Golfers the world over will turn their eyes to Augusta, Georgia, April 9 for the opening of the 73rd Masters Tournament and to see whether Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson can win another championship.
Co-founded by Bobby Jones -- a fabled amateur who remains the only golfer to win the Grand Slam, that is, all of the current major tournaments in one year -- and investment banker Clifford Roberts -- the Augusta National Golf Club's Masters Tourney is a major that is also one of the premier international sporting events. The waiting list for tickets is reportedly years long.
I am a golfer whose love of the game far exceeds his ability. But I once was lucky enough to work for Reginald Bryan Wells when he was director of public relations for Scott Paper Company in Philadelphia. Reg was an outspoken Englishman with a manner so charming that he could make the most outrageous statements and never offend.
Reg also was a skillful filmmaker. So skilled that Cliff Roberts hired him to make the official film of the Masters, a gig that lasted nearly 25 years.
For 15 of those years in the '70s and '80s, I was an expenses-paid member of the 40-person team that made the film, one of eight crew directors who lugged equipment and logged the contents of every foot of film shot. We had four cameras on Thursdays and Fridays and eight on Saturdays and Sundays. Ed Koons was chief cameraman; he had been with Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. We also had several guys from NFL Films.
Encouraged by Mr. Roberts -- a world-class encourager -- TV Masters sponsors Cadillac and Travelers annually bought hundreds of copies of the film paying hundreds of dollars for each copy. I worked with the Koons crew that made commercials for both sponsors in the week before the tournament and -- are you ready for this? -- our whole team fought CBS for tee times on Mondays afterwards.
Here are a few of my recollections from those years:
* Eating the best breakfasts of my life with many of the players in the second-floor grill above the Club House lobby. They served exquisitely timed eggs and omelets; biscuits fluffy enough to hover; jams and jellies distinctive to the Augusta National, and sausage and bacon so good that, as Reg said, "It would be criminal to choose only one." I've visited or lived in every state in the Old South and never tasted better grits.
* Stopping one of the game's most successful pros, Tom Kite, on Magnolia Lane to urgently whisper, "We're filming Arnie for Cadillac. Won't hold you long." Tom's deadpan response: "Arnie who?"
* Donning four-time Masters winner Palmer's golf shirt and green jacket to double for him driving the commercial's featured Cadillac through blossoming Augusta. Winners' green jackets are one of the tournament's unique features.
* Portraying a Travelers agent whose game suffers because he focuses on customer service. I was filmed hitting shots from the parking lot, soda stand, members' grill and pro shop, but never saw the commercial.
* Atop a tower behind the 18th green on Sunday, watching Jack Nicklaus -- who would ultimately win a record six Masters -- hit his approach shot fat and short of the green after a roar from 17 announced that Tom Watson had made what proved to be the winning birdie.
* Holding my breath on the same tower as final twosome Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskoph missed birdie putts inside 20 feet to lose to Nicklaus by a stroke (saw only film of Jack's 40-footer on 16).
* Filming the 17th hole of final twosome Gary Player and Dave Stockton. Trailing Player by a shot, Stockton pushed his drive deep among the patrons. All four of our crews tried to film Stockton's next swing, though he was all but invisible to two of us. As black clouds gathered above, Player started his backswing in the fairway while Stockton's ball was in the air. Player stuck it stiff for birdie, won by three strokes and was in the scoring tent when the clouds burst. We all missed his shot and Reg had to buy tape from CBS.
* On the Monday after my first Masters, I avoided competing with CBS by teeing off on 10 with a Chicago restaurateur who had pro shop clout because he spent every season traveling with the tour. Twice wet, I was eight over through 15. I topped my four iron into the pond on the par-3 16th, dropped another ball on the front of the tee and holed it for par.
It wasn't on film and I've lost contact with the restaurateur. Some golfers have all the luck!