Augusta, Eisenhower & Pelham
Pelham Figures Prominently in Eisenhower's Membership at Augusta
Presidential Lies – the Illustrated History of White House Golf (1) opines that: “No other U.S. President has been so identified with golf as Dwight D. Eisenhower. But then, no other President has ever been quite so consumed by the game.” If there is one golf course, most closely associated with the former president, it is the Augusta National Golf Club. The club has an “Eisenhower Cabin,” built in 1953 specifically for the president, complete with a large finished basement for the secret service. An “Eisenhower Pew” at the nearby Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, marks the spot where Ike and Mamie worshipped during their frequent trips to Augusta. An “Eisenhower Cracker Barrel,” made from an original 1817 timber taken from the White House roof during renovations in 1927, is located in the National's pro-shop.(2) Anyone listening to the Masters Tournament last weekend would have heard a posthumous honorable mention of the “Eisenhower Tree” during the broadcast -- an old loblolly pine tree on the 17th hole, which was given its name because the president sought unsuccessfully to have it taken down after it kept interfering with his game. (The tree withstood the attacks from the five-star general and commander-in-chief but succumbed to Mother Nature after a 2014 ice storm.)
Eisenhower would likely never have been connected to the National but for Pelhamite William E. Robinson (1901-1969) who lived from 1946 to 1955 at 328 Cliff Avenue. Without Ike’s connection to Robinson and his golfing buddies at the National, he might never have become president.
William E. Robinson was long associated with the New York Herald Tribune, serving successively as editor, executive vice president and publisher. (Later in his career, he started his own advertising agency and finished off as Chairman of Coca-Cola.)(3) It was during Robinson’s earlier years with the newspaper that he was sent to France where General Dwight D. Eisenhower had imposed tight restrictions on reporting. Robinson scheduled a meeting with Eisenhower to seek more leniency. Ironically, the meeting was scheduled right at the start of a German counteroffensive that became the “Battle of the Bulge,” but Eisenhower took the meeting and Robinson was impressed with his cool head while, literally, under fire. The two became fast friends.
In the spring of 1948, after the war, Robinson invited Ike to Augusta for a weekend. Eisenhower stayed for ten days. Before his departure, he was inducted as a member. He returned to Augusta in March 1949 to recuperate from gastroenteritis brought on by the stress of trying to broker a deal between the armed services to create a new post-War “Department of Defense.”(4) (Right: Eisenhower with Bobby Jones, William Robinson & Clifford Roberts at the National, 1948)
Robinson and other members of the National became part of a group the press derided as “Ike’s Millionaires,” helping him to secure the Republican nomination and then winning the White House. An “Ike for President Club” was formed at 328 Cliff Avenue.(5) Bobby Jones, co-founder of the National, campaigned for him on the floor of the GOP national convention and the club’s other founder, Clifford Roberts, defended Ike against claims that his avid golfing got in the way of his duties. The day after he was elected, President Eisenhower flew to Georgia and took his rest at Augusta. Ike went on to make 29 trips to Augusta, playing 210 rounds of golf at the National during his two terms as president, and made another 11 visits after leaving office.(6)
(Above: the "Eisenhower Cabin" at the Augusta National Golf Club)
“It’s an honor to Augusta and a testament to the spiritually restorative powers of Augusta National that one of our greatest presidents came here when he needed to recharge.”
"Ike’s Impact,” Augusta Magazine, April, 2020
Besides seeing Robinson regularly at the National, Eisenhower often stayed with the Robinsons at 328 Cliff Avenue. Neighbors from the time, like Betty Bucher, recall Eisenhower walking his Scottish Terrier along the Cliff Avenue sidewalks with the Secret Service in tow. Eisenhower and Robinson both died of heart attacks within about two months of each other in 1969.
1 Campbell, Shepherd & Landau, Peter, Presidential Lies -- The Illustrated History of White House Golf, Macmillan (1996)
2 “Eisenhower Left mark on National,” The Augusta Chronicle, February 16, 2012 2 William E. Robinson Dies at 68, The New York Times, Sunday, June 8, 1969
3 “Ike’s Impact,” Augusta Magazine, April, 2020
4 Sowell, David, “All the President’s Men,” Links Magazine, September/October 2004; Beschloss, Michael, “The Gang That Always Liked Ike,” New York Times, November 15, 2014.
5 Daily Argus (Mount Vernon), 1952
6 Boyette, John, “Eisenhower Loved Augusta National, and the city loved him back,” The Augusta Chronicle, March 24, 2012