On the silver anniversary of his second of two Masters titles, the pride of Austin talks about golf courses, golf books, and his life today.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of your second Masters victory. What is your fondest memory from 1995? I was proud of the way I held myself together that week after losing Harvey Penick, our dear teacher and friend. I really did feel like the Lord was honoring Harvey through me.
Do you plan to play any competitive golf this year? We have two events on the senior tour where they invite some old geezers like myself and we play a nine- or 18-hole scramble with a group, and they are a lot of fun. But outside of those two, no competition.
What’s your favorite course? I’m still intrigued with the Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s so fun to study and to play it in competition is something else. Its principles are unique and natural, but it still may be the best thinking-man’s golf course in the world.
Is there a favorite course of your own design? Probably Sand Hills in Nebraska and Friar’s Head on Long Island.
Where do you stand on the “distance” question? I’m not for bifurcation. I think a slight rollback in the golf ball and the clubs would be a good thing. For some it would be painful but we can’t keep building 7,800- to 8,000-yard golf courses.
How do you and Bill Coore interact/split the work of course design? Bill is, to me, the finest router of a golf course in the world—he’s uncanny with that ability. I help routing occasionally, but when we’re on site together it’s a collaboration between Bill and me in the way of balance, strategy, and playability. That’s where I come in.
You’ve always been a big reader/student of the game. How big is your golf library? I probably have 400 books or so—it’s been a big part of my life. Luckily, I started collecting in the 1970s. In 1968, I played in the United States Junior at Brookline in Boston. That week opened my eyes to golf history and golf architecture, and my head has been in a book ever since.
What are your favorite books? Do you like any particular style? Scotland’s Gift: Golf by C.B. Macdonald is a fascinating book. Anything that Bobby Jones wrote—Down the Fairway, Golf Is My Game—he was the most literate writer apart from being a colossal golfer. Probably over half of my collection is Scottish and English. The Life of Tom Morris was written by a reverend over there—it’s a wonderful book about his life. And architecture books!—George Thomas’s Golf Course Architecture in America; The Architectural Side of Golf by Newton Wethered and Tom Simpson—they’re just fascinating. Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s diaries, too.
Other than course design, how do you spend your time these days? Julie and I are empty nesters. I have three daughters—two in Los Angeles and one in Chicago. My youngest is going to graduate from the University of Southern California in May. My middle daughter has a baby, our first grandchild, a little boy. My eldest girl works in Chicago with her boyfriend there. They come in from time to time. Julie and I are going to St. Lucia and then to The Masters.
One of the nicest parts of my life is the Austin Golf Club, which we built 20 years ago. I go there most every good day I’m here and beat the ball around.
Have you shot your age yet? I don’t think I have yet—I’m 68, so I better hurry up. I check out Tom Watson’s scores and he beats his age every day!