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A Town's View of the Affair

April 15, 1974
April 15, 1974

Table of Contents
April 15, 1974

Glorious Ordeal
No Small World
Aaron Banks
Pitcher
Handball
Bowling
Big Bend
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

A Town's View of the Affair

By Roy Blount Jr.

They are well-connected, or they wouldn't have tickets. They are easy on the eye, in crisp spring outfits of predominantly red, white and blue. They are unresentful about being prohibited from running and they are duly responsive to green litter bags marked PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. They constitute what is often referred to as "one of the most orderly crowds in the world."

This is an article from the April 15, 1974 issue Original Layout

They are just about nice enough, then, for the grounds: a landscape impeccable as to greens, lush and rolling as to fairways, white as to bunkers, blue as to ponds and resplendent as to red dogwood, white dogwood, azalea, juniper, redbud, Nandina and holly.

The crowd sips cool drinks on the clubhouse veranda or flows around the sward. Seeing, being seen. Emitting rich, mellow "Ahs" for good shots and lower, softer "Awwwwwws" for missed putts. Clapping some, too. And pulling for, say, Oosterhuis to birdie Flowering Crabapple, which is the official name of the 4th hole.

That is the general atmosphere of Augusta National Golf Club during Masters Week. Lovely. But where are hijinks? Where is mystery? Where is funk? Who picks up the cigarette butts? Where can a person go to get tattooed?

The answers to these questions lie—in some cases—beyond the soft-focus scene at the course. But not beyond Augusta, an east Georgia town of 60,000 whose main-street monument to the Confederacy Says, NO NATION ROSE SO WHITE AND FAIR, NONE FELL SO PURE OF GRIME, and one of whose smaller newspapers, The Mirror, in a front-page headline during Masters Week last year proclaimed:

WOMAN CUTS 3, TRIES TO CUT 2 OTHERS, ATTEMPTS TO CUT NITE CLUB MANAGER, IS SHOT.

No doubt the Masters is Augusta's most illustrious feature, and it affects the lives of a great many people in town. But as one resident declares, "Somebody tried to tell me that nobody would live here if it weren't for the Masters. That's not true. There's the nitrogen plant, Fort Gordon and the Medical College of Georgia, with all those doctors and things." Furthermore, there are country music shows, live wrestling, Elizabeth Taylor's gynecologist, the John U. Strother Old Folks Home, a barbershop advertising STYLISH HAIRCUTS/FLAT TOPS, and the Woodlawn Baptist Church, whose marquee last April read on one side, TODAY LET THE MASTER MASTER YOU and on the other side, IF YOU'RE TEED OFF, PUTT IN HERE. In 1972 it read, WHEN CHRIST AROSE GOD PLACED THE MASTERS JACKET ON HIM.

Another local religious operation with a tie-in to the Masters is a one-man effort run by W. A. Ethridge. He is a short, elderly, serene-seeming man who lives in and evangelizes out of a red panel truck that has PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD, JOHN 3:16, REV. 20:15 and JESUS SAVES THE LOST written on it. Augusta is Ethridge's home base, but he gets around.

"I've been in 48 state capitals and handed out six million Gospel tracts since 1960," he said one afternoon last Masters Week after driving back and forth outside Augusta National for a while, playing Gospel music loudly on his tape deck. "I never picked up a ball. I never hit one. But you look at all this money that's put back of golf. And that's for flesh entertainment. Now, how much more for spiritual entertainment?"

Around Ethridge's neck is a small medallion that says MISSIONARY. "But still and all," he says, "any kind of clean entertainment is spiritual. Anything that precious souls get joy out of. It all fits in a pattern—long as it's clean. Precious souls see that other things need comforting as well as the deep spiritual. Everybody knows we're living in peerless times, but thanks for golf to comfort the precious souls. There's precious souls that follow golf all over the world—your mind opens when you travel."

The souls from out of town are more precious financially to some Augustans than others. The hotels and motels are booked months in advance at jacked-up prices. Many visitors rent houses, at up to $1,500 for the week, from local people who go away on vacation. Masters veterans avoid the few good restaurants in town because they know people will be lined up to get in. A flush week is had by the niteries.

