Because his father served as general manager of the Augusta National Golf Club, Phil Wahl Jr. has some unique memories of the Masters Tournament.
He shared some of those remembrances during the Rotary Club of Aiken’s meeting Monday at Newberry Hall.
In 1961, Augusta National founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts hired Phil Wahl Sr. to be in charge of the golf club’s operations, and he remained in that position until his death in 1978.
During that time, the younger Wahl said, his father and the nation’s 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, became “great” friends.
“In fact, Mrs. Eisenhower continued to come (to Augusta National) after the president passed away (in 1969),” Wahl Jr. continued, “and she invited our family to Gettysburg to visit with her. Unfortunately, she passed away just before we were scheduled to go.”
The elder Wahl and Eisenhower, who was an Augusta National member, once enjoyed a memorable meal together without any presidential protection.
“Anybody ever heard of the Tip Top? Well in the 1960s, it was probably the only pizza place in Augusta, and it had pizza and beer,” the younger Wahl said. “Having served as the Supreme (Allied) Commander in Europe (during World War II), the president liked beer. He had a desire for a cold beer and wanted to kind of get out from underneath the Secret Service, so he asked my father to take him to his favorite pizza place, which was the Tip Top.”
But the two men didn’t let the Secret Service know where they were going.
“They left the grounds (of Augusta National) and it almost became an international incident,” Wahl Jr. said. “They (the Secret Service) were looking for the president, and he was having pizza and beer with my father at the Tip Top.”
The younger Wahl, who is the president of Security Federal Bank, also mentioned some of the many golfers he had the opportunity to meet. His favorites included 1935 Masters winner Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, who captured the Masters three times.
Sarazen “always wore knickers,” Wahl Jr. said. “He was a friendly guy. There was always a smile on his face. He was always very friendly to me. The ladies especially liked him. Sam Snead was probably not the warmest person, but he was always friendly to me, and I remember those interactions well.”
But, the younger Wahl said, his favorite “by far” was four-time Masters winner Arnold Palmer. The legendary player would sit down on a bench in front of the elder Wahl’s office, and talk to Wahl Jr. and Augusta National’s chauffeurs.
“He would say, ‘Hey, little Phil. How’s your dad doing. I know he’s busy,’ ” the younger Wahl recalled. “He would always ask Johnny Milton (a chauffeur), who was coming through and who was on the grounds because he (Milton) knew everybody. As we were having one of these conversations, a gentleman walked up in a green jacket. I didn’t know who he was, but he (Palmer) said to him, ‘I’ll be with you in a few minutes.’ ”
That man turned out to be pretty important.
“He was the CEO of General Motors, and Arnold Palmer kind of blew him off for a young little guy and a chauffeur,” Wahl Jr. said. “He took the time (to visit with people), and you could just tell he was a great fellow.”
The 84th Masters is scheduled for Nov. 12-16.
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