The unexplained abounds at the home of the most famous event in golf

Augusta's "Haunted Pillar" sits in town near a busy intersection.
Mike Walker

Everybody knows about the curse of the Masters par-3 tournament. In the 50 years since the Wednesday event began, no one who has won the par-3 tournament has gone on to win the Masters, a fact that compels superstitious golfers to intentionally dunk a ball or two if it looks like they might win. (That might change this year since 2010 Par-3 Tournament winner Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open four months later, although he did miss the cut at the Masters.)

However, that curse isn’t the only sign that something might be amiss in Augusta. Jim Miles, author of Weird Georgia, said Augusta’s most celebrated paranormal incident took place in 1878, 56 years before Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts held the first Masters Tournament in 1934 at their fledgling Augusta National Golf Club.

Miles, who has studied unexplained phenomenon for 40 years and calls himself “the clearinghouse of weirdness in Georgia,” said Augusta has its fair share of traditional ghost stories, the most famous of which is “The Haunted Pillar.”

The Haunted Pillar

The Haunted Pillar was originally one of the supports of the Augusta Market, Miles said, the primary place for Augustans to buy food, clothes and fuel since it was constructed on Upper Broad Street in the 1830s.

As the town gathering place, the market was an ideal spot for preachers to speak. As legend has it, an itinerant preacher of the fire-and-brimstone sort asked for permission to preach at the market after being turned away at Augusta’s mainstream churches. The Augustans didn’t want the preacher in the market either, refusing his request to preach, ridiculing him and even roughing him up a little, according to Miles. As he left, the preacher turned to his tormentors and said, “A great storm will tear this market asunder and only one pillar will be left standing!”

While there are no established dates or names for the story of the preacher and his curse, a tornado did hit Augusta at 1:10 p.m on Feb. 8, 1878. Miles said the tornado is well-documented; it killed several people and, yes, destroyed the Market except for one lone pillar.

Afterward, people said, “This is it. This is the preacher’s curse.” Some even came to believe that anyone who tried to move the pillar would be killed, and Miles said he has heard a story of a bulldozer tipping over and killing its operator, who was trying to move the pillar, and also stories of crane operators suffering heart attacks while attempting to move the pillar.

The truth, Miles said, is that the pillar has been moved multiple times and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Augusta. No one had ever died trying to move it, Miles said, and people touch it every day as the pillar, cracked and eroded, stands alone at the quiet intersection of 5th and Broad in front of a bottled water store.

But the legendary preacher’s curse is still respected; a group of day laborers walking down Broad Street on a recent sunny day approached the pillar carefully. One of them gave a mock-warning: “Don’t touch it!” The others laughed, but no one did touch it.

The Ghost of Bobby Jones

Miles says former CNN anchor and reporter Jim Huber had the most famous ghost sighting at Augusta National when he captured on video an apparition that looked like Bobby Jones. Huber, who recounted to incident in a charming article for The Hall of Fame Network, was filming a segment for CNN beneath the famous old oak tree outside the Augusta National Clubhouse on the Sunday of Greg Norman’s famous collapse in 1996 when a thick fog rolled in over the course.

Within seconds, we were going from crystal clear blue skies to a gray soup. Where before I could see to the top of the first fairway, suddenly I was having a hard time finding my camera.

My mind raced. I had to somehow find words to describe for a live national audience what they were (or were not) seeing. I got the toss and I began to put Augusta National and the Masters in trite but heartfelt perspective. That this sudden fog (which in the end would last just minutes) was so thick, one could imagine the ghosts, that surely Bobby Jones was somewhere amidst it. You get that sense anyway, fog or not, choosing to hear the whispers of the past through the tips of the rustling old pines.

The fog passed as quickly as it came in and Huber finished his show, collected himself and reflected on that strange fog, when a voice called out to him from the clubhouse.

“Hey, Huber!”

The words were drawled, the “r” was lost and so it came out “Hubah”.

I look around and then up. A dormer window above one wing of the clubhouse was open and an old unfamiliar head was hanging out, smiling.

“I just saw your show,” he said. “Good job but how the hail did you do that?”

“Thanks but, do what?”

“Get ol’ Bob to walk behind you like that.”

I shook my head. “Dunno what you mean.”

“Well, hail, boy, it worked damn good.”

And with a loud laugh, he left.

His interest piqued, Huber asked his producer if anything looked funny on the show. The answer: Yes, but you have to see this for yourself.

And there it was. As I was in the opening stages of my explanation for the fog and the talk of ghosts, an ancient, stooped man dressed in a tweed driving cap, green jacket and tie, hobbled behind me, a cane barely holding him up. He went from the left side of the screen to the right and then disappeared, as if on perfect cue. One of the ghosts of Augusta National. I scoured the grounds for him, asked if anyone recognized the description. No one did. Like the fog, he had dissolved.

The Curse of the Runner-Up
Another curious trait of the Masters Tournament is what happens to players who almost win the tournament. In many cases, they never compete at such a high level again. Josh Sens recounted these cautionary tales in a 2008 Golf Magazine article.

Len Mattiace: Lost to Mike Weir at the 2003 Masters after three-putting the first playoff hole. That winter Mattiace hurt his knee on a ski trip. He missed the cut at the 2004 Masters. After a string of 10 missed cuts in 10 attempts, Mattiace was eliminated from Q-School in 2007.

Ed Sneed: Lost a five stroke lead on Sunday at the 1979 Masters and finished bogey-bogey-bogey as Fuzzy Zoeller won the tournament. Since that Sunday, Sneed recorded only one Tour win (the Michelob-Houston Open) and never contended again at a major.

Greg Norman: His 1996 collapse is the most famous in the annals of the game. He got close again at the Masters in 1999 when Jose Maria Olazabal won, but Norman never won another major.

Other victims of the Near-Miss Curse include Chip Beck (1993), Scott Hoch (1989) and Chris DiMarco (2005).

So just how much of these tales of sinister building supports and haunted golf courses should we take seriously? Miles said that usually there is a kernel in these stories of the unexplained.

“I have something called the Miles Unified Theory of Weirdness,” Miles said. “Good people see UFOs, they experience ESP. Accounts are similar, they appear to come from the same source. In the 1960s people saw mystery rockets in the sky. 80 years before they saw mystery airship. Too many good people see too many odd things for there not to be a force out there.”

Speaking at Augusta National on Tuesday, Oosthuizen, the par-3 winner in 2010, sounded like he agreed with those sentiments.

“I don’t want to believe in things like that but it happens all the time,” Oosthuizen said of the Par-3 Curse. “My little girl is going to caddie for me and I might get her to kick the ball so my score doesn’t count.