For nearly 50 years, only Black men caddied The Masters. One day, they all but vanished

Augusta National's caddie core used to be all Black men from the local Sand Hills district, but most of them have disappeared from the major since "Tour caddies" were introduced.

For nearly 50 years, only Black men caddied The Masters. One day, they all but vanished


A champion is a person who will never be forgotten by history. You are immortalized when you win the sport's most prestigious titles.

Multiple wins can make your legacy even more impressive. Think of The Masters and Jack Nicklaus, with six wins in his career, or Arnold Palmer, who won the green jacket four times in six years at Augusta National.

Yet, for decades, two former champions who combined won nine victories were buried in unmarked graves.

Willie Peterson was Nicklaus' caddie for the first five victories. Nathaniel "Iron Man" Avery was in the bag for each of Palmer's victories. Avery's grave was not erected at Augusta's Southview Cemetery in Georgia until 2017, 32 years after his passing. Peterson, who died in 1999, received his headstone three years later at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

These were only two of Augusta National’s original caddies, all Black men who guided golfers on the legendary course since the 1934 inaugural edition.

They would be involved in the final destination of the green jacket for nearly half a century every year thereafter.

Kings of the Hills

Sand Hills is where the stories of the original Augusta caddies began almost always.

The historic Black neighborhood was located just three miles from The Masters venue. It was adjacent to Augusta Country Club. Local kids aged between 10-12 years could work for the bag as a porter.

Leon Maben (vice president of Augusta's Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History), said that approximately 90% of Augusta National’s original caddie core grew in Sand Hill.

Many would eventually cross Rae's Creek to start work at Augusta National. Ward Clayton, author of "Men on the Bag: Augusta National Caddies", describes it as follows: They "graduated."

Clayton said that they were simply looking to make a quick buck. They didn't set out to be the best caddies in the entire world. But they did.

It wasn't a matter of age, it was a matter of your ability. It was necessary to be able to communicate with adults and to understand how to read them.

"You had to be a bit more of an amateur psychologist and you had to start reading them from the first hole.

Graduating was a strong incentive. Maben stated that a 'good bag' at Augusta National could pay as high as $5 and $20 for a day of labor.

Jariah "Jerry" Beard was the caddie for Fuzzy Zoeller 1979 Masters champion Fuzzy. He could make as much as his parents in a single day by working at the John P. King mill in the city.

'The Godfather'

If cadding was an education, Willie "Pappy" Stokes was its headmaster.

Stokes, 12, grew up on the same grounds Augusta National was constructed on. He was hired as a water supply man to the workers building the club. The youngster was attentive to the flow of rain across the terrain and always followed the path towards Rae's Creek, during bad weather.

This realization was the foundation of Stokes' near-perfect ability to read greens, which he shared with budding students at Saturday morning's 'caddie school'.

Stokes, who was just 17 years old, helped Henry Picard win the 1938 Masters title. After helping four players win five Augusta titles, Stokes would retire and be known as the 'Godfather' of caddies.

Stokes' knowledge was passed on to the others, as illustrated by Beard in 1979. Zoeller is still the only golfer who won The Masters on his first try. Beard drove Zoeller around Augusta "like a blind man and a seeing-eye canine."

They were Zoeller's words and not Beard's. The American relayed them in "Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk," a 2019 film Clayton co-produced.

Beard, who died March at the age of 82, was a friend and joker to Maben. Zoeller should give Beard his green jacket.

Maben stated that these guys were ahead their time. They knew Augusta National like the backs of their hands and could direct a golfer with no type of instrument, like today's caddies.

"They didn't have any book or instrument to tell them how the wind was blowing on that particular day. They were the best at what was required of them.

Walking dead man

As with "The Godfather", caddie nicknames were a part of the game.

According to ESPN, Tommy Bennett, aka 'Burnt Biscuits, was on the bag that Tiger Woods used in his first Masters in 1995. He got his nickname after attempting to steal biscuits from his Grandma's wood stove.

There were also John H. Stovepipe Gordon, Frank "Marble Eye" Stokes, Matthew 'ShortyMac' Palmer. Clayton says that Avery's title of 'Iron Man" was based on two stories. One is that he accidentally cut off his finger while playing golf using a hatchet, and the other is that he hurt his hand playing with firecrackers.

Clayton is favored in the nickname department by Willie "Cemetery" Perteet. Perteet was a former caddie to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Clayton recounts the story as follows.

Caddie by day, drummer in a jazz band in downtown Augusta at night. Perteet was about to leave a gig when he was attacked by a gang with knives. The caddie's ex girlfriend, who had ended their relationship, had gathered the group.

Perteet was hospitalized for his injuries and later regained consciousness, but not in a hospital. Perteet awoke in a refrigerated bay staring at the terrified eyes of a mortician.

Clayton stated that Clayton was able to explain Clayton's statement by saying, "The doctor gave him too many medications and they thought he died."

