When cattle made rounds at old Augusta

April 06, 1994|By John Steadman

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Standing in awe of Augusta National Golf Club and its intrinsic splendor, while waiting in anticipation of another Masters Championship, gives reason to pause and consider what this green and glorious venue may have looked like a half-century ago during the perilous days of World War II.

Augusta National, as with the rest of America, underwent emergency change. It shut down. Totally. Well, almost.

In 1942, only four months after the start of the war, the course was closed for the duration. Instead of golfers, who for the most part had gone to serve in the military, 200 head of cattle were turned loose to roam the fairways with the hope their appetites would save manpower by keeping the grass trimmed.

The Masters was discontinued after the 1942 renewal when only 42 of the 88 invited players were able to compete and didn't resume until 1946. Unlike baseball and football, all major golf events, including the PGA Tour, were similarly terminated while hostilities continued.

Augusta National, the host club, had 128 members and more than half were either in service or holding vital defense jobs. Golf at Augusta National had no priority rating.

There was even concern if the ownership of the property would be perpetuated. The club announced the waiving of annual dues, but each member was being asked to make a $100 gift to cover minimal maintenance expenses.

Back, in temporary reflection, to the herd of cattle grazing on the lush greensward. The intent was to provide munching privileges to the steers so as eliminate mowing. Then, in due time, the stock would be fattened, a dispersal sale held and the club would turn a "small profit," all the while adding more meat to the table of a country that was in short supply of almost everything.

Golf balls and clubs were no longer in production. All civilian time and talent were being directed to manning the assembly lines and turning out materials to help win the war on far-off battle fronts.

Meanwhile, the steers at Augusta National Golf Club, not realizing where they were, continued to devour azalea and camellia bushes at an alarming rate. Finally, they were sold and, instead of a profit, a loss of $5,000 was recorded in the Augusta business ledger regarding the transaction.

Course superintendent Simk Hammack wasn't easily defeated. He immediately suggested the course be turned into a turkey farm. Fortunately, the turkeys had a diet that wasn't as discriminating nor destructive as the steers and, surprisingly, returned a fiscal gain that offset the earlier loss inflicted by the roaming herd of cattle.

Finally, with the allied forces penetrating the German and Japanese defenses, with the tide of war taking a positive turn, it was decided Augusta National had to slowly prepare to get itself back into playing shape.

During late 1944 and the better part of 1945, the club hired 42 German soldiers, prisoners of war, and paid them a small stipend to rehabilitate the facility to something resembling its pre-war condition. They were on work detail from the penal stockade at nearby Camp Gordon.

"I was only 10 years old at the time," says William S. Morris III, now a member of Augusta National and publisher of the Augusta Chronicle. "I never got out here to see what was going on, but I'm told the German prisoners took care of a lot of the heavy work that preceded the reopening of the course once the war was over."

Oddly enough, Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe, was to later make Augusta National his favorite playland. There's a cottage near the 10th tee where he resided when he was here.

And, then, too, as another twist, a German, one Bernhard Langer, won the Masters in 1985 and again last year. Accounts of when the world was up in arms is now documented in history books and Augusta National is where men come in peaceful combat to compete, not with rifles and grenades, but with the weapons of golf -- drivers, irons, wedges and putters.

Fifty years ago, Augusta National was caught in the throes of war as POWs cut the greens and smoothed the sand traps to await more placid and pleasurable times.

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