Some of them dream of it, some of them dread it, but a golfer's wife would not miss the Masters for anything short of childbirth. The trip to Augusta is the social Everest of the tour, a week when the ubiquitous Ramada Inn by a noisy Interstate (24 hr. COFFEE SHOP—ENTERTAINMENT NITELY—WELCOME ROOFING CONTRACTORS) seems far away.
It is early April and the Augusta National clubhouse and grounds have been painted and polished and raked and trimmed in anticipation of the arrival of some 80 golfers and almost as many of their wives. The ancient wistaria that winds through the branches of the oaks outside the clubhouse is most likely in lavender bloom, and dogwood, redbud and azalea are flowering in front yards all over town.
The wives of the golfers always seem to look their best at the Masters, and they are a youthful, healthy, attractive group to begin with. Their backgrounds may be varied but there is an assurance about all of them that comes from dealing regularly with new people and situations. They are team players by choice, and some of them are so accomplished at administering their husbands' complicated lives that one suspects they could stage a coronation, if necessary.
The style of their dress is conservative compared with other women in the galleries, and their public demeanor is decorous, especially during Masters week. There is an air about the club that seems to demand it, an aura of permanence and unyielding respectability that humbles even the most independent of the wives.
"From the first time you drive in the front gate you know it's different," says Carole Brewer, who has accompanied Gay, the 1967 winner, to the Masters 12 times. "The Open has the style of Oakmont or the style of Winged Foot, but the Masters is always the same."
"I always associated it with signing the final tax return," says another wife who has since separated herself from the golfing life. "You rooted for your husband to get into the Masters, sometimes for years, and it was the only tournament you watched on TV even when you didn't play in it."
The Masters is festive, but in a low-keyed, small-town sort of way that has more to do with sunshine and warm spring air than with cocktail parties such as are held at the Tournament of Champions or even the planned activities for wives so often offered at an Open. There are three official dinners—for foreign players, former champions and amateurs—but they are men-only affairs. The club does host a small dinner for wives of amateur players, but there is nothing for the wives of the pros.
For the players the week means work, more work than in most tournaments because, for one thing, how well a player does can determine whether he will return the following year. For another, Masters week is like a convention for the people who pay the golfers to endorse their goods and services. "It's one week when Lanny really wants to concentrate," says Rachel Wadkins, "yet with all the contract people and the Wake Forest alums and everybody, it's one of the most distracting of all."
Scattered around town in rented houses, the players and their families entertain each other and old friends at informal dinners and backyard barbecues. The heavy partying is left to the businessmen, the manufacturers who don't have early tee-off times. And once the tournament has begun, the players tend to disappear altogether into a routine of early sleep and early rising.
"We prefer to stay alone," says Jeanne Weiskopf. "It is an emotionally exhausting time and I think Tom needs extra pampering just to get through it. Even the kids recognize the tension."
Last year Vivienne Player flew from Johannesburg with five of her six children to join Gary in Augusta and watch him win for the second time. Vivienne walked every hole of Gary's four rounds, usually accompanied by one or two of her children. "I rarely speak to him during the play," she says, "and I keep well out of his way, but I know that when he catches sight of me in the gallery then he's glad I'm around."
One of the things that a golfer's wife knows how to do better than other people is walk a course. She wears golf shoes because they are practical for slippery, hilly or muddy courses. She often carries a shooting stick because a round takes four to five hours and there are no park benches. She generally positions herself ahead of or behind the largest part of the gallery. If her husband is on the tee she is usually far down the fairway, approximately where the drive will land. She never seems to hurry, yet she rarely misses a shot. Sometimes she moves against the flow of the crowd, which means she knows of an advantageous spot across the fairway, under a tree, on elevated ground, where she can watch two holes at once, check out a scoreboard and save herself several hundred yards.
Winnie Palmer is the most elusive of the walkers. Because her face is perhaps best known of the golfers' wives she has learned to blend into the crowd, to remain constantly and unobtrusively on the move. Barbara Nicklaus surrounds herself with old friends from Columbus who, without seeming to, effectively keep strangers at bay. Other wives may walk in pairs, but this can be awkward if one of their husbands falters.
Much has changed since the days when Valerie Hogan sat on the veranda doing needlepoint and watching Ben's progress on the scoreboard, and when Byron sent Louise Nelson back to the clubhouse after spotting her in his gallery. But the change is only superficial. Underneath, the feeling is the same.
"We know just what hard work it is," says Vivienne Player. "And sometimes watching is a torment. But we wouldn't miss it for the world."