It remains uncertain what will be the most popular spot for television and press people this year. For the past two or three it was a place called The Cadaver, over by the medical college (the waitresses were dressed like nurses). But since last April The Cadaver has gone out of business and become a Lum's hotdog palace, so it doubtless has settled down considerably.

Other enterprises take a more oblique advantage of the Masters. "Southern Roofing Co., Home of Christian Metal Screens and Awnings, Welcome to Augusta Our Masters Guests," said a sign on the way into town from Bush Field (which has a sign on one pyracanthus-covered wall identifying it as THE COUNTRY CLUB AIR TERMINAL). "Welcome Masters. Ballard Flour 5 lb. 49¢," said a grocer's sign, and "Beautiful Hanging Baskets for Masters," said a florist's. The Augusta bookstores report that the Masters brings them little extra custom, but last year they prominently displayed several golf books, and also—perhaps co-incidentally—A Nobody Gives Hell to Everybody, by Augustan Robert L. Balfour, with whom Chi Chi Rodriguez has stayed on Masters visits. In his lively book Balfour decries a number of modern trends and reports that in college he had a friend with an artificial leg who would go into a restaurant and order a toasted limburger sandwich. When the waitress would demur, the friend would "throw a perfect fit and gain the attention of everyone present. He would then reach into his inside pocket, pull out an ice pick and jam it through some old trousers into his artificial leg. While it stuck there he would snap it, and as it vibrated back and forth the waitress would practically pass out."

Balfour also notes, as an example to the young, that "five years ago I knew nothing about golf cars or batteries.... Through study and research I've had 19 different articles on golf cars or batteries published in 14 national magazines and the editorial comment at the end of one...reads: 'The article by Robert L. Balfour has been cited by battery industry experts as one of the finest reports on battery maintenance ever made available to the golf car industry.' "

The Masters no doubt has a beneficial impact, direct or indirect, on Balfour's company, which makes golf carts, but it does not do the Star Cafe on Eighth Street, in the downtown commercial area, any good. In the Star, "Next to Home the Best Place to Eat," last year you could get ham hocks and three vegetables for $1.24 or a plate of fried chicken gizzards for 90¢, and hear some diverting conversation. But you do not catch the Masters crowd eating at the Star.

There are some grand old gabled homes near the Star, with elderly people rocking on their porches, but this end of town has always been set apart from the western, uphill area, where the golf club and a number of fine residential streets are located. Originally this area was not even part of the city. Known as Summerville, it was established as a rich man's high-ground refuge from yellow fever, which prevailed in 19th century Augusta from June to October. The fever period was also the social season—gentry came into Summerville from as far away as Charleston to escape the vapors given off by rotting cottonseeds, which were believed to carry the disease.

Down on Broad Street close to the Savannah River, where the bales of cotton were piled, is Ted's Tattoos, which has a sign in the window that states, "Speak up for the ART OF TATTOOING, for ART it is, and can be if properly handled, TATTOOING, in its proper clean and more beautiful form is far superior to costly jewelry."

However, it appears that no one has ever thought enough of tattooing in this town during Masters Week to have one of those Masters emblems—a United States map with a little golf flagstick stuck in the approximate area of Augusta—tattooed on his chest. Eddie Peace, whose studio is near Ted's, says, "We do have people down here for the Masters come in, but they get the usual tattoos like other people would. Right now it's a peace emblem that's popular. And girls get the butterflies. In sports they get motorsickles—aw, I don't know what all. But not directly golf, no."

The tournament is no boon to the taxi business, according to a driver. The first week of every month, Masters month or not, is the peak taxi-taking period, what with the old people, their welfare checks just in, calling cabs to take them shopping, and the just-paid Fort Gordon troops being lured into town by such enticements as the "almost topless girls," which were advertised at the Motel Warrick.

