The Lawyers Who Rule the Masters and Augusta National

While everyone’s eyes are on a Bootyistic Tiger Woods this year, it’s safe to say that the esteemed, 77-year-old Masters tournament is propped up and made possible by a lot of powerful and entrepreneurial lawyers, both living and dead.  These men are some of the most influential lawyers in the world, and together they operate and/or are members of one of the country’s most elite organizations: The tournament’s host course of Augusta National Golf Club.

When one of sport’s most prestigious tournaments began at America’s most prestigious private club, a golfing version of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society was created.  Considerable intrigue has ensues over this “peaceful enclave for powerful men.” Admission is highly desired—and no small feat, which is quite controversial in this progressive age, considering a place best known for its lush horticulture still maintains a mostly white, male-only membership roster. 

“You don’t apply for membership. You get called — if you have the right combination of money, influence and friends.” And, obviously, you don’t.

While plenty of envious attorneys are welcomed as annual spectators (Lark Jones, attorney and mayor of Augusta, has seen every tournament round except one since 1964, and attorney Tom Kelty has attended more than 20 times), very few have ever had an official affiliation with the tournament, whether as an Augusta member, Masters executive or honorable winner of the coveted green jacket.  So who are they, you ask? 

Here are a some of the lawyers who are part of this illustrious southern tradition.

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THE FOUNDER

Robert “Bobby” Tyre Jones, Jr.

Amateur golfer Bobby Jones and Wall Street investment banker Clifford Roberts co-founded Augusta National Golf Club, which first opened in December 1932, where Jones remains President in Perpetuity.  Together they decided to hold an annual event that became the Masters beginning in 1934.

In addition to dominating golf in the 1920s, Jones was also a successful academic.  After earning BS degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech and English Literature from Harvard, Jones entered Emory University Law School at age 24 to pursue a JD.  But when he passed the bar exam after only one year of study, he left school to join his father’s firm as a practicing lawyer.  Just over a year later in 1926, Jones became the only amateur to win both the U.S. and British Open championships in the same year.

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THE CHAIRMEN

BILLY PAYNE

Current chairman of Augusta National Golf Course, William Porter Payne became the sixth man to take the job in 2006 following his position as president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics. He graduated with his JD from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1973.

Earlier this week, during his annual Masters address, Payne offered an “uncharacteristic bit of theater” by publicly criticizing Tiger Woods.  In his statement, he said, “He disappointed all of us.” He went on to publicly opine that Woods failed as a role model.

HORD HARDIN

Hord Hardin, the third chairman of Augusta National from 1980 to 1991, was a lawyer who graduated from Washington University Law School in St. Louis.

It’s said that two-time Masters champ Tom Watson was able to convince Hardin to allow players to bring their own caddies by using a simple law metaphor…

“He said to Tournament Chairman Hord Hardin, who’s a retired lawyer, many weeks ago, ‘Suppose you had to go into your biggest trial and you were told you couldn’t use your own legal secretary? That’s what it’s like for us at Augusta.’ Hardin’s answer wasn’t long coming: ‘Mr. Watson, you plead a very strong case.’”

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THE SPORTS ORGANIZATION LEADER

TIM FINCHEM

Since the Masters is an official money event for the PGA Tour, it seems worth noting that at the helm of the PGA is none other than…a lawyer.  Tim Finchem is the current Commissioner.  Before taking over the tour, Finchem graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1973, and after practicing law for three years, he served in the White House as a Deputy Advisor to the President in the Office of Economic Affairs during the Carter administration.

It’s been mentioned that Finchem should feel thankful for “the fact that Tiger Woods was outed as a serial philanderer.  Because Woods has made the Masters a must-see for millions of people who would never otherwise watch a golf tournament.”

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THE PLAYER

GARY PLAYER

South African golfing great Gary Player, now 74, has won nine major championships, including three Augusta victories in 1961, 1974 and 1978.  Last year, he played in his 52nd Masters tournament, extending his record for most Masters appearances.  Player received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from St. Andrews in 1995 and an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Dundee, Scotland in 1999. 

Sure, they’re honorary and a bit of stretch, but what the hell—why not mention it?

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THE MEMBERS

SAM NUNN

Sam Nunn graduated from Emory University School of Law in 1962 and was a 24-year United States Senator from Georgia from 1972 to 1997.  Nunn was considered a potential running mate for Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and for Obama in 2008.  He is currently one of President Obama’s informal advisors.

Though some in politics rescinded their Augusta memberships in 2002 due to intense national criticism of the fact Augusta did not allow female members, Nunn did not—despite urging after his membership became a public focus.  (The club admitted its first African-American member in 1990, but there are still no women members.)

Nunn is retired partner from the law firm of King & Spalding, which, ironically, is the same Atlanta firm where Barry Goheen (#6 on our list of top lawyers who were great college basketball players) is currently a partner.  Nunn is now the co-chairman and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

BIGLAW ATTORNEYS

Though somewhat outdated, USA Today obtained and published a roster in 2002 that included all the names of the approximately 300 Augusta National members.  In addition to huge names like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, included on the list were several BigLaw attorneys, such as Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz co-chairman Edward Herlihy and Jones Day senior partner Patrick McCartan.

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THE OPPONENT

Every titan has an adversary.  And given its selectivity and controversial discriminatory history, Augusta National has its share.  Most hardly manage to chink the armor of the private, secretive organization (e.g., Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, implored the club to admit women but was rebuked by former chairman Hootie Johnson).  However, one lawyer famously took on the PGA, which paved the way for in the first minority golfer to play in the Masters, so we added him to the list…

STANLEY MOSK

Stanley Mosk was the longest serving justice of the California Supreme Court, sitting from 1964 to 2001.  Previous to that, Mosk was California’s Attorney General who took notice of the work of Bill Spiller, a black golfer and pioneer in desegregating sports who constantly challenged the PGA’s segregation policy.  Mosk spoke out and successfully fought to force the PGA to amend its bylaws denying access to minority golfers. The PGA relented in November 1961, removing the clause and allowing Lee Elder to eventually become first African-American to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975.

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Everyone’s eyes are on Tiger and his Bootyistic ways at this year’s Masters, but the 77-year-old tournament is propped up and made possible by a lot of powerful and entrepreneurial lawyers, both living and dead.  These men, some of the most influential lawyers in the golf world and the country, operate and/or are members of one of the country’s most elite organizations: The host course of Augusta National Golf Club.

Read more from Mark Thudium.

3 Comments

  1. Smurf

    April 9, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Great article.  Can’t wait to come back and check out all the “links.”

  2. Green Jacket

    April 9, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Another King & Spalding connection is the former USGA President, and Augusta National member Walt Driver.  He also happens to be the former chairman for King & Spalding.

  3. SEC Lawyer

    April 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    You should have mentioned Fred Ridley of Foley & Lardner, an Augusta National member who actually sets up the course for the Masters. Left thanked Ridley on TV after winning this year. Ridley won the US Amateur before “turning pro” as a lawyer.

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