In February 1961, just after the end of his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower made one of his frequent trips to Augusta National Golf Club, in Georgia, where he’d become a member in the late 1940s. He loved it there—the rolling parkland course, framed by dogwoods and azaleas; the powerful friendships that propelled him to the presidency; the tradition of the Masters, the tournament held each April that had become golf’s most coveted prize. It was there that Eisenhower sought solace in the toughest moments of his presidency—as when, in 1957, he sent federal troops to Little Rock to enforce Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate the country’s public schools.
Yet the president’s genteel haven, tucked down a magnolia-lined drive, was itself the ultimate bastion of segregation, an institution where every member would be white until decades after his death, and where nearly every member of the help—waiters, bartenders, maids, chauffeurs, and caddies—had always been black. Those included his caddie of choice, a short man dubbed Cemetery for his brush with death in a knife fight, and scores of other black men, one of whom struck the president as too young to be working full-time.
Playing with Eisenhower that day in 1961 on the club’s par-3 course were New York stockbroker Clifford Roberts—who had, with legendary amateur golfer Bobby Jones, cofounded the club, in 1933, and the Masters Tournament, in 1934—and Jack Stephens, an Arkansas financier. Stephens’s caddie was an African American teenager named Carl Jackson, a lanky 13-year-old who, that fall, had quit the 9th grade after a single day, devoting himself to caddying at the club full-time to help his single mother support his seven siblings. Two years earlier, Carl had followed his oldest brother, Austin, to Augusta Country Club, the older though less exalted course next door, where dozens of African American young men shagged practice balls for 75 cents per day. When he graduated to caddying his first 18-hole loop at Augusta Country Club, Carl, hungry and tired, took his $3 pay to a neighborhood store, bought a thick slice of bologna and a honey bun, and brought the rest of the money home to his mother.
As Carl Jackson, now 72, recalls by phone one recent afternoon, when Eisenhower teed off on the 9th hole that February morning, he hooked his shot left into the trees, sending the caddies scattering to look for it. Soon Carl found himself alone with the president in the thicket of the woods. “Why aren’t you in school?” Eisenhower asked.
“I need to work to help my family,” Carl said.
As the round unfolded, Eisenhower discussed his concerns with Roberts and Stephens, who assured him Carl would get a high school diploma. “I made a vow to myself when I was cleared to work at the National that I was going to make that place my high school education,” Carl says. “I made a commitment, and before my class went to the 11th grade I had earned my GED.”
MARGIE JACKSON raised her seven boys and two girls in the Sand Hills district of Augusta, a historically black neighborhood on the southern edge of Augusta Country Club. One boy died in infancy; all six of the surviving brothers would caddie. Austin, the oldest, worked for four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer in the 1970s. Bill was on Ed Sneed’s bag in the 1979 Masters when he famously lost in a sudden-death playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller. Carl started his younger brothers Bud and Melvin in the bag room at Augusta National. The boys learned to play the game by hitting balls in a schoolyard, and by sneaking onto the all-white Augusta Country Club in the evenings, where they played the holes on the edges of the golf course, along the fence line, so that they could easily escape the security guards. “At the dirt school field we couldn’t hit more than a 9-iron, and sometimes they got out of control and we’d hit houses and break windows,” Carl recalls. “We were always running from the police.” Sometimes Bud and his friends would collect balls hit out of bounds at Augusta Country Club and try to resell them to players coming down the same fairway a few minutes later.
In 1961, when he was 14, Carl was tapped to caddie his first Masters. The tournament is unique among golf’s major championships—unlike the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship, which are hosted at rotating locations each year, the Masters has always been held at Augusta and draws a singularly devoted band of annual spectators. It is further distinguished by its traditions—for instance, the green jacket bestowed upon each year’s winner, a garment only to be worn off the premises of the club by the reigning champion.
But in those days the Masters was perhaps most distinctive for requiring all players to use the club’s own caddies. Given Carl’s youth, his first year he was assigned to Billy Burke, a ceremonial inclusion in the field who, at 59, was well past his prime. Best remembered for winning the 1931 U.S. Open in a 72-hole playoff, the gentlemanly Burke taught Carl the nuances of the craft: where to stand, when to talk, how to pull the pin, when to offer assistance. That guidance was the beginning of a career that would see Carl caddie in an incredible 54 Masters, twice helping Ben Crenshaw to the winner’s green jacket, and only once missing the tournament, in 2000, when he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Over his half-century at Augusta National, Carl became one of the most celebrated caddies in the world—and one of the game’s most respected authorities on the character of Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones’s course. After his record 12-shot victory at the 1997 Masters, Tiger Woods thanked Carl for showing him the pin positions during his practice rounds.
