The last time we missed out on the Masters in April, cattle and turkeys roamed the old fruit nursery in Augusta, Georgia. This is a true story told by one of Augusta National Golf Club’s founders, Clifford Roberts.
From 1946-2019, the Masters was played in April. However, in the three years preceding 1946, it was not played at all.
A few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Byron Nelson beat Ben Hogan in the 1942 Masters by one stroke in an 18-hole playoff. The Masters was not played again for nearly 1,500 days.
Following that 1942 Masters, many of the club’s members — not to mention many of the golfers who competed at the highest level at that time — entered the war. The club itself closed down, and many thought it may never reopen. (Remember, it was only a little over a decade old at the time.)
According to Roberts in “The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club,” 128 members were relieved of their annual dues but asked to give the club a $100 annual gift. Additionally, Bob Jones determined that the club should help with the war effort by purchasing cattle to roam the fairways at Augusta National.
The animals decimated the course, and it cost a small fortune to feed them once the grass was gone. Roberts notes that selling the cattle saw the club incur a $5,000 loss (roughly $75,000 in 2020 dollars). In addition to the cattle, turkeys were also brought in to graze (again, this was less than 100 years ago). The club made money off of those and then began the arduous process of rebuilding its majestic grounds.
During the latter part of 1944, after the cattle had been sold, the big job of rehabilitating the golf course was begun. The club hired 42 Germon soldiers, prisoners of war from Camp Gordon, for a period of about six months. They worked mostly on the golf course, but some were skilled craftsmen who build bridges and did other special jobs.
This might be the most remarkable part of the entire process. On April 4, 1946, the Masters was played for the first time in four years. Herman Keiser beat Ben Hogan by a stroke, which means Hogan lost out on two jackets — four years and one war apart — by three total strokes.
The club came to the conclusion before this Masters that, because the war had ravaged other hotel accommodations in the area, it would have to provide its own accommodations for members coming in from all over the country. This was obviously a massive project and one that was highlighted by the war.
It’s hard to convey just how bleak things looked at this time for Augusta National. According to Roberts, it looked so bad for the club before the war that “one of our members who was quite familiar with our past difficulties expressed his sorrow about the approaching demise of the club.”
Here we are 80 years later with another April-less Masters. The future sometimes feels nearly as bleak even though it’s not even close. There is a Masters scheduled for November, and it may in fact be played. At the very least, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas are not enlisting for war like Bob Jones and Ben Hogan did in the early 1940s.
The part that’s encouraging about all of this is that the Masters (and ANGC) came back stronger than ever following three years without a tournament. We’re not likely to go that long again without this event, and I don’t envision cattle and turkeys being allowed through the Augusta gates.