‘You learn about things’: Why Bubba Watson’s feelings about Augusta National have evolved
Being an honorary member of Augusta National — a perk awarded to all Masters winners — has its benefits.
Tee times on the most famous golf course in the world? Check. Access to industry titans? You betchya. First-class service? Of course.
“They know my breakfast and my lunch meal,” Bubba Watson said earlier this week. Watson is on the ANGC roll thanks to his two Masters wins, in 2012 and ’14. “When I walk in, they just ask, ‘Are you hungry?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, can you get me something?’ And they know what my order is by now.”
Watson’s go-to breakfast: two scrambled eggs, two slabs of bacon, two biscuits and hash browns. “I always say hash browns without all the fancy stuff in it,” he said in classic Bubba style. “I just want the potatoes; I don’t want all the onions and all that pretty stuff in there.”
In Watson’s nine years as an honorary member of golf’s most exclusive club (Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are the only Masters champions who graduated to full-fledged members), his feelings about the place have evolved. When he won his first green jacket, Augusta National still didn’t have a female member, an issue Watson spoke to on his media tour immediately in the wake of his victory. In an appearance on Piers Morgan Tonight, Watson said, “In this day and age, I don’t see any reason why it [female membership] could hurt. But again, it’s a club that has rules that can do that.”
Four months later, ANGC announced that it had admitted two new members: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore. “This is a joyous occasion,” said then-chairman Billy Payne. The club has since added four more female members.
If you were watching the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and also the Drive, Chip & Putt last weekend, you might have spotted a green-jacketed Watson on the telecasts. Here he was praising the virtues of the talented ANWA field to Golf Channel reporter Steve Sands; there he was, at the DC&P, fist-bumping and signing an autograph for Lucas Bernstein of Fresno, Calif., the winner of the boys’ 7-9 division.
These appearances weren’t a first for Watson, nor were they a PR play. Watson also attended the 2019 ANWA, as well as previous editions of the DC&P. “First of all, the real thing is I’m a golf fan,” Watson said Monday when asked about his support for the events. “I have a 6-year-old daughter [Dakota] that signed up for the Drive, Chip & Putt two days ago. I have a 9-year-old boy [Caleb] who signed up because they watched on TV, a wife [Angie] that played a professional sport [basketball]. So obviously I’m a fan of sports. It doesn’t matter, men, women, doesn’t matter to me.”
Then Watson added something else: “Being out here, being a past champion, I feel like I’m part of the membership here. I feel like I’m part of the club.”
That’s no small thing for Bubba from Bagdad. Growing up in a teeny Florida Panhandle town with a population of 1,490, Bubba more or less taught himself the game, at first beating plastic balls around his yard, then molding a swing that allowed him to work shots in both directions. Like so many other golf-mad juniors, he sat glued to the Masters on TV every April, fantasizing about one day slipping on an emerald coat.
“It’s one of those things that you dream about winning one of these, and then you win it, then you meet the membership, you learn more about the club,” Watson said Sunday afternoon. He had just signed for a 72 and was speaking outside Augusta National’s clapboard clubhouse. “A lot of things happen behind closed doors because of the green jacket, and so you just learn about a lot of people and you learn about truly what they’re doing to grow the game.
“I think their processes are kind of like my golf game; I learned it on my own. It’s a slow process, but hopefully it’s going in the right direction, and I think that’s what they do. They analyze everything, and they make everything perfect.
“They brought in the juniors, and then what, a couple years later, they brought in the Women’s Amateur. When I learned about that, that’s where it kind of changes my outlook, changes how I feel about things. I learned there’s so many charity dollars given from just this tournament — and we’re not counting the members, what they give personally, I’m just talking about from this tournament, this club.”
At the 2020 Masters, chairman Fred Ridley announced a $10 million pledge to aid two low-income neighborhoods in Augusta. On Tuesday, as part of that effort, ground was broken on a community center as well as a Boys & Girls Club headquarters. The club also has donated property it owns on Washington Road to serve as a Covid vaccination center.
Watson was asked if Augusta National officials had ever asked for his input on how the club can help support the game. The club hadn’t, he said.
“I think they just hear things. There’s guys everywhere. We kind of bring golf — I bring guests here. My wife comes and plays. We play with a member, we play with Condoleezza Rice. You know, just talking and discussing. And again, the membership here is smart enough, they don’t need Bubba Watson’s help, but they sit back — I’m guessing they sit back for the next week, maybe two weeks, and really push hard of how they can improve in situations.
“That’s what I’m saying. Their processes are phenomenal, and I’ve learned that over the years, and it helps me get better at my businesses, not only my life but my businesses when I go back home.”
Watson owns both a candy shop and a Chevy dealership in Pensacola, Fla. He also has a stake in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, a Double A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. His dance card is full.
“Obviously if I was older, a few years from now, if I’m not playing or not playing well, then I might be more involved differently,” he said of Augusta National. “But my involvement right now is just showing up, supporting all the things that they do, and again, being a small part of the club. … Hopefully they’ll let me keep teeing it up and being a past champion that’s still playing.”
Of that, there’s little doubt.