Tuesday, March 31

The Man Who Made the Masters, Part 2

This is the second part of a series on Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club and the chairman of the Masters Tournament from 1934 to 1976. Read Part 1.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


CLIFFORD ROBERTS WAS BORN IN MORNING SUN, Iowa, in 1894 and reared in small towns in Iowa and Texas. He never attended college and didn’t graduate from high school. He left in the ninth grade after a fight with the principal.

His family life was troubled; his father couldn’t keep a job; his mother was suicidal. And yet Roberts became one of the most iconic figures in the world of golf.

At the age of 19, Roberts, a traveling salesman of men's suits, was on the road in the Midwest when he heard his mother had taken her own life. "It was a tragic event," writes Steve Eubanks in his book about the Masters, "that in hindsight offers a glimpse into Roberts's own mysterious psyche."

Eubanks would quote psychologist Wayne Wilson that "many children of suicidal depressed parents, become great negotiators and businessmen."

That was certainly true of Clifford Roberts.

Boy Wonder and Ladies Man

After his army tour, Roberts sold oil leases in East Texas, making $50,000 in oil speculation by the time he was 27. In 1921 he bought a partnership in Reynolds and Company and earned the epithet, "The Boy Wonder of Wall Street."

Roberts was also a ladies man, marrying three times, and famous for leaving his wives for months on end as he attended to his affairs (romantic and otherwise) in Augusta. He spent four months a year in Georgia while his current wife was back at their apartment in Manhattan.

Not much is known about his affairs, except for the woman he met in France while serving in the army. Her name was Suzanne Verdet. He saw her often in Paris when he was living, working and making his mark on Wall Street. In 1928, visiting her, she managed to have him stay one extra day with her. The plane he would have taken back to London crashed into the English Channel, killing all on board.

Roberts never married Suzanne Verdet. He never moved her to America. And he never forgot her.

Years later when Verdet needed round-the-clock care, Roberts took care of all of her expenses; and he continued to take care of her after his own death. She was also remembered in his will.

One True Love

In my novel The Caddie Who Won the Masters, there's a scene where Roberts, as a fictional ghost living on Augusta, has an encounter with the protagonist of the book, a middle-aged golfer who comes to the Masters in hopes of being the first amateur to win the tournament, one of Bobby Jones's great wishes.

Frank Stranahan (USGA)
The main character of my novel reminds Roberts of what he did to Frank Stranahan, the young, good-looking and wealthy amateur at the 1948 Masters. Roberts had established a rule in 1948 that no player could play more than one ball during a practice round. Stranahan, playing alone, thought the rule didn't apply to him since he was a single. Roberts, however, called Stranahan out, pulled him off the course, and rescinded his invitation to play in the Masters. The rumor, however, was that Stranahan had taken a sudden romantic interest in one of the women working at Augusta National, an employee Roberts also had his eye on, and Roberts wanted to get rid of any competition for her affections.

But looking back at his life, it wasn't women who captured Roberts's attention and love. It was Augusta National. He devoted his whole life to making the golf course and the Masters Tournament a success. As Byron Nelson said, ''This place was his bride.''

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

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