Clifford Roberts: National man of mystery

Fact: Roberts and Jones drifted apart in old age. The rift was over Jones's image, about which Roberts fretted far more than his own. Lou Gehrig's disease enfeebled Jones before his death in 1971, and Roberts discouraged him from attending the Masters. "Cliff took the view that it was for Bob's well being," said longtime Atlanta Constitution sportswriter Furman Bisher. "He didn't want the public to see Bob in such a bad state. Bob resented it, and his family resented it. They thought Cliff was trying to steal the show." Roberts was not invited to Jones's funeral.

Fact and Fiction: Roberts lacked 'the sensitivity chip' in his personal relationships. He ejected Frank Stranahan for hitting on-course practice balls before the 1948 Masters. He was married three times. Arnold Palmer wrote in A Golfer's Life of being "almost instantly scared to death of him." But Roberts had a soft side. Though he was twice divorced, the third wife, Betty Lister, stuck. In Making of, Roberts referred to her as the love of his life. He signed off letters to Jones, "Much love, yours faithfully." And after he visited Jack Nicklaus's new Muirfield Village club in Dublin, Ohio, in 1974, Roberts wrote to Nicklaus, "You have a chance to do there in five years what it took us forty years to accomplish at Augusta." Roberts repeated the comment at the Memorial tournament's 1976 honoring of Jones, and Nicklaus wrote in My Story, "It was a personal highlight of an altogether happy week." Palmer, too, considered Roberts a friend.

Fact: Roberts shot himself on the banks of the par-3 course, at age 83, in 1977. Like his mother's death, his suicide was a result of poor health, and he left instructions for an unmarked grave.

Roberts by the numbers

80 Acres of fairway area that Alister MacKenzie, Jones and Roberts gave to their prize creation, "which compared to thirty or thirty-five acres on the average course," Roberts wrote in The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club.

36-28 Ages of Roberts and Jones, respectively, when they set out to recruit Augusta National's members.

36 Holes originally conceived by Roberts, who at first thought Augusta ought to build a ladies' course and sell extra-large lots for grand houses around the entire property. Both ideas were abandoned.

1948 The year Roberts invites General Dwight D. Eisenhower to visit his club. Eisenhower joins, and Roberts went on to become Ike's close friend and financial and political advisor.

-1, 0, +1 Roberts was the first to use the red (under par) and green (even or over par) numbers to show the cumulative score of each player, and also was first to build spectator viewing mounds and place leaderboards throughout the course.

1964 Year Roberts began to print a code of conduct on the back of Masters pairings sheets, most likely in response to the fervor created by Arnold Palmer.

109 Members who attended Roberts's 80th birthday party at the club in 1974, which he wrote, in a rare show of pride, was "the largest gathering of Augusta National members ever assembled at one time."

In memoriam
Jack Nicklaus on Roberts

"I considered Clifford Roberts a great friend and a great person... You might be able to say he wanted to be feared to be heard, but underneath, he was an old softie. From the time I met Clifford Roberts until his death, I never knew him to do anything that was not in the best interest of Augusta National. As a youngster and during my very first years at Augusta, Clifford Roberts would ask me what I thought of something, and I would try to give him an answer. He would then research it, come back to me and say, 'Jack, we agree and we are going to fix that on the golf course.' Or, he would tell me why they didn't agree with me. Every year after that, I wrote to him my feelings on what should be done on the golf course — maybe it was a tee that was not level, or a tree growing out over a fairway, or bunker sand not playing like they wanted. No matter what I wrote, I never failed to get a letter, a detailed explanation, and him saying what they would or would not do, and why. I thought that was very fair. I thought he was a great man, who not only made significant contributions to Augusta National, but to the game of golf. He was one of the original members of the Captains Club at Muirfield Village and the Memorial Tournament. He made everything at Augusta National available to me in an effort to help make the Memorial Tournament a better tournament. He participated in a lot of what we did. He once said to me, 'Jack, you have chance at the Memorial Tournament to do in 10 years what it took us 30 years to do at Augusta National.' The Memorial Tournament is better off because of Clifford Roberts' gestures and his efforts than the tournament would have been without it. I love the story about the spoof he put on at one of the jamborees. They always said he could walk on water, and he rigged it so he could walk across the water at No. 16. And there was the story about him in a gorilla suit. He was just a fun-loving guy; a good guy. There was obviously a significant difference in ages between Clifford Roberts and me, but I would still say we were good friends."

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