too presumptuous. The Augusta National Invitational Tournament was initiated in 1934 but everyone, except the club, called it the Masters. In 1938, Jones relented and the Masters title became official. Jones, who saw himself as the host rather than a competitor, reluctantly agreed to play. His presence would double the gate. Even so, there was to be no blatant commercialisation of the tournament, a somewhat unique concept in American sport. Even now, the television networks are told not to mention prize- money or the size of the crowds.

Jones played in the nine pre-war tournaments and his best result was 13th in 1934. In 1966, five years before his death, Augusta National adopted a resolution at its annual stockholders' meeting which made Robert Tyre Jones Jnr president in perpetuity. They added, with a touch of overkill, 'that he be the only person ever to be elected to that position'.

(Photograph omitted)