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Augusta's Traditions: Catching cabin fever

by | Senior Writer

The famed spring fling known as the Masters, annually the most popular televised event in golf, begins April 7. Yet to absorb the complete spectacle of the place, nothing replaces wandering the grounds and soaking up the atmosphere. As an appetizer for those who have never crashed the Augusta National gates, we offer a few crumbs to nibble on until the opening round begins.

Leading up to the event, we'll be providing inside snapshots detailing what makes the event so special for those who have played in, won or attended the storied little invitational at the private club on Washington Road. Included are intimate places where access is extremely limited, as viewed by the players and past champions themselves.

OK, so we're nitpicking here. Going back as far as anybody can remember, the television marketing cry for the Masters has been, a "tradition unlike any other."

The Butler Cabin is host to the private Green Jacket ceremony and 'fireside chat.' (Getty Images)  
The Butler Cabin is host to the private Green Jacket ceremony and 'fireside chat.' (Getty Images)  
That argument can surely be made, but in reality the Masters is a series of venerated customs. Plural, not singular.

Of the sacrosanct rituals summoned at Augusta National on Sunday, few have been around longer than the visit by the victor to the Butler Cabin moments after the final putt has been holed. The victor will park alongside the reigning club chairman and previous champion for a fireside chat of sorts, which can rank among the highlights of the entire week, depending on how it plays out.

Grown men weep. Television directors grimace. Fans watch it happen, occasionally as raw and unscripted as a YouTube clip. There's plenty of freestyle blabbin' in the cabin.

While much will immediately be known about the winner, less is understood about the cabins themselves, which are unique as far as private clubs are concerned. Augusta National has seven cabins on the grounds, erected for its list of moneyed, out-of-town members, who seem to annually multiply in number.

The building process began in 1953 when the first cabin was erected for President Dwight Eisenhower, an avowed golf junkie and ANGC member. He stayed at the cabin named in his honor 29 times while in office, which is probably why the club had to build more for the use of other members. Ike never left town.

The more famous Butler Cabin, a conservative, two-story edifice situated near the par-3 course and 10th hole of the tournament venue, was built in 1964 and was first used as the broadcast studio the following year. Outside of the membership and certain guests, this storied locale has not often been frequented by outsiders and remains as shrouded in mystique as anything associated with ANGC.

"I had never been in there until I won," said Mark O'Meara, the 1998 champion. "The part where they do the ceremony is downstairs, and it's all cleared out in the living room area. It's just a quiet little area, where you could put a pingpong table if you wanted.

"The bedrooms are upstairs and it's pretty cool. Upstairs, it looks just like a Southern, casual little cabin. Pretty understated, classy and simple. That's probably the best way to put it."

Augusta's Traditions

In short, it fits the general club theme -- semi-casual and classy. But there's a limit to the former. Club protocol calls for those staying in the cabins to hunker down for the night at a decent hour. No carousing is allowed, and security keeps tabs on what the guests are up to. No night-putting is allowed, either.

For years, the Butler Cabin has been the site of unabashed, unedited, raw honesty in the form of instant reactions by players, fresh off the golf course. It has hosted its awkward moments, too, like in 1993, when a club chairman asked a certain German winner how to pronounce his name -- during the broadcast. Just like the tournament proper, the Butler Cabin ceremony often has proven unpredictable. Just ask longtime CBS Sports director Frank Chirkinian.

"I really disliked the Butler Cabin ceremony," he told Golf Digest a few years back. "I always felt that the best thing to do would be to go right to the public presentation of the green jacket, with emotions still at a fever pitch and all the people and a national TV audience there to see it.

"To go inside the flower-infested catacombs of the Butler Cabin and watch the club chairmen perform the ceremony -- they were helpless -- really let the air out of the balloon. One year, Hord Hardin asked Bernhard Langer how he pronounced his name. Another year he asked Seve (Ballesteros) how tall he was. I would watch with my face in my hands, but the club wouldn't have it any other way. Oh, well."

Like we said, it's a singularly memorable tournament borne of multiple traditions, plural. Not all of them created equally.


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