Cliff Roberts, the long-time master of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., who took his life yesterday at 84, made his own rules within the framework of his unbending loyalties.
Roberts, general chairman of the Masters from 1934 to 1976, was not above hero worship.
He idolized Bobby Jones, who was hero enough for any man. Jones not only was a great golfer who inexplicably retired at 28 after he had won the U. S. Open, British OPen, U. S. Amateur and British Amateur in 1930, he was also the epitome of the gentleman sportsman.
Roberts had another hero - the late Dwight D. Eisenhower. Roberts prided himself that he was Ike's confidant during the two Eisenhower terms, when the President loved to relax at the Augusta National Golf Course.
The Eisenhower cottage, just beyond the 10th tee at Augusta near where Roberts' body was found, has become something of a shrine. The 34th President, an ardent golfer and a paid-up member of the Augusta Club, had slept there.
Roberts was termed a curmudgeon - and he was. He had dwindled in the last years from an overweight man to a leathery-faced, fragile, hawkish man who had no other wish in life than to perpetuate the Masters Tournament.
Roberts could be rude. Only one sportswriter ever commanded his respect - Grantland Rice. Roberts was abrupt with most reporters. Yet he could be completely candid when you got him one-on-one.
I did that in 1974 when questions were raised as to why there had never been a black player invited to the Masters. "I'm not a racist," Roberts said. "I would love to see Lee Elder make it - but he has to earn his way. Why, I'm the man who started the caddies playing here at Augusta and I got them equipment, too. Jim Dent, now on the tour, was a caddie here. I always liked and encouraged Jim and I'm hoping he makes it back to Augusta and the Masters as a player. A lot of people don't know it but Dent has been permitted to practice here many times."
Elder did make the Masters in 1975 and there was a lot of pressure on him for tickets. But the Masters had inflexible rules under Roberts; the players themselves were limited to four tickets.
Elder told of how Roberts went out of his way to accomodate the Washington golfer and his friends. "He gave me about 30 tickets," Elder recalled last spring when he played the Masters again. "And he took pretty good care of me this year."
The Masters has become, according to veteran golf writers, the finest tournament of them all.
Tickets to the event have been as hard to get as Redskin season tickets. Masters tickets have been passed down from generation to generation and there is no public sale except for practice days.
Roberts never wanted to be president of the Augusta Club. That honour he reserved, in perpetuity, for Bobby Jones. Even today, the Augusta club carries the name of Robert Tyre Jones Jr. as its President.
Cliff Roberts was a complex man. He built a sport wonder of the world in the Masters. And it is as much a monument to him as he tried to make it for his idol, Bobby Jones.