"So all his caddies gave him the nickname "Dead Man." At the beginning, President Eisenhower said that he didn't like the title. We're going to just call you Cemetery.

Wash away

Although those who carried the bag were often close to the golfers with whom they were paired, there was a lasting divide: social, as caddies and racial as Black men in America.

Clayton stated that caddies could only play Augusta National's course on closed days. Despite their respect for their craft and being allowed to do so, Clayton said. Maben spoke to many of the original caddies and agreed.

Maben stated, "That was during segregation, Jim Crow period and Black men were downgraded in society, being called boy, n***er, and all that."

"The way I see it, from a lot o the conversations that I had, they knew where they belonged in society at that moment."

Ron Townsend, a TV executive, was admitted to Augusta National in 1990. This came 15 years after Lee Elder became the first Black golfer at The Masters.

Townsend arrived in Augusta and most of Augusta's original caddie group had vanished by that time. The Masters was a 48-year-old tournament where golfers were required to use the club's caddies. However, from 1983, the players could bring their own caddies.

One reason was events at the previous tournament. A miscommunication caused some caddies to miss a morning tee. Several golfers used this incident to convince The Masters to let players bring their caddies year-round on The PGA Tour.

Clayton believes that the arrival of Tour caddies was only a matter of when and not if. "There was no doubt that Augusta National still had a large and large number of caddies who were excellent," Clayton said. He said that the caddie ranks did not have the same depth as the players desired.

"It would have been nice if it were done in a more seamless fashion than what happened."

The impact was great regardless of the cause. Clayton stated that the 1983 Masters saw the first White caddies walking the greens of the major with only 19 Black caddies.

Peterson was furious when he entered the caddy facility to search for his No. Peterson was furious after entering the caddy facility to find his trusty No. Although the matter was quickly resolved and the lockers returned to their owners, both caddies were still hurting financially.

Clayton stated that they felt their jobs were being taken away. They didn't have much time to accommodate these men from the outside.

He added that in ten years, less than ten of the original caddie core were left.

CNN's Carl Jackson, a caddie for Ben Crenshaw, said that it was not pleasant the way they left.

"It was difficult for all the guys because many were really good caddies, and had experience on that course. 25-30 pros shouldn't have let their caddies go.

The dream team

Jackson's Augusta National story would continue for 40 more years.

Jackson, like many others, began his career at Augusta Country Club. He then graduated to Augusta National in 1958 to study under Stokes. Skillet was his nickname because he couldn't throw a ball hard enough to break an egg.

Crenshaw was his first partner in 1976. The partnership was perfect for 'Gentle Ben,' a well-known putter, and Jackson, a soft-spoken green-reader extraordinaire. In 1984, Crenshaw won by two shots over Watson after finishing as runners-up in their first match. This was his maiden major title.

Crenshaw and Jackson would share a second green jacket celebration in 1995. Jackson described it as a tremendously emotional win for the Texan golfer. His mentor Harvey Penick had passed just before the tournament and left him in'shambles.

The pair shared a long hug as Crenshaw hit his winning putt. The gesture would be repeated almost 20 years later when the couple retired together at 2015 Masters.

Jackson's friendship is at the core of a documentary called "Rise Above" about Jackson's life.

Jackson states in the film, "That's America should be." "The Black man takes care of the White men and the White man takes care of Black men."

Jackson believes that the documentary's core message is about respect.

You'll be a hater if you're not righteous.

Center stage

Clayton will be at Augusta National this Week, supervising content and keeping an eye on the green hat-wearing men carrying the clubs for those vying to win the 2023 green jacket.

He will be able to do this with as much knowledge as possible about the history of the club's caddies than any other person in attendance. However, mythic stories about 'The Godfather', 'Cemetery', and Augusta's original core of caddies were only myths to him prior to his 2004 book. Clayton was troubled by that.

He said, "That was my effort to tell their stories." They deserved my attention because I believed they played an important, vital role in making the club what it is today and helping golfers win.

"A lot of them don't live with us anymore." They are decreasing in number every year, and should be remembered or honored in a way that tells their story.

Augusta National continues to preserve the legacy of The Masters' original caddies.

It is a constant mission to preserve and spread those stories. Clayton was instrumental in obtaining the headstones of Avery and Peterson. Palmer and Nicklaus were also involved as their caddies.

The Lucy Craft Laney Museum will place Augusta's Black caddies' legacy - literally - at the center of its attention this year.

The museum hosts the "Men on the Bag Experience" twice a month. This will allow visitors to see the stories of three Augusta caddies, Stokes, Perteet and Peterson, in addition to regular tours.

Two caddies - or living legends', as Maben calls them - will be chosen from the audience and invited to take part in a Q&A at the end of each performance. Each one will be immortalized on a sports trading card with their story, picture and stats. These cards will be signed by the patrons and distributed as they leave the show.

They are rarely called caddies by Maben. It's almost always "living legends", "superstars" or, most often, "champions."