David Owen  

David Owen  

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 12 1997 3:30 AM

David Owen  

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       For a while yesterday, it looked as though no one in the field at the Masters Tournament would finish under par. The greens were fast, thanks to the weather--sunny, cool, dry--and several of the holes had been cut in extra-dangerous positions. My friend Spider Miller, the 46-year-old beer distributor (see yesterday's entry), shot 82. He was disappointed, but he was in good company: Also at 82 were Steve Jones, who won the United States Open last year, and Robert Allenby, a highly regarded young Australian player. Loren Roberts, who is such a good putter that the caddies call him the "Boss of the Moss," shot 85. (The leading score at the end of the day was John Huston's 67--topped off with an eagle on the 18th hole.)
       I chatted with Loren Roberts' caddie before any of the players teed off. He was using his wristwatch to change the channels and adjust the volume on the television set in the club's bag room. The watch has a built-in remote control that can be adjusted to the frequency of any TV. He said that if he is in a bar and the TV is showing a sports event he has no interest in, he will use his watch to change the channel. The bartender, thinking the TV is on the blink, will change it back. Then he'll switch it again. And so on, until the bartender gives up.
       The bag room at the Augusta National Golf Club is presided over by Freddie Bennett, the caddie master, who has worked at the club for decades. Bennett remembers sneaking onto the grounds to fish when the club was closed during World War II. He was 10 or 11 years old. Cattle grazed on the Augusta National's fairways during the war--the club's contribution to the war effort--and for several years afterward the course was speckled with cow-flop-shaped circles of especially green grass. Bennett also remembers seeing a crew of German prisoners of war working to put the course back in playing shape as the war drew to an end. The prisoners were being held in Augusta at Camp Gordon--now Fort Gordon--and were available for hire by local businesses. The Germans had been a part of Rommel's Panzer division, and they were delighted to spend the bulk of the war in Georgia. One of their projects at the club was a footbridge, which crossed Rae's Creek near the 13th tee. They built the same sort of wood-truss bridge that they had once built for Rommel's tanks. The bridge later washed away in a flood and was replaced by the stone bridge you'll see on television this weekend, if someone doesn't change the channel on you. The new bridge is made of stone and is dedicated to Byron Nelson, who is 89 years old and with whom I had a very pleasant conversation yesterday afternoon at an umbrella table on the back of the first tee.

David Owen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a contributing editor of Golf Digest. His most recent book is My Usual Game: Adventures in Golf.