I met Carl Jackson almost 20 years ago, when I first came to Augusta to cover the Masters for Sports Illustrated. I’d grown up watching on TV each year as he led Ben Crenshaw through the tournament in all its pageantry, holding the soft-spoken Texan together during the stressful Sunday final rounds, hugging him when he won, in 1984 and 1995, and consoling him, in 1989, when he finished a shot short of making it into a playoff with Nick Faldo and Scott Hoch after coming into the final round with the lead.
During high school I’d done some caddying myself—at a tournament on the Web.com Tour, a tier below the PGA Tour—but I never took the job seriously. I knew a good caddie could make an honest living—and a real contribution to his player—but I also knew that these men could be discarded, deemed nothing more than cheerleaders, even when their experience might save a player a precious shot or two each round. Nothing bothers a caddie more, I learned, than being ignored, particularly when, as a black man, you’ve grown accustomed to being treated like you’re invisible.
For Carl nothing captures that invisibility more than the 1979 Masters, when Ed Sneed blew a three-shot lead with three holes to play in the final round. Carl’s brother Bill was on the bag for Sneed that day. “If Ed had just brought my brother in to look at those putts, he might have a green jacket,” Carl says.
As the Masters evolved into one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the tournament offered Carl a lens onto the world’s changing racial politics. In the 1970 Masters, Gary Player—a white South African former Masters champion who had expressed support for his country’s apartheid government—drew the ire of the NAACP, which picketed the club. When Player’s caddie quit after receiving death threats, Carl took over his bag, reluctantly looking past the South African’s politics for the opportunity to caddie for a world-class player. As Carl matter of factly told me, “The NAACP was not going to pay my bills.” The next year he was moved to Oklahoma amateur Charlie Coe, before forging an enduring partnership with Ben Crenshaw in 1976.
In May 1970, a month after Carl caddied for Player, a 16-year-old African American boy with intellectual disabilities was murdered in an Augusta jail cell. Five hundred demonstrators assembled outside the steps of the Augusta Municipal Building—a confrontation that ended with six black men killed, each shot in the back by Augusta police. It was a reminder that the very foundation of the South still rested on the subjugation of black people, both in the town and at Augusta National, which had been an indigo plantation in the 19th century, and whose members once staged battle royals in the ballroom of the city’s Bon Air Vanderbilt Hotel, exhibitions featuring a half dozen young black men fighting in a ring until only one was left standing.
Augusta National operated under a strictly paternalistic order of white bosses and black workers, but outbursts of racial violence did occur within the gates of the club. On the afternoon of October 19th, 1976, Carl’s brothers Bud and Melvin and a few of their friends snuck onto the greens to go bream fishing in Rae’s Creek. When Charlie Young, the club’s white security guard, spotted the boys, he fired his 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, hitting three of them, including Bud, who was struck in the right knee. Young later claimed to the club’s general manager that his gun had accidentally discharged as he was trying to load it.
Bud and the two other boys who were shot filed an $11 million lawsuit against Young and the club; they eventually settled for a mere $69,000, of which Bud would receive $3,000. “I’m the only one that knows what really happened that day, and I’m saving it for my children,” says Bud, who took an 11-year hiatus from caddying at club after the shooting. “One day I’ll tell my whole story. But while I’m still working I have to focus on helping my players enjoy the course and play the best they can.”
When I spoke to Carl for an interview in Sports Illustrated in 2011, he told me it was the only issue he ever had with the club. “Young could have held the boys in the water, called the police, and had them put in jail for trespassing,” he said. “They continued to let Young work there. He treated a lot of the caddies rough after the shooting. I never had any problems with him, because every time I came through the gate, I was in one of the member’s cars. But you could see that hate in his eyes.”
In a cruel irony, as the club evolved in the following years, finally admitting its first black member in 1990, the presence of its African-American employees gradually declined. In the mid-1970s, Clifford Roberts reportedly decreed, “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.” Yet the presence of black caddies at the Masters was forever diminished in 1983, when pros were first allowed to bring their own caddies from the PGA tour—a move that influential past champions like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson had long advocated. Roberts wasn’t alive to oppose the change; in 1977, sick with cancer, he’d walked down to Ike’s Pond, by the 9th hole of the par-3 course, and shot himself in the head. “Augusta National was set up with black caddies and black workers, and that’s the way Clifford Roberts wanted it,” Bud says. “I think if he had been living he would have never allowed them to make that change.”
