Writing a Masters diary for The Daily Telegraph, which is what I did in the 1990s, may sound like an easy brief. Not so. As soon as you unearthed a fresh source of information and posted the relevant story in the paper, someone would seek out the source to advise that he or she would do better to keep quiet.
That was the precise sequence of events after I had stopped off at the lost-and-found cabin early one morning in 1994. “Anything interesting to report?” I asked a friendly soul at the desk.
“Oh yes,” she returned. “I’ve just had X’s auntie on the phone and she’s asked me if I would find a way to remind her nephew to take an extra sweater out on the course today.” Alas, I cannot find the relevant cutting today, but I have a funny feeling that the player in question was Curtis Strange.
Yet there was one source of information which officialdom was powerless to silence. Who would have thought that Georgia’s equivalent of the UK’s Public Health Department would have dispensed the kind of news on which an Augusta committee would have been sworn to secrecy?
Endless rain and a particularly muddy walkway had given rise to a fiendish smell which had left several caddies, not to mention a couple of players, with dire headaches. Alastair McLean, Colin Montgomerie’s man, was among the more outspoken of the victims.
With no helpful information to hand, I rang the state department, whose telephone number had been among a list of “helpful numbers” lying on my desk. “We’ll find out what’s causing it and I’ll get back to you, madam,” said the man on the line.
To my astonishment, he did – and proceeded to provide Telegraph readers with a detailed explanation. Sacks of cat litter had been used to firm up the mud and, though it had worked well on that score, the brand of littler which had been used had been heavily scented. It was the scent, combined with the midday sun, which had resulted in the noxious fumes.
Not all of the diary tales came from within the Augusta grounds. Over on the far side of Washington Road, the manager of the handsome grocery store indulged in a bit of “Will I, won’t I” deliberations before finally deciding that he would sooner make a contribution to the diary than not.
That very morning, some enterprising soul – a man who had nothing whatsoever to do with the store – had stood at the entrance to the car park clad in a brown overall and with a leather bag slung over his shoulder. In the space of an hour, he had sold almost all of the shop’s 400 parking spaces to Masters visitors at a very reasonable $5 a time.
On being told that Tiger was 20 and had a couple of amateur championships under his belt, (Gene Sarazen) reminded his audience that by the time he was Tiger’s age, he had already won his first major – the PGA Championship.
Though he made a successful getaway, the same did not apply to the somewhat inebriated chap who stole a referee’s buggy from the 18th fairway and made off down Magnolia Lane. The security man doing duty at the clubhouse gatehouse rang for assistance as he saw the thief turning left on to the main road and a chase ensued. In what was hardly the stuff of a Bond movie, the police arrested their man some 50 yards down the hill.
As one of the many UK journalists at Augusta, it would be remiss of me not to mention the update which went out on a local radio station announcing the top starting times for the first day in 1996. The lad announced that Phil Mickelson was off at 10:33, John Daly at 12:39, and Davis Love III at 1:24. No mention was made of their playing companions, namely: Sam Torrance, Nick Faldo and Montgomerie. (Faldo, as it turned out, would be that year’s winner.)
That same spring, the cringingly named Gotta Have It Collectables, who were showing their wares in four different sites outside the course, were sporting some surprisingly tasteful posters, with my personal favourite, “Legends on the Swilcan.” Originally, the picture had included all four of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Raymond Floyd. Though Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson had all been happy enough to receive a lump sum by way of payment, Floyd asked for 25 percent of every transaction.
The owner of the business could not wait to explain how the situation was rectified. Using modern technology, Floyd’s image was swiped from the bridge.
Again in 1996, Gene Sarazen was making his way back to the clubhouse after hitting his ceremonial shot from the first tee when he was asked to comment on the up-and-coming Tiger Woods. His eyes lit with mischief, the nonagenarian had a counter-question at the ready: “Well, how old’s he and what’s he won?”
On being told that Tiger was 20 and had a couple of amateur championships under his belt, the old fellow reminded his audience that by the time he was Tiger’s age, he had already won his first major – the PGA Championship.
Finally, an Arnold Palmer tale …
It was one of Palmer’s final Masters and his “Army” included his long-time dentist, Howdy Giles. One of Palmer’s close aides pointed him out to me and told me the harmless, but charming tale of how Giles had Palmer videos playing in his waiting room, and that when the patients switched to the dentist’s chair, they would quiz Giles on everything from Palmer’s matching set of teeth to his Palmer Axiom irons.
“The only time the patients could be silenced,” said the aide, “was when Howdy stuck a drill in their mouths.”
Tiger Woods takes a walk up the seventh fairway at Augusta National. Photo: Harry How, Getty Images
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