Into the Rough: My Take on ‘Augusta: A Revealing Look Inside America’s Most Intriguing Golf Club’

Editor’s Note: This new series of first-person blog posts will be offered up by Dan Miller, a Goswick member since 2015 and one of the people who helped develop and build this website. The opinions expressed are solely his own (did we mention he’s an American?) and may or may not represent those of the club. In other words, FORE!

By Dan Miller

Welcome to the first of what I anticipate will be a random series of missives on a wide array of golf-related topics. I love the game. I also love to write. So thank you to the club for graciously indulging me in both of my addictions.

Of course, during these unprecedented times, none of us can partake in the playing of the game and the exchanging of the craic — which ultimately is what this is all about. So I’m just going to have to try to make do with a wee bit of pontificating. Hopefully you’ll get a little something out the deal as well, even if it’s nothing more than a brief distraction from the crisis.

One more caveat: These posts will fall under the heading of ‘Into the Rough’. This is meant as a self-deprecating nod to ‘Down the Fairway’, the title of Bobby Jones’ autobiography first published in 1927. Jones is best known as the only man to capture the Grand Slam of golf in his era, winning the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, British Amateur and British Open (aka the Open) in the same calendar year. He’s one of only two Americans who have been made Honorary Burgess of the Borough by the people of St Andrews (the other is Benjamin Franklin). And he’s one of my golfing heroes. A photo of Jones in his prime overlooks my desk.

It’s also the perfect segue into my first instalment in this series — a review of Augusta: A Revealing Look Inside America’s Most Intriguing Golf Club. This book was written by Steve Eubanks and published in 1997, coincidentally the same year Tiger won his first Masters and I — along with my best friend and my parents — scored tickets to the Tuesday practice round at Augusta National. So I’m hoping all of that good karma will stand me in good stead as I launch this little endeavour.

And perhaps it will help counter some of the negativity. As I write this, it’s a beautiful spring morning in the Scottish Borders (I live in Kelso). It’s also a Tuesday, which means if all was well with the world, I’d be in the middle of a round at Goswick with my regular band of brothers. And given that it’s the first Tuesday of April, we’d all be looking forward to the start of the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

None of those things are happening at the moment. But I believe reading Eubanks’ book can help to fill at least a sliver of the void. Yes, this tome has been a part of my modest golf library since it first came out 23 years ago. But Augusta is one of those places that’s kind of stuck in a time warp, so Eubank’s words are just as relevant today as they were when he first authored them.

And I guarantee that if you read it, you will learn many new things about arguably the world’s most exclusive golf club, even if you think you know it well. That’s because unlike much of the Augusta National literature, this is no puff piece. Eubanks tells it like it is, setting himself apart from many of his fellow scribes who tend to pull their punches out of fear the club will rescind their press credentials. As a result, you get an unvarnished yet still respectful take on what many people consider to be golf heaven on earth.

For example, Eubanks reveals that:

  • While the public perceived Jones to be the ideal American gentleman — strong and courteous, competitive and polite — in private Jones threw clubs and swore at errant shots right up to the day he played his last round of golf. He also drank booze and smoked unfiltered cigarettes and Cuban cigars. Scandalous!
  • Jones died in 1971, after suffering for many years from a rare gradually debilitating spinal cord disease called syringomyelia. Two years later his son died suddenly of a heart attack. Two years after that, his wife died of a bleeding peptic ulcer. And almost exactly two years after that Jones’ youngest daughter died of cancer. What might have seemed like a charmed life was anything but.
  • Jones’ unlikely loss to 19-year-old Johnny Goodman in the first round of the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in California might well have been the turning point that led to England’s Dr. Alister Mackenzie ultimately being chosen to design the Augusta National layout. Jones, with unexpected time on his hands, stayed on in California, played some golf and crossed paths with Mackenzie, the architect of Cypress Point — also set amid the iconic Monterey Peninsula.
  • The 365-acre tract of land in Augusta where Jones and Mackenzie would carve out their dream course was originally an indigo plantation that was purchased by a Belgian baron in 1857. He turned it into the South’s first commercial nursery and called it the Fruitlands.
  • The minimum commitment to join the club was $5,000, with some charter members chipping in as much as $25,000. Remember that this was 1930, at the start of the Great Depression. Cliff Roberts, who would go on to run the club with an iron fist, later admitted that if any of them had known how long and devastating the economic downturn would be, they would have abandoned the project.
  • Augusta National has 80 acres of fairway; most courses have about 35. Its greens are huge: more than 100,000 square feet of putting surface compared with no more than 70,000 at most courses. And prior to Tiger’s dominating victory in 1997, there was no rough. Jones’ design philosophy: ‘The primary purpose of a golf course is to give pleasure, and that to the greatest number of people without respect to their capabilities’. Amen to that!
  • Prior to its opening, representatives of the club had discussions with the USGA about it hosting the U.S. Open. All they had to do was move the championship to March or April, prime weather months in America’s South. But the USGA refused to budge from its traditional June time slot. So that led Jones to consider creating his own event. It was originally called the First Invitational Golf Tournament, but soon became known as the Masters Tournament (never a championship) — against Jones’ wishes who thought the name was too pretentious.

And that’s just in the first few chapters. Plenty of more intriguing nuggets to be found in this book’s 251 pages. If you’re looking for ways to fill the time — and the hunger for golf — I heartily recommend it.

Here’s a link where you can purchase it online — though I’m sure you can find it elsewhere.

Happy reading. And here’s hoping we can all be together again sooner rather than later.