There would be no Masters Tournament today without the work of Clifford Roberts. In 1932, Roberts co-founded Augusta National Golf Club alongside PGA Tour legend and 13-time major championship winner, Bobby Jones. Two years later, Roberts and Jones started the Masters.
Augusta National was the most important part of Roberts’ life up until he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and suffered a major stroke in his old age. Instead of enduring a slow and painful death, Roberts chose the same fate as his mother’s on the course he built from scratch, but not before getting a haircut.
Clifford Roberts co-founded Augusta National and the Masters
Augusta National is probably the most prestigious golf club in the world today, but it used to be just a field of grass and a dream two brazen men shared.
That idea came to fruition in 1932, when golf legend Bobby Jones teamed up with friend and Wall Street financier Clifford Roberts to create Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. They pegged famous golf course architect Alister Mackenzie to help with the design, and Augusta was born.
Two years after the course opened for business, Jones and Roberts started the Masters Tournament. Little did they know it would grow to become the most coveted title in golf for decades to come.
“I don’t take any credit for the success of the tournament, ” Roberts once said, according to the New York Times, “because I think another financial man who could have afforded to do it had he happened to be in the same partnership role I was would have done the same thing.”
But that’s not how others put it. Everybody in the professional golf circle in the 1930s knew how instrumental Roberts was in growing the PGA Tour. He served as the chairman of Augusta National for 45 years and chairman of the Masters for 43 years.
“He knew what he wanted, and he demanded perfection.” Roberts’ friend told NYT. “He made the Masters something special. It was his attitude.”
Roberts joined his mother in death at Augusta National, but not before getting a haircut
Clifford Roberts helped build Augusta National into what it has become today, so when he found himself on his death bed in his old age, he wanted to spend the last seconds on earth in his favorite place.
Once Roberts turned 80, his health started to deteriorate greatly. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and suffered a major stroke in 1977 at the age of 84. His days were numbered, and he knew it.
On Sept. 29, 1977, Roberts arrived at Augusta National for a haircut. From there, he walked out to the famed par-3 course and took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was later found on the banks of Ike’s Pond on the course Roberts brought to life himself.
By committing suicide, Roberts chose the same fate as his mother, who took her own life when he was just 19 years old.
PGA Tour legends knew what Clifford Roberts meant to golf
After Roberts’ surprising death, PGA Tour legends from around the golf world had high praise for the trailblazer.
Arnold Palmer said at the time that his death “marks the passing of one of the great eras of modern golf.”
“Everybody in golf studied the operation of the Masters and considered probably the best‐run tournament in the world,” Palmer told NYT in 1977. “So many things that are now standard and a normal part of tournament operation, such as on‐course leader scoreboards, total roping of courses and other elements of gallery control, have been copied from the Masters, and Cliff Roberts was the man responsible.”
“I can’t think of anyone in life who comes close to Cliff,” Frank Chirkinian, a famous network television producer who consistently worked the Masters, said. “He was a very special man.”