Behind the scenes at the Champions Dinner
If anything signifies the start of the major season proper, the sight of a parade of Green Jacket winners arriving for the Masters Champions Dinner on the Tuesday night is right up there.
We all love a bit of tradition at Augusta and when Jack, Tiger, Phil, Gary and friends get together to enjoy a cheeky sundowner on the terrace before sitting down to eat we know we’re very nearly there.
After eight months of waiting it’s time to go again.
We already know that defending champion Patrick Reed is playing it safe. Don’t worry about Gary Player’s health regime, give the boys what they want.
“I’m definitely going to fatten everyone up. I’m going to go with the bone-in rib eye, mac and cheese, creamed spinach, creamed corn,” Reed said. “Hopefully I can please the 30-something guys that are in the room. I mean, putting a piece of meat in front of them I think would do that, right?”
“I’ll go Caesar salad but I was going to make multiple options because some guys might not like steak. So there will be grilled chicken, there will be probably some kind of seafood as well as probably a couple healthier options.”
Rest easy, Gary.
The first dinner was arranged by Ben Hogan in 1952 following his win the previous year. The stipulations were that you had to be a past champion, plus Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts, you wore your ‘green coat’ and that you arrived, promptly, at 7.15pm.
It would be a chance to “reminisce, swap banter and relax”.
And so it began.
Jose Maria Olazabal has been coming since 1995 and he has a clear memory of one dinner that excelled beyond the others.
“The one that impressed me the most and had some amazing flavours was Vijay Singh’s in 2001. He served a Thai-themed feast that included seafood and a rack of lamb. He has a good friend who has a restaurant in Atlanta and he took care of everything.”
Trevor Immelman has sat down at 10 Masters Champions Dinner events following his three-shot win over Tiger Woods in 2009 and he wouldn’t miss it for all the Azalea cocktails in Augusta.
“It’s the best golfing evening of the year and it’s amazing to be in that room with all those champions. The best I’ve been to are Adam Scott’s and Phil Mickelson’s, both of them really just went all out with wines and food pairings and I thought it was very impressive. The food was amazing.
“Phil does different types of steak, vegetables and potatoes. The wines that he chose were just incredible, it’s exactly what you’d expect from him. He has an amazing positive energy about him, he loves the banter and things like that, and he always does a great job.
“I root for him to win every year.”
When Immelman won he actually ran a competition in a South African newspaper where people could vote for what he would serve up.
“It had been 30 years since Gary Player last won so I wanted to find a way to involve South Africans. We went for a traditional South African dish with South African wines and at the time I thought that was cool and unique because we hadn’t had a South African winner for so long. I thought it was pretty good and it went down quite well.”
While we get the low-down on what the champion’s menu is every year the rest of the detail is pretty sketchy. Immelman reveals there is an unofficial, unwritten seating plan which is pretty much set in stone.
“People really have their own seat which they don’t deviate from and, if they do, it’s very little. When you’re defending champion you sit at the head of the table between Ben Crenshaw who is the MC and the chairman.
“For the last nine years, I’ve been in the same place and I sit on the far corner of the table with Sir Nick Faldo to my left and Adam Scott to my right. Gary Player sits next to Sir Nick and Charl Schwartzel sits next to him. Each time, at some point, I pinch myself and think how I have wound up in this room? It’s a fascinating evening.”
Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson have both revealed that the hosting was the easy bit, it was where to sit the following year that was the trickier.
Zach Johnson came to both men’s rescue as he had been in a similar boat until Bernhard Langer and Larry Mize took him to one side to form their own faith-based triangle.
In 1999 Tiger Woods quickly found his spot next to Fred Couples. Also known to be in this part of the room are Jack Nicklaus, Mark O’Meara and Ray Floyd. Historically Nick Faldo liked to sit next to Sam Snead.
Otherwise we know that Phil Mickelson likes to do his own thing, as you might expect, and move around. And, like Immelman, Spieth explains that Lefty is one of the more vocal members in the room.
“You know where Phil is because he’s the one telling all the stories.”
Selected Masters Champions Dinner menus down the years
Danny Willett, 2017: Mini cottage pies, Sunday roast, apple crumble
Champions dinner by Yorkshire ?? pic.twitter.com/H2uMSE2sZR
— Danny Willett (@Danny_Willett) April 4, 2017
Adam Scott, 2014: Surf-and-turf on the grill, including Moreton Bay ‘bugs’ (lobster), Australian Wagyu beef New York Strip steak, strawberry and passion fruit pavlova
Phil Mickelson, 2011: Seafood paella and machango-topped filet mignon, a salad course, asparagus, and tortillas as sides, ice cream-topped apple empanada
Angel Cabrera, 2010: An Argentine asado, a multi-course barbecue featuring chorizo, blood sausage, short ribs, beef filets and mollejas (stomach sweetbreads)
Phil Mickelson, 2005: Lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce, Caesar’s salad, garlic bread
Mike Weir, 2004: Elk, wild boar, Arctic char, Canadian beer
Tiger Woods, 2002: Porterhouse steak and chicken with a sushi appetizer
Vijay Singh 2001: Seafood tom kah, chicken panang curry, baked sea scallops with garlