Funeral directors who work with us here at Martin Oaks have all had experiences with suicides. Most say that they see several a year – all of them involve not only the tragic passing, but the ongoing pain with which families have to deal.
Suicide is a national epidemic that continues to surge. More than 44,000 Americans die by their own hand each year; it is the 10th leading cause of death. Moreover, for every suicide there are at least 25 other attempts that are unsuccessful. While middle aged whites, as a group, more frequently commit suicide, all sexes and races are seeing jumps in numbers.
One of the most common reactions the survivors have is disbelief: “senseless” and “unnecessary” are descriptions frequently used by those affected by suicide.
One such story that comes to mind at this time every year was the suicide by Clifford Roberts, the man behind The Masters Golf Tournament. What an accomplished, though controversial, figure he was. With this year’s thrilling event just completed, it seems appropriate to review Mr. Roberts role in creating one of the most venerable tournaments in all of golf.
Even though The Masters has an eternal quality to it, it is the youngest of the four major pro tournaments (it was first created in March, 1934). Roberts, along with pro golfer Bobby Jones, were the founders — they were wise enough to recruit Alister MacKenzie to design the course for them in Augusta, Georgia. And what a course it is!
Probably the best single decision they made was to fashion links that would both challenge the pros, and yet not prove to be too difficult for the average player: the fairways are generous, the rough (in Masters-speak, the second cut) is not demanding, trees are plentiful but well-spaced, and out of bounds is seldom a problem. At the time, these were revolutionary ideas for a major course. Yet, danger lurks around every corner: if you get in trouble, Augusta can be very unforgiving.
The Masters has so many firsts in golf that the list can fill pages. It was the first 72-hole tournament to be set over four days; first to use bleachers (“observation stands” in Masters-speak); first to rope off galleries; first to have an on course scoreboard network; and importantly, it was the first, according to esteemed golf writer Henry Longhurst — to create four different “pin positions” on the green. The pin positions are alternated during the tournament to either enhance scoring or make it more difficult.
Augusta National was designed to create fabulous finishes: the back nine (or in Masters-speak, “the second nine”) offers many birdie and eagle opportunities. This means players can make up deficits rapidly. As Herbert Warren Wind, another esteemed scribe, pointed out, Augusta National uniquely rewards the skilled, aggressive golfer as well as the prudent shot maker.
And then there are the greens; the bentgrass undulating surfaces not only are lighting fast, but contain indecipherable, unrecognizable breaks. During any given round, once the shadows begin to fall, the greens can play remarkable games with a player’s mind.
Ironically, even though Augusta National is viewed as a cathedral in golf, both Roberts and Jones always viewed it as a work in progress, the same view that is held today. The course is closed during the summer months and is virtually remade, altered, and strategically re-envisioned nearly every year. Numerous designers have contributed – this is no museum.
Roberts presence can not only be felt on the course, but also in your living room during the telecast. No major sporting event is more carefully choreographed. As mentioned earlier, Augusta National does not have a back nine, nor rough – neither does it have sand traps, because at The Masters those traps are referred to as “bunkers.” Announcers are carefully coached regarding terminology; these dignified broadcasts are befitting the stature of the tournament.
Roberts was an excellent steward, his attention to detail was legendary. Eventually, in very poor health, he took his own life on the course at the age of 83.
Cremated following his death, Roberts ashes are scattered at an undisclosed location at Augusta National. His image is immortalized on a bronze plaque at the clubhouse entrance. Despite Roberts tragic end, he will always be remembered fondly for developing one of the premiere sporting events in the world.
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