Boys To Men
The Crow's Nest, Bobby Jones' attic in the Augusta National clubhouse, has been home for generations of Masters amateurs. 'When you come down,' says one, 'you're grown up.' Oh, and you'll have stories you can tell the rest of your life
Let us now praise famous bedrooms. Lincoln's. Ferris Bueller's. Thoreau's cabin. Room 776 in D.C.'s Mayflower hotel, where FDR wrote, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Carl Spackler's crib. Nice place. Cleaned by leaf blower. Got that going for it. But the best bedroom in the world? The Crow's Nest. It's at Augusta National Golf Club. It's at the top of the building somewhere under the clubhouse's famous cupola. Money doesn't get you in. If you're a good player and an amateur, Augusta might invite you to sleep over while playing the Masters. The people there will charge you for the room, but it's a bargain rate (undisclosed) in a quaint nod to days when young guys scraped up nickels and hitched rides to walk the same ground as Hogan, Snead and Nelson.
There's tons of history. Bobby Jones invented the place. We know eight kids who stayed there and grew up to win the tournament: Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Aaron, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Craig Stadler, Mark O'Meara, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
So Danny Lee was wired. He was 18 years old, the youngest U.S. Amateur champion ever. Born in South Korea, raised in New Zealand, the whippet with the whiplash swing had come to play in the tournament of his dreams. Almost as much fun, he would stay in the Crow's Nest. He said he would "sleep where Tiger slept."
If only he could find it ...
"I walked all through the clubhouse, and I walked more," he says, "and I walked upstairs, and it was like another clubhouse up there ..."
The Nest must be there somewhere.
"Going up there was, like, a mystery," Lee says of his wanderings four Aprils ago. "And then we got to the secret door."
Arthur Conan Doyle's stuff probably has a private room at the top of a famous building reached only by a hidden stairway behind a door no one can see. The real thing is at Augusta National. It's so rich with mystique that the society of Nesters has a proprietary pride. The young pro Brandt Snedeker, Class of 2004, says, "It's the one room, the one spot at Augusta National that is off-limits to everybody but the amateurs. It's our escape."
Watson had a nightmare there.
Crenshaw, in his skivvies, walked on the clubhouse roof. One midnight, Hubert Green climbed a wall to get back in. Bruce Fleisher called it a cathouse. Chip Drury screamed for his mommy. Bobby Clampett went into seclusion. Billy Andrade pilfered a doughnut from under an old champion's stern gaze. Rick Bendall decided he'd better be a doctor. Don Cherry landed on double-secret probation after stealing away from the Nest to sing at a strip club.
Watson, who lived there in 1970, knows the way up.
"A secret passage," he says.
David Chung made the walk up for the first time last April. He was 21.
"You come in the main door, into the lobby," he says, "and you see the Masters trophy, your first sight. You walk up these stairs to a room where members are sitting, chatting, playing cards. Across the room, you can hear talk from the Champions Locker Room, the champions hanging out."
Five or six steps past the club's front door, just in front of the silver trophy that is a replica of the Augusta clubhouse, Chung had ascended a curving stairway to a second-floor landing. To his right was the library, open to everyone. To his left, the champions' room, open only to immortals.
Nowhere is there a hint of the Crow's Nest--unless, maybe, there's something behind that corner door marked TELEPHONE.
No one would think to look there.
"It's like it's a closet," Chung says.
In fact, there's a door just like that in the first-floor grillroom. It opens to a phone in a small closet. But there's something about this second-floor TELEPHONE. There is no other interior door, no other possible entrance to an upper level where the Crow's Nest must be. Conan Doyle's man, Sherlock Holmes, taught us that once we eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Any decent sleuth, then, would open that TELEPHONE door.
He would find a phone, and more. The phone is not in a closet but on a wall shelf at the near end of a small hallway. But just past the phone, midway down the corridor, there is a second door. It's small, unseen from any place except directly in front of it. That door's hardware is a brass knob and an iron escutcheon. It is the stuff of another century. To see it is to think the door was hung by a plantation owner named Dennis Redmon, who built the house in 1854. The door opens to reveal a steep staircase. It's 15 steps. It's the long, narrow climb typically taken on rickety steps to reach the dark, dusty, cobwebby, forgotten storage space under a building's rafters.
This is different. These steps are carpeted. The staircase has shiny handrails. There's light up there. And that picture on the wall at the top of the stairs--it's the sainted Bobby Jones himself.