For black Augusta in general—which is to say 50.3% of the population, mostly clustered around the downtown area—Masters Week is not exactly a festival. The Night Beat column in The Mirror during last year's tournament did not mention the Masters, though it was pleased to note that Archie Deli and the Dwelles, at an unspecified nightspot, "did a wonderful job.... They are always popular and always put forth their best feet—and partner, their best foot is something else."

The Augusta News-Review, a more sedate black paper, carried a front-page editorial last year that said in part, "Augusta wouldn't think of having all Black policemen, all Black firemen, all Black teachers, or all Black appointees to positions of responsibility. Then why all Black caddies...?

"In movies, we are used to watching the African safari where the natives carry the gun and the MASTER shoots it. In Augusta the 'native' picks up the ball and the MASTER hits it...."

Mrs. Carrie J. Mays is one of three black members of the city council. "I wouldn't know a bad golfer from a good one," she says, but "purely because of politics" she has an option on four tickets, "which I'm real proud of. A lot of white folks would give anything for them."

One such white person is David Peet, a past vice-president of the Augusta Jaycees and head of the civic project that transformed a formerly impassable, water-moccasin-laced area down by the river into perhaps the nicest spot in Augusta—an excellent park for riverside strolling, a small, public Summerville-on-the-bottoms. Peet has been in town for just three years and therefore, he says with some impatience, is merely "on the list to get on the list" to get tickets to the tournament.

Mrs. Mays claimed only two of her tickets last year and gave those to friends, who would account for a good 20% of the nonworking black spectators observed on the course daily during the week. But she says that if Jim Dent, a black Augustan who started as an Augusta National caddie and has gone on to win some recognition and money on the tour, were ever invited to participate in the Masters, "I might drag out there to see him play."

However, Mrs. Mays doesn't want to see any special exceptions made for Dent. If that were done, she says, Tournament Director Clifford Roberts "could apologize to his friends—who would certainly be white—and say, 'Well, we allowed Jim to play because he's a local boy, we felt like we wanted to do that much for him.' That would be a dressed-up bunch of hogwash." She wants (as does Roberts, according to his public statements in recent years) a black player to be invited under the rules like everybody else.

The Masters does do something for various blacks economically. Mrs. Mays' son Willie, who works with her in the family funeral parlor, usually chauffeurs distinguished visitors around town during the week in the parlor's limousine, and a good many other blacks pick up extra money in service capacities. For instance, James Dunn, now acting principal at Tubman Junior High School, for several years worked as a waiter in the clubhouse during the tournament week. After the schools with which he had been associated were integrated he occasionally found himself serving one of his students. He says it did not get him down.

Another Masters job performed by blacks is going around puncturing trash with a 12-pronged, spring-release stick and placing it in a big green bag. Representatives of these litter pickers, boys of high school age, were interviewed glancingly, since they felt a certain pressure not to goof off, but the following exchanges did take place one afternoon last year as, in the distance, J. C. Snead was bogeying Golden Bell, which is the 12th hole:

"All the kids in town get out of school all week so they can work here, huh?"

"That's so."

"But what are you going to do now that the tournament is extended over into Monday?"

"Not going to school Monday, either. I got good grades. No point in going to school and maybe doing something to mess 'em up."

"Have you found any interesting things, picking up trash?"

"Have I found a lot of interesting things? Have I found a whole lot of 'em? I found a hundred dollars."

"Don't believe him," says a friend. "He lie more than the average liar."

"I found a pint liquor bottle," says the first.

"How does Masters Week affect you?"

"A lot. Whoo."

"You tired?"

"Yes, goodness. And I don't get to see my woman."

"When you do see her, though, next week, you'll have plenty of money."

"That's exactly the week I don't want to see her."

"How much do you make?"

"$1.70 an hour; $150 a week."

"That's pretty good."

"For working 12 hours with one 15-minute break?"

"Aren't there any white kids picking up paper?"

"Naw. They holding ropes."

"Black kids pick up paper and white kids hold ropes?"

"Naw. Some black kids hold ropes. And they would take whites to pick up paper. But I don't know how long they would hold up under the work."

