The continuous evolution of the Champions Dinner

By Rex HoggardApril 5, 2016, 3:59 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – In official publications it’s referred to as the Masters Club, but to anyone with even a passing interest in golf it’s simply the Champions Dinner.

The club is limited to winners of the Masters and Augusta National’s chairman, who is granted a honorary membership, and the annual dining options – Angel Cabrera, for example, served grouper ceviche over plantain chips in 2010 – are the only real public glimpses most ever get into the Tuesday tradition, but last year’s Champions Dinner was different.

By all accounts, the annual gathering was transformed in 2015 from a largely understated affair into exactly what one would expect from the game’s most exclusive cocktail party.

“I’d only been to two, but it was very different from my first dinner where nothing was really said by anyone and it was just dinner and everyone left,” Adam Scott said. “But what broke the ice last year was a presentation was made to Arnold [Palmer] in the middle of the dinner and he felt he should speak and it was a very emotional speech.”

The presentation was a piece of the iconic Eisenhower tree on the 17th hole, which was lost in an ice storm in 2014.

Normally, Ben Crenshaw serves as the emcee of the event and he introduces the defending champion, who makes a few comments, followed by chairman Billy Payne who gives an overview of the club and any changes that may have been made since the previous year’s tournament.

Last year’s dinner, however, took an emotional turn when Palmer was persuaded to speak after being given his piece of Augusta National history.

“Arnold stood up and started speaking and you could tell it was straight from the heart. It was quite a special moment, really. It was pretty emotional and then he nudged Jack [Nicklaus] to get up and help him out,” Trevor Immelman said. “In the true spirit of those two, Jack was like, ‘Nah, you’re doing alright.’ It was a tremendous moment.”

Eventually, Palmer was followed by Tom Watson who then convinced Doug Ford, the 1957 winner and at 93 the oldest Masters champion, to speak.

“I wanted to have Doug Ford talk about the great shot that he hit, that the kids didn't know about,” Watson said. “The kids love that. They love stories like that. How did you win the Masters?  Everyone in that room has won the Masters, so they know how they did it. But it's always fun to listen to other players describe how they did it.”

Fuzzy Zoeller talked, or depending on who you ask, did a few minutes of standup, doling out jokes and entertaining anecdotes as only the 1979 champion can.

One by one, nearly every Masters legend spoke, but the impromptu moment began with Palmer, who announced last month he wouldn’t be hitting the ceremonial first tee shot on Thursday but did plan to attend the Champions Dinner.

“The significance of the tree is the remembrance of President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, a part of the history of Augusta,” Palmer said. “It was a very important part of the dinner, which was wonderful, with a lot of stories and so on ... and that was very special given my relationship with the former president.”


Photo gallery: What winners have served at recent Champions Dinners


With the exception of the defending champion, who is wedged between the chairman and the host (Crenshaw), seating for the event is largely on a first-come, first-serve basis, but there is a hierarchy.

“People get their spots and just stay there,” Immelman said. “Last year, [Adam] Scottie was kind of asking me where he should sit and I kind of dragged him down to our side on the far corner. Guys get familiar with their spot and they just kind of stay there.”

Immelman’s corner includes Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Charl Schwartzel, with Vijay Singh sitting across the table from Faldo.

Although that system leads to familiarity and a relaxed environment, in recent years it likely created a segmented atmosphere more suited to private conversations. It’s a dynamic that made last year’s dinner standout for many of the champions.

“More poignant would be the way I would describe it. More lively; the legends spoke up a little bit and there was some emotion and there was some laughter and sadness, but all in a positive way,” Zach Johnson said.

The dinner was started in 1952 by Ben Hogan, which is curious considering the Hawk’s aversion to small talk and social gatherings.

That first dinner included just 11 attendees, a number that grew to 30 last year, which is mildly concerning considering the defending champion picks up the tab, and normally lasts between two to three hours.

The difference last year was that no one wanted the event to end.

“After Arnold spoke, the stories started coming to just what you would picture that dinner to be,” Scott said. “It was fantastic, really great.”

Like everything else at Augusta National, the Champions Dinner continues to get better thanks to an emotional spark from Palmer, which also seems to be a spring tradition.

“Every year for me to be part of that is kind of goose bump kind of stuff,” Immelman said. “Every year it seems to get better and better and you kind of appreciate it a little more.”

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Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


Playing with the pros

Tiger, DJ and Faxon

Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

Rory faces criticism

Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'


President at the Presidents Cup


Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump


Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73


Cart on the green


Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green


Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open


Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National


Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open


Trump golf properties

Vandalism

Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses

Finances


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers


Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover


Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up


Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.