For some, the all-black staff on the old indigo plantation might have evoked memories of slavery and Jim Crow, but for many black Augustans like the Jacksons, a job at Augusta National was a source of pride and a steady income at one of the most famous golf clubs in the world. When I think of the Masters, I think of Carl and Bud and the countless other black men who have donned the white overalls of the Augusta National caddie. They were a community, one whose earnings trickled down to the local economy. “Monday morning after the Masters, all the caddies had made their money and the businesses downtown were waiting on us to spend some of that money,” Carl remembers. With his first Masters check, in 1961, he bought a couple of outfits and a pair of shiny new shoes.
Now at the Masters each April, I miss the black caddies. A contract company currently manages the club’s fleet, and out of a staff of 120, there are fewer than 40 black caddies. Once regarded as a servant’s job, caddying on tour has been professionalized, with ex-pros often taking up the bag. Prize money at the major tournaments has ballooned—at the Masters it went from just over $367,000 in 1982 to $11 million this year—and caddies’ commissions have grown accordingly, with those on the top players’ bags often earning six figures a year. As the profession has grown more lucrative, black caddies on the PGA Tour have become increasingly rare. At the 2018 Masters, there was only one, Zach Rasego, from South Africa, and it’s unlikely that there will be any more this year.
EVER SINCE CARL first caddied for Jack Stephens, in 1961, the financier had been a father figure to him, and Carl moved to Little Rock to work for him full-time in 1972, two years after the investment bank Stephens ran with his brother served as the principal underwriter of Walmart’s initial public offering. Carl became Stephens’s right-hand man, with duties that ranged from overseeing his staff to carrying his golf bag; during Augusta National’s golf season, which runs from October to May, the two would travel by private plane to the club almost every week. “The Masters was good for golf,” Carl says, “but I had a more challenging life working for Mr. Stephens. He was like a father to me. I lived in the house with him for 18 years, just the two of us.”
In May 1978, Stephens invited Carl to be his partner in a match at the club against a couple of Augusta National pros. Carl is certain that no black person had ever been a guest at the club, and it would not have a black member for another 12 years. Caddies had restrictions on where they could go on the property—the clubhouse was off limits—and they only got to play the course once a year. When word got out that Stephens was inviting Carl to play, the club’s office staff began trying to reach the chairman, Bill Lane, to prevent Carl from playing. Stephens stuck to his plan, though, and after making sure that Carl had new shoes and clubs, they went to the first tee. “Every employee of the club and caddie staff came over to watch us tee off,” Carl says. “It was such a proud day for the caddies. I was the last to tee off. I hit my drive over the bunker on the right, and the caddies roared like crazy.”
In 2004, when Stephens’s son, Warren, built the Alotian Club, a course outside of Little Rock modeled on Augusta National, he made Carl the first caddie master, a position he still holds. When he’s not running the caddie program at the Alotian Club, Carl is focused on his nonprofit, the Carl Jackson Foundation, which provides golf lessons and faith-based youth services. The organization is run by his half brother, Jimmy Wright, who lives in Durham; they plan to open their own golf facility in the area, which they hope will one day provide scholarships to young caddies.
Carl retired from caddying after missing the Masters in 2015, the same year Ben Crenshaw called time on his own career. But they’re not totally out of the game: Each year Gentle Ben still plays the amateur par-3 tournament held the Wednesday before the Masters; Carl, now cancer free, is still on his bag. He has plenty to say about the course and the changes to it over the past 20 years. “They’ve added a lot of length,” he notes, “but the old course is still there when you play the front tees.” Yet he’s not interested in digging up the past. “I’ve had my time there,” he says. “There comes a time that you have to let go and get out of the way.”
Bud is the last Jackson brother working at the club: Austin, Bill, and Melvin have died; another brother, Romeo, lives in the Augusta area after serving in the Marines. At 62, Bud is one of the club’s most popular caddies, a natural storyteller and a repository of the course’s history. When he speaks, he leans in close to you in an easy but assertive fashion—a habit cultivated from a lifetime spent offering golfers quiet direction. Bud credits Carl for instilling in him a love for the game and pride in his work. “Carl was the backbone of our family,” Bud says. “He taught me how to go to work and make money. He opened the door for me. I walked through it, and I’ve been making money ever since.”
The more time I’ve spent with Carl, the more I’ve come to appreciate how his work as a caddie shaped his sense of duty—to his family, his faith, and his place as a black man in America. “Golf has been important,” Carl says, “but it’s been my faith that has sustained me.” It was that sense of duty that compelled him to ensure his children had more opportunities than he did. “I’m most proud that I was able to help each of my six kids earn a college degree,” he says.
Looking back at his own formative years, Carl admits he would have benefitted from more time in the classroom, but he insists he acquired a different kind of knowledge on the greens of Augusta. “I made myself a student of that golf course,” he says. “And the words to myself were that I was going to make this golf course my masterpiece, my education.”