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Cliff & Frank: A bizarre Augusta National story

April 02, 2024
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AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 1950: Jimmy Demaret (C) gets winners plaque from Bobby Jones (2nd L) while Jim Ferrier (L), Frank Stranahan (2nd R) and Clifford Roberts (R) look on.

Augusta National

In the early days of the Masters—and here we're talking a period of more than 40 years—Cliff Roberts was Augusta National. The co-founder and chairman of the club had his good qualities, like his ability to befriend powerful people like Bobby Jones and Dwight Eisenhower, and his great loyalty to them after, but he also possessed a consuming hunger for power, paranoia, and a vengeful streak that reared its head in his management of Augusta. Roberts was the product of a dark past; an itinerant childhood, the early death of his mother by suicide, and the subsequent death of his father by (likely) the same method. From a career that began with selling suits to oil men in Texas, he rose to become a hugely successful stockbroker in New York, and he parlayed that it into a business partnership and friendship with Jones that led to the founding of the infamous club. Roberts managed that club's reputation, as well as the Masters tournament, like an all-controlling visionary, and he turned it into one of the world's most prestigious events with remarkable speed. In the process, he collected powerful friends and a few enemies.

Frank Stranahan, in many ways, was Roberts' opposite. Unlike the striving chairman, Stranahan was born on third base as the son of a millionaire in Ohio. He had all the attendant privileges, including a membership at Inverness in Toledo, and lessons from Byron Nelson. He became an incredible amateur golfer, and would win over 50 tournaments before he retired—including two British amateurs, considered like majors at the time—but he was also arrogant. With his bulging muscles, his commitment to fitness, and his facility with the ladies who flocked to him, he was an early playboy and earned a celebrity in the U.S. that transcended the course. He also worked harder than almost anyone, but his attitude and his good fortune in life had a way of alienating many of his peers.

In 1947, Stranahan finished second at the Masters. The next year, when he arrived in his Cadillac in Augusta, tensions were boiling. He had done something to cross Roberts, and that "something" was shrouded in mystery, but it was clear that the club had it out for him, and if the club had it out for him, that meant Roberts was behind it. What happened next, before the tournament began, remains one of the most controversial moments in the club's history, and both the incident and the fallout shine a light on two of the most remarkable personalities of mid-century American golf...as well as the most notorious club in the sport.

On this week's Local Knowledge, we go deep on the feud between Cliff and Frank, and what it said about the pre-modern era of Augusta National. Listen below, or wherever you get your podcasts.