|I recently attended the Masters Golf tournament for the first time – it was on my bucket list. The Masters is played every year at the same course – Augusta National, which is in Georgia.
National and The Masters is for golfers what Jerusalem is for Christians, Jews, and Muslims – a holy place. And, like Jerusalem, it is a place where humans have sought perfection at the expense of others. I wondered as I walked around those hallowed grounds whether it was right for me to admire a place developed by leadership I couldn’t admire.
First, My Experience.
I was lucky to be there on a beautiful day and I got to see the fun Par-3 tournament. I have hundreds of pictures of golfers and especially like this one of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson after Arnold autographed a flag for Tom. I followed Tiger and Fred Couples around the back-9 as they practiced for the tournament. I was able to look at the greens and see how difficult they are. The grass is perfect, the azaleas beautiful, the food inexpensive, and the amenities for spectators nearly perfect. So, I can see why everyone says that as golf courses go, Augusta National is nearly perfect.
Four Examples of Questionable Leadership.
Augusta National was developed by Cliff Roberts and Bobby Jones and opened in 1932. Bobby Jones, a name familiar to golfers, was the greatest golfer of that era and grew up near Augusta. He was loved by everyone and having his name associated with the course contributed significantly to its quick rise in popularity. However, Cliff Roberts ran the whole operation and controlled everything and ruled with an iron fist from 1934 to 1976. From a book called The Masters by Curt Sampson, here is a partial list of questionable practices under Cliff Robert’s leadership:
Roberts did not pay small local contractors in the 1930s for construction cost overruns. Roberts told the rich, northern charter members that he thought the locals would not legally pursue them because the contractors would not want to affect their positive personal relationships with the revered Bobby Jones. From those early days until his death he treated the average Augusta citizens with contempt.
Roberts insisted for most of his reign that all the caddies be black and that members could only be white and male. He once said, “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.” The first black member, Ron Townsend, wasn’t admitted until 1990. Only in 2012 did women finally make it when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier, Darla Moore, were invited to join.
Roberts required concession workers to cut holes in their pockets to discourage them from stealing sandwich concession money. There were numerous published examples of how he cruelly treated workers
If Roberts didn’t like certain golfers, he would make them feel unwelcome. He often confronted golfers for very modest breaches of protocol and demand they write letters of apology or they wouldn’t be invited back. The list of professional golfers who have felt his wrath is long.
Cliff Roberts had an individual vision of perfection and he did everything in his power to achieve it. Apparently he had hundreds of male golfers who either agreed with his vision or ignored their reservations just to become or stay a member. Thus, his coercive leadership style went unchecked. I suppose he had control right up to his end when he committed suicide on the banks of the par-3 course at Augusta National in 1977.
A Wonderful Example of a Pursuit of Perfection.
This week my friend Bob Devantery introduced me to the work of Harvey Fite. Fite was a sculptor and artist who bought an old quarry in Saugerties, NY in the 1930s. His goal was to personally sculpt the whole quarry into a piece of art. He spent 37 years building terraces, alleys, ramps, steps and pools. Fite estimated it would take him 40 years and so he named it Opus 40. (This is Bob’s picture of Opus 40.) Unfortunately Fite died 37 years into the project from a fall in the quarry.
No doubt both Roberts and Fite were motivated by their pursuit of perfection. Since Fite worked independently on his pursuit, his final product is arguably one of the most perfect rock quarries in existence. But, although Roberts created nearly a perfect golf course, the final product is so tarnished with human rights stains, it can never be perfect.
And the leadership lesson for me is to always question a leader whose personal pursuit of perfection pushes followers from the fairway into the unethical rough – for once you are in this rough there can be no perfection.