If you have read any of my columns from this time of year, you will know that The Masters is my favorite of all the Majors.
One intriguing tradition at the Masters is the “Champion's Dinner”. Of late, it has become quite an event, with each champion hosting his own unique and memorable meal.
The Masters began in 1934, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the tradition of the past champions gathering for a meal would start. Ben Hogan wrote a letter to Augusta National Chairman Clifford Roberts inviting him to a dinner he would host on April 4th for previous winners.
Hogan explained that the dinner would give the men a chance to “reminisce, swap banter and relax”. He would attend the dinner through 1972.
Attending that inaugural dinner were nine past champions, Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Henry Picard, Jimmy Demaret, Craig Wood, Claude Harmon, Sam Snead and Hogan. Past champions Ralph Guldahl and Herman Kaiser did not attend the Masters that year.
When the tradition first began, the menu was kept quite quiet. It was no one’s business what the men were dining on and drinking. Like most everything else at Augusta National, it was a private matter and stayed that way.
Only within the past few decades has it become customary to announce the menu for the Champions Dinner. Most of the hosts choose meals that represent their home country or culture in which they grew up.
This year, the 2020 Champion, Dustin Johnson hosts the dinner. His menu starts with Pigs in a Blanket and lobster & corn fritters. This is followed by a house or Caesar Salad. The main course is Filet Mignon and Miso-Marinated Sea Bass with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Dessert is peach cobbler, apple pie and vanilla ice cream.
1986 Champion Jack Nicklaus may not only be the greatest golfer of all time, but he may be the best menu maker as well. Hosting the dinner for the sixth and final time, Jack’s dinner started off with shrimp cocktail and tossed salad. The main course consisted of New York Prime sirloin steak, broiled or fried chicken, fresh fish, green beans, carrots, and baked potato. His dessert choices were ice cream, black forest cake, cheesecake, pound cake, chocolate nut sundae and baked apple pie.
One of the most interesting menus came from 1989 champion, Sandy Lyle. His menu featured Haggis, mashed potatoes, and mashed turnips. He even donned a kilt for the event.
When Fred Couples won the Masters in 1993, he paid homage to his Italian roots, serving chicken cacciatore with spaghetti. His paternal grandparents immigrated from Italy and changed their last name from Coppola to Couples.
Gene Sarazen, a past champion also with Italian heritage, declared it his favorite Champions Dinner.
Bernhard Langer’s dinner after he won in 1985, featured wiener schnitzel and black forest cake. When he won again in 1993, he kept the black forest cake, but chose turkey for the main course.
The 1996 champion, Sir Nick Faldo, kept things very British. He went with tomato soup, along with traditional fish and chips.
Tiger Woods’ menus from his four wins show just how he matured over the years. His menu from his first title in 1997 consisted of cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, French fries, strawberry and vanilla milkshakes and strawberry shortcake.
Being 22 years old when he hosted his first Champions Dinner, the menu reflected his usual diet. Most of the champions found the meal enjoyable and poked fun at the young champ saying that he brought “kids’ meals” to the dinner.
Byron Nelson reportedly told Tiger he loved his choice, “because I don't get this at home.”
The milkshakes were also a hit. Tiger has said before that one of his greatest memories was seeing Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead enjoying milkshakes that night.
As he became a great golfer, his menu would become great as well. Tiger would go on to put Porterhouse steak, chicken, fajitas, sushi and sashimi, salad, crab cakes, asparagus, mashed potatoes, and chocolate truffle cake on his menus.
In 2011, Phil Mickelson’s menu would honor cancer-stricken Seve Ballesteros, who could not attend. On the menu was Spanish seafood paella, machango-topped filet mignon, tortillas and Spanish apple pie.
“I just want him to know we all wish he was here and we are thinking about him,” Mickelson said. Sadly, Ballesteros passed away the next month.
Some of the best main fare came thanks to 2003 champion, Mike Weir. Lobster in puff pastry, wild boar and chantrelle mushrooms, sockeye salmon tartare, asparagus salad, roasted rack of elk, fried chicken, filet mignon, sauteed pompano were his choices.
The best menu, in my opinion, goes to 2007 winner, Zach Johnson. His feast featured chilled jumbo shrimp, crab cakes, veal osso buco ravioli, lobster bisque, chipped salad, prime filet mignon, seared ahi tuna, steamed asparagus, Lyonaise potatoes, Iowa corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, steamed spinach, and flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce.
Patrick Reed, winner in 2018, may not be everyone’s favorite golfer, but his dessert choices are strong. Tiramisu, vanilla bean crème brulee, chocolate crunch and praline cheesecake marked the end of his meal.
I’d love to hear from you readers what you’d put on your menu, if you were Masters Champion.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.