Search

A Modest Proposal It's 2009, and the Lords of Augusta are pondering subtle changes to the Masters

April 06, 1998
April 06, 1998

Table of Contents
April 6, 1998

Leading 0ff

A Modest Proposal It's 2009, and the Lords of Augusta are pondering subtle changes to the Masters

Date: Jan. 10, 2009
To: Members of Augusta National Golf Club
From: R. Worthington Read, Chairman
Re: Finances

This is an article from the April 6, 1998 issue Original Layout

As most of you know, thanks to the catastrophic stock market
crash 11 years ago, we have been under considerable strain these
past few years to meet the $10 million purse that Commissioner
Leadbetter now insists upon. Toward this end, the tournament
committee is entertaining an interesting offer from Mr. Rupert
Murdoch, whose Fox Network, as you know, has been televising our
tournament ever since our acrimonious parting with CBS.

Before presenting the Murdoch offer, a little background might
be helpful to you newer members. In 2003, when we were first
pressed for money, Ted Turner came to us with what we at first
thought was an appalling proposition. It seems that he and
Governor Fonda were looking to build a vacation home in Augusta.
During a visit to the 1998 Masters, the Turners fell in love
with the property just south of our clubhouse hot tubs on which
our nine-hole par-3 course was laid out. Mr. Turner asked for a
meeting with our directors, and as one of them, I was in
attendance. Held in what is now the Tiger Woods Trophy Room, the
discussion went as follows.

Mr. Turner got straight to the point. "I would like to buy your
nine-hole par-3 course and am willing to offer you $20 million,"
he said.

There was a lengthy silence. Finally Ray Billingham, then
Chairman, spoke up. "Mr. Turner," he said, "I am afraid you are
unaware of the many traditions of the Masters, one of which is
the beloved par-3 event held on the Wednesday afternoon prior to
the start of the tournament itself. We could never do without it."

"I'll make it $50 million."

"Mr. Turner, at the risk of insulting you, you fail to
understand that we at Augusta National are a proud group. In
spite of all sorts of enticements, we have remained free from
the encroachments of commercialism that, sadly, have afflicted
the rest of golf, witness the Burger King U.S. Open and the
Revlon Ryder Cup. When you stand on our veranda during the
tournament and gaze out at the green expanse of our course, you
see nothing that smacks of an advertisement. We at Augusta
National are above that sort of thing."

"How about $100 million?"

"Ted," said Billingham, "you've got yourself a deal."

It was heart-wrenching, of course, to see the bulldozers plow up
all those dogwoods and azaleas as Turner's 80-room cottage went
up and Ike's Pond was transformed into the Governor's lap pool,
but as you know, there was an upside. Three holes were spared,
and Ted was kind enough to let our contestants play the par-3
event as usual, with each circling the abbreviated course three
times. I'm sure our patrons have enjoyed watching Ted and his
friends play in the pro-am portion of the par-3 before all the
competitors head on to the popular Wednesday-night barbecue that
Ted holds on the practice putting green.

Keeping in mind how well our arrangement with the Turners has
worked out, let us now address ourselves to Mr. Murdoch's offer.
Two months ago he requested an audience with the Board, which
was granted, though I must admit we were somewhat taken aback
when he landed his helicopter on the 1st fairway. We were even
more startled to hear his proposal. He wishes to buy the acreage
of our entire front nine, and plans, he says, to build a huge
television studio on the 5th hole, wherever that is.

I know, I know. I can hear your cries of protest. All of us in
attendance reacted the same way. With no front nine there would
be no 18, and without an 18 there would be no Masters. We told
Mr. Murdoch as much.

He was, of course, prepared for our reaction. He opened by
mentioning a price: $1 billion. That certainly got our
attention. We quickly calculated that if that sum were invested
wisely, it would not only take care of the escalating Masters
purse for years but would also rid us of membership dues as
well, which, as you know, have reached $250,000 a year. But the
question remained: How could we accept his offer and still hold
the tournament?

