Augusta National loaded with landmarks, history
It’s early April, the grass is starting to green up and the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths have all bloomed. Golfers out there know that can mean only one thing: Time to watch the Masters at Augusta National Golf Course.
Anyone, not just golfers, who watch the Masters can’t help but be struck by the sheer beauty of Augusta National. From tee to green, the course looks perfect. The fairways and rough are immaculately manicured and lined with towering pines. Flowering trees such as dogwoods, yellow jasmine, and camellias appear on every hole, adding spectacular displays of color.
Founded in 1932 by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts on the grounds of the Fruitland Nursery, Augusta National has become the gold standard by which all other courses are judged.
The Masters Tournament and Augusta National Golf Course have become synonymous and some of the tournament’s great history has been memorialized on the golf course.
Sarazen’s Bridge was dedicated in 1955 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world.” In 1935, Gene Sarazen holed a 3-wood from 225 yards on the par-5 15th for a double eagle, forcing a 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood, which Sarazen won.
Hogan’s and Nelson’s bridges were both dedicated in 1958, the same year a young fellow named Arnold Palmer won his first Masters. Palmer’s achievements in that and subsequent Masters tournaments were commemorated with a plaque on a new water fountain at the 16th tee in 1995. Jack Nicklaus received a plaque on a another new water fountain between the 16th and 17th holes in 1998.
Of course, any golfer who tunes into the tournament also is likely to be struck by another thought: “I wish I could play there.”
What would it be like to hit a tee shot over Rae’s Creek on No. 12 in the middle of Amen Corner? To putt in front of all those azaleas that frame the 13th green? To cross Sarazen’s Bridge?
A round at Augusta is a rare and special accomplishment due to the golf course’s club having an elite membership. It might be easier to get your tour card and actually qualify for the Masters tournament than to be invited to join.
Marcel Verdooner didn’t get to play a round, but the Grass Valley photographer did get to shoot around on the course – with his camera. He was a 23-year-old staff sergeant attached to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. 301st Signal Photography Company at nearby Camp Gordon when General Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952.
Augusta National has only 300 members scattered across the country. You can’t apply for membership or put your name on a waiting list. You must be invited by the members to join. Only three professional golfers have received such an invitation. They are four-time winner Arnold Palmer, six-time winner Jack Nicklaus, and former amateur stand-out and Champions Tour member Jack Harris.
And, to show just how select the company Augusta keeps, only one U.S. president has been a member. Eisenhower became a member in 1948, after being invited to visit by New York Herald-Tribune executive and close friend William E. Robinson.
Normally involved in training combat photographers for service in the Korean War, Verdooner’s unit got the assignment of providing photographs of Augusta National and the surrounding area to the secret service.
“We were all over the course,” Verdooner said. “The clubhouse, the other buildings, the woods, the roads to and from Augusta, Georgia and the airport.
“Anything and everything was totally photographed. It was something, because in those days, people were not as security conscious. They weren’t as worried that something could happen.”
One thing that clearly did happen was Eisenhower developing a special affinity for Augusta National.
In 1949, after a walk in the east woods on his second visit, Ike informed club chairman Clifford Roberts that he had found a perfect spot for a dam if anybody wanted to build a fish pond.
“Ike’s Pond,” as it came to be known, was built later that year.
Covering three acres, it sits between the fairway of the 10th hole and No. 9 on Augusta’s nine-hole par-3 executive course that was added in the 1958.
“Eisenhower’s Cabin” was built in 1953 to house the president and first lady on their frequent trips there. First known as ‘Mamie’s Cabin’, it is a three-story structure built to secret service specifications. A Quonset hut was built for the press corps nearby. Eisenhower loved the place so much, he made 29 trips to Augusta National while president, spending 222 days there.
That’s nearly 31 weeks.
In contrast, he only made five visits to Augusta National before being elected and 11 more after his presidency. While still president in 1956, Eisenhower was attending a governor’s meeting for the club and proposed that a certain 65-foot tall, loblolly pine 195 yards out from the 17th tee be removed.
Perhaps the tree had gotten in the President’s way more than once.
Roberts, the club chairman, promptly ruled the President out of order and adjourned the meeting.
The pine has been known as “Eisenhower’s Tree” ever since.
Verdooner, who said he’s never been much of a golfer, did enjoy the atmosphere of Augusta National, but he had higher priorities on his mind when he was completing his assignment.
“It was a nice, neat, immaculate golf course,” Verdooner said. ” It was a beautiful golf course.
“But, it was just a golf course.
“My proudest accomplishment is that not one of the photographers we trained was killed or wounded in Korea.”
And that’s a more impressive accomplishment than getting in a round at the most beautiful and exclusive golf course in America – one that President Eisenhower likely appreciated even more than Augusta National.
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