The Original Dinner Of Champions

Bobby Curran
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Friday - April 07, 2006
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Ask any amateur golfer which major they’d most want to win and the answer is likely predicated on geography. A European inclines to the Open Championship (they sniff at the expression British Open), and Americans would be divided between the U.S. Open and the Masters.

I’ve never heard anyone selecting the PGA as their championship of choice.

For me, it’s no contest. My fantasy victory is all about Augusta National. Give me the magnolias and the dogwoods. Let me conquer Amen Corner and Rae’s Creek. Bring on the Butler Cabin and hokey green jackets. I want to schmooze with guys named Hootie.

It’s all about tradition at Augusta. While the course has been altered somewhat to defend against technology, and the prize money has surged, little else seems to change. Caddies still wear white jumpsuits, the galleries exhibit a reverence reminiscent of church, and the staid membership continues to exert absolute control over the festivities.

The greatest tradition, though - and one unique to the Masters - is the Champions Dinner. In 1952 Ben Hogan proposed and hosted the first dinner and it has been held every year since. In recognition of the exclusiveness of winning the Masters, all previous champions gather the Tuesday of tournament week to fete the previous year’s winner. That new champion gets to select the menu and pay the check.

I can well imagine sipping cocktails on the veranda (there’s got to be a veranda), exchanging bon mots with Ben Crenshaw and Fred Couples, swapping travel stories with Nick Faldo and Mike Weir, and talking about the kids with Phil Mickelson. I’ve planned my menu countless times, tinkering with the appetizers and sides. Your menu is a statement, offering clues to your roots and personality.

Sandy Lyle may have had the most notorious dinner to date. The winner of the 1989 championship, Lyle chose haggis, mashed potatoes and mashed turnips - traditional fare from his native Scotland. Most of the champions had to have haggis described. Sheep organs like heart liver and kidneys are minced along with suet. Add oatmeal, onions, salt and pepper and boil the mixture in a sheep’s stomach. Slice and serve. The description reportedly caused many champions to turn the color of their jackets, and as the rules allow, most decided to order from the Augusta National regular menu. But where’s the adventure in that? (I’ve promised to try haggis on an upcoming trip to Scotland.)

Bernhard Langer chose weiner schnitzel in 1986 and turkey with dressing followed by Black Forest torte in 1994.

Tiger Woods, 22 at the time of his first victory in 1998, went with cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, fries and milkshakes, but showed a mature palate in 2002 by selecting porterhouse steak and a sushi appetizer.

Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal decided on paella and hake with tapas for a starter in 1995. Ben Crenshaw, a Lonestar state resident, ordered Texas barbecue in 1996. Phil Mickelson, in true California style, chose lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce preceded by a Caesar salad, and Mike Weir went rugged in 2004 with elk, wild boar, artic char and Canadian beer.

How, then, to pay homage to my Long Island roots and Hawaii home? After much consideration, I’m going with ahi sashimi and cherrystone clams on the half shell for appetizers, a Nalo green salad, N.Y. strip with sautéed Maui onions and Okinawan sweet potato chips. So drink up,Arnold, Tiger and Jack. It’s on me.

Now if I can just shave 40 strokes a round from my score, I’ll be all set.

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