Mr. Murdoch had several suggestions, all of which merit
consideration. Could not the competitors, he asked, play the
back nine twice? Or perhaps tee off at number 10 playing two
balls and record a score for each?--and so on for all nine
holes. Perhaps the simplest solution of all, he said, would be
to have the competitors play the back nine once and merely
double the score, a 34, say, converting to a 68.

Needless to say, our Board wanted time to consider Mr. Murdoch's
offer, and we retired to the Arnold Palmer Pub Room to think it
over. While intrigued, I felt that if we acquiesced we would
lose a bit too much. On Thursday morning, when by tradition the
tournament begins with Jack and Arnie hitting their ceremonial
first shots and then driving their Caseycarts down the 1st
fairway, there would be no 1st fairway to drive on. It is also
true that during the tournament many of our members and their
wives sometimes leave the veranda to observe the action on the
9th green, 50 yards away. Now there would be no 9th green.

It was young Hathaway who hit on what I think is the perfect
solution. If Mr. Murdoch would agree to purchase only holes 2
through 8, no one would ever realize they were gone. It's no
secret that we have always been embarrassed by our front nine,
which is why we have never allowed permanent TV placements
there. We dropped CBS because the network became too insistent
on televising all 18 holes, as all those pedestrian tournaments
permit. And, of course, because of Mr. McCord's comment that
Clifford Roberts should have taken some of us with him.

The Hathaway suggestion is simple, if a tad unorthodox. Front
nine play would begin at number 1 as usual so that our loyal
patrons can see their favorite players hit their tee shots and
ride off down the fairway. Some two hours later they will
reappear at the 9th. Holing out, they will enter a small tent
not unlike the one at 18, in which they check and sign their
scorecards.

Inside, each player will be handed a pair of dice. One will have
the number 3 engraved on all six sides, so that when rolled it
will, of course, come up 3. The second will have numbers 3
through 8. The player rolls that die. If it comes up, say, 5, he
marks down 35 for his front nine and heads off for the 10th tee.
When 8 comes up, it means a 38, I'm afraid, but then again, it
might come up 3 for a 33. Statistics show that 95% of the
players shoot between 33 and 38 on the front nine, so little is
lost.

The beauty of this plan is that no one, save the players and a
handful of nosy spectators, will ever know that seven holes are
missing. No television cameras will betray us, and certainly no
writers. In fact, I can't remember when I last saw a writer 25
feet from the veranda bar. Tournament leaders brought into the
media center after outstanding rounds can simply ad lib how they
shot that 33 on the front nine.

You might ask what the players will do for the two hours between
playing the 1st and 9th holes. Mr. Murdoch has what we feel is a
superb solution. On what used to be the 2nd fairway, he will set
up a huge tent, inside of which will be a variety of
entertainments for the players, pinball machines, Arnold
Schwarzenegger movies and giant TV screens showing reruns of The
Flintstones as well as tapes of past Masters highlights and
disasters, such as the famous 1998 tournament in which Greg
Norman set a 54-hole course record on the way to an 11-stroke
lead, only to shoot 87 on Sunday and lose to the highly regarded
Gabriel Hjertstedt.

The plan seems airtight and needs only a majority vote of the
membership for passage. I am personally for it and urge every
one of you to vote not with your heart but with your pocketbook.

Oh, yes, there is one last piece of financial business. Sensing
he is missing out on the increasing luster of our tournament,
Mr. Bill Gates has asked if Microsoft can buy into our
traditional victory ceremony on Sunday evening. He promises
there will be no mention of his company at any time, nor will he
tamper with the Nike logo on the sleeve of the champion's green
jacket. Seems just fine to me, although I must say he did
mention one disquieting thing. His favorite color is purple.

Sincerely,
R.W.R.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOE CIARDIELLO GETTING IN THE SWIM Mr. Turner and Governor Fonda have become as much a part of Masters tradition as Arnie and Jack's ceremonial ride. [Drawing of Ted Turner hosting barbecue on Augusta National Golf Course]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOE CIARDIELLO What will the players do between the 1st and 9th holes? Mr. Murdoch has a solution. [Drawing of Rupert Murdoch gesturing toward workmen in tent]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOE CIARDIELLO Bill Gates has asked to buy in...although he did mention one disquieting thing. [Drawing of Bill Gates]