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Augusta National founders deserve closer look

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The program for the first Augusta National Invitational Tournament in 1934 included a page with pictures of 12 men who were designated as “Some of The Members of Augusta National Golf Club.” They were: Jay R. Monroe, Alfred Severin Bourne, W. Alton Jones, Thomas Barrett Jr., Fielding Wallace, Walton H. Marshal, John W. Harris, Richard C. Patterson Jr., M. H. Aylesworth, Grantland Rice, Clifford Roberts and Robert Tyre Jones Jr. All but two looked grim. W. Alton Jones had a hint of a smile and Robert Tyre Jones Jr., tanned and handsome, beamed. They were the only two without jackets. Robert, or Bob, as he was known in the diminutive (he preferred that to Bobby), was the only one without a tie. 

Some through inheritance, most through their own initiative, these men were colossally successful. Given the acquired suspicion and stigmatized view of high achievement today, it is worth pointing out that of all the factors that lead to success in a free-market economy, character is not the exception but the rule. And with the Masters less than a month away, this is an appropriate opportunity to take a closer look at some of the men responsible for giving golf its greatest event. 

W. Alton Jones (no relation to Bob) was born into a poor family in Missouri and rose to become president of what is now Citgo. He also contributed significantly to U.S. production for World War II, building a secret dynamite plant, an aviation fuel refinery and 3,000 miles of pipeline to deliver that fuel from Texas to the East Coast. Friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jones was on his way to fish with the former President when he was killed in an American Airlines plane crash in New York City on March 1, 1962.

Jay R. Monroe helped develop the first commercial calculator and established the Monroe Calculating Machine Co. in 1912. Merlin H. Aylesworth was the first president of NBC, the oldest broadcasting network in the United States. Alfred Severin Bourne, whose father was president of the Singer Sewing Machine Co., wrote a check for $25,000 (during the Depression, no less) to help start the club. 

Grantland Rice was a sports writer who made heroes of athletes with his elegant prose. He is best known for dubbing the backfield of the 1924 Notre Dame football team the “Four Horsemen,” a biblical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that is the most famous sports passage ever written. In his New York Herald Tribune article about the Notre Dame-Army game at the Polo Grounds, Rice began:

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.” 

Who writes like that today? 

In 1935, when Gene Sarazen made a double eagle on the 15th hole during the last round of the Augusta National Invitational (it wouldn’t be called the Masters until 1939) and then beat Craig Wood the next day in a 36-hole playoff, it was Rice who branded the moment as “The shot heard ’round the world.” Litera scripta manet

Clifford Roberts left school after the ninth grade, but as an investment banker made his way to Wall Street, where success put him in the company of great men. He was the first chairman of Augusta National (1931-1976) and had a restless discontent with the status quo of tournament golf. He conceived of the over- and under-par scoring system that we still use today. It was his ideas that led to free parking and pairing sheets, observation stands and roped-off fairways and greens. Those were ideas which accommodated needs that neither players nor patrons had yet thought of. When asked what made the Masters, Roberts was quick to deflect credit. “Bob Jones, of course,” he said. “His presence. Then the double eagle.” 

Bob Jones earned a mechanical engineering degree at Georgia Tech in 1922, a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Harvard College in 1924, then passed the bar in 1926 after only three semesters at Emory School of Law. He won seven opens and six amateur major championships by the age of 28. In 1930 he won two of each in a feat of such deep-water greatness it was beyond the grasp of almost everyone to understand, let alone name (with apologies to George Trevor, who came up with “the Impregnable Quadrilateral,” and O.B. Keeler, who dubbed it a “Grand Slam”). 

The degrees and championships were the product of a man fizzing with moxie and intelligence, but years later, when the moss was creeping up once-heroic limbs, it was tales of Jones’ sportsmanship and sense of fair play that preceded him. 

President Eisenhower once said of Jones, “Those who have been fortunate enough to know him realize that his fame as a golfer is transcended by his inestimable qualities as a human being.” 

Bob Jones knew sport was about more than winning. He knew also that it was more than entertainment, that at its best it also plays a role in communicating values. 

The idea for Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters began with Jones, but long after he retired, it was the men listed here and scores of others like them, men of immeasurable abilities and ambition who kept alive, in this course and in this tournament, the promise of his genius.