There are a couple of pieces on the newswire this morning drawing attention to Ben Crenshaw’s long-time Masters caddie and Augusta National institution Carl Jackson. Yesterday ushered in his fiftieth year as a tournament caddie and his thirty-fifth in the company of Crenshaw. While his story is in many respects a heartening one, an object lesson in perseverence, it also highlights aspects of the club’s less reputable history of racial and class discrimination.
The Guardian‘s Ewen Murray outlines Jackson’s early years with the club:
“Jackson was a 14-year-old back in 1961 when making his Masters debut, taking charge of Billy Burke’s bag. A year earlier he left formal education after being unable to afford the uniform required under a new dress code.
He was, at that point, simply part of a group of young black men who carried bags – first at Augusta country club and then Augusta National. His early wage of $5 a bag was passed on to his mother, a lowly paid maid, to help feed Jackson’s six brothers and two sisters.
Relative riches followed when he was hired as the caddie of Jack Stephens, chairman for seven years of the club and Masters tournament.
Stephens paid his assistant $500 a week through the late 1960s. Dwight Eisenhower, an Augusta National member, was said to be among those who took a dim view of the eminent Stephens hiring a truant. The criticism led Jackson successfully to take up home education.”
The fact that the aesthetic beauty of Augusta National has, historically, been maintained by a regime heavily invested in notions of racial subservience strikes a note heavily discordant with the otherwise ethereal atmosphere of America’s most prestigious major. Jackson, however, often in the advancement of his own cause, has succeeded in subtly pushing the boundaries of the club’s institutionalised prejudice, even becoming the first black guest to play at the club in 1988.
If Carl Jackson’s true influence behind-the-scenes at Augusta National remains, to us, largely immeasurable, his perennial employer, Ben Crenshaw, is in no doubt as to his influence in golfing terms:
“I do know this: everything I’ve achieved over the years in the Masters, I owe to Carl Jackson.”