Two white kids who were game to try were ROTC students ("they picked kids with short hair to represent the school") from Butler High. They were employed posting scores on the board near the 8th hole, or Yellow Jasmine. Sloping up from the tee is a hill, one of the places where the nonworking young traditionally sun themselves under the scrutiny of security men. The score posters were using binoculars to get a load of strange girls going by in halters. ("A lot of girls from Ohio are here every year," a local high-schooler observed. "Those Ohio girls are funny. They just want to listen to the way we talk.")

One of the score posters took a break to change Tommy Aaron's number from three under to four. A cheer went up. The poster took a bow. "Thank you, thank you. I put up that score," he said.

"Scoreboard guys get $5 a day meal money," his friend said, "and $10 on Monday, when we should be in school. We're going to break the color line next year. We're going to pick up paper."

"Why?"

"Those cats told us they were getting $2.10 an hour."

One major problem during the Masters is the influx of automobiles. "We've got 1930 streets, and here it is 1973," pointed out a city policeman. The department works overtime, some men 16 hours a day for seven days, to handle the extra traffic. Last year an officer on crutches had to be pressed into duty for office work.

The traffic can be turned to the advantage of some, of course. Last year there was a man selling trampolines outside the main gate to the club. He said he had taken orders for five in six days. He had a sign up reading TRAMP-O-LINES. TRY IT, YOU'LL LIKE IT. But he did not have an actual trampoline assembled on the scene.

"Oughta put one up and have a broad in a bikini bouncing on it," a man told him.

"Kids would get on it," he said.

"Kids wouldn't be all," the man said with a leer.

Next to the trampoline man's lot, right across from Gate 3. Mrs. Dorothy Bryant was running a $400-a-week business in her front yard. Ordinarily her home doubles as the Washington Road Beauty Salon, which is why she has a beauty-parlor chair and a hat tree covered with wigs ("ones people've left") in her living room, and hair-style photographs tacked up on her walls. She makes only about $100 a week from beauty. During Masters Week she and her kids and her friends park cars and sell refreshments on the lawn.

"In a couple of months the grass comes back up," she says. "I'm not even interested in golf, but this year we're getting $3 a car."

A great number of people in Augusta enjoy the Masters, but it can hardly be said that any one emotion pervades the town during the tournament. On Saturday night at the height of the week last year there was a party at the Sans Souci apartment complex, which offers its singles and young marrieds a seven-hole putting green and other comforts. Outside the party, in a Volkswagen, there was a pretty blonde young woman crying.

Her husband wouldn't let her go out by herself, she said, and he worked at night and she worked during the day, and she wasn't happy being married, and she'd been drinking, and her husband had a gun, and she liked to dance, and she had to go home.

"What," she was asked as gently as possible, "does the Masters mean to you?"

She spoke in terms of traffic. "The Masters," she pondered before starting up her car to go home. She was still crying. "The Masters means 45 minutes to make an eight-minute drive."

But few local reactions are as world-weary as that. One of the white-cover-ailed trusties cutting weeds with a sling down by the river last year under minimal supervision—Augusta has a model work-release program—said that there was considerable interest in the tournament at the jail. "I'm looking to January," he said.

"You get out then?"

"No. Don January. I got him in the pool."

Down on Broad Street a thin old man was riding a big bicycle, PRAYER was written on the mudflap, there were Palm Sunday fronds on the back and the big basket contained a radio and a number of less identifiable items. HOKE was written on the side of the bike.

Hoke stopped to talk to another, somewhat less vigorous, old man standing on the sidewalk.

"I've known you a long time," Hoke said. "I've known you since you were on the police force."

The man lifted a tube to a hole in his throat and said through it, in a distant voice, "That's right."

"Keep on," Hoke said to the man. "Don't stop."

"That's right," the man said.

"That's why I come out here every day," said Hoke. "Don't stop." And he pedaled on.

A little farther down the way Hoke was asked, "Do people in town get excited about the Masters?"

"Some do," he said. "Some don't."

"Do you?"

"Oh yes. I listen to it on the radio here," Hoke said. He nodded his head firmly. "You got to have some recreation," he went on, "or your mind'll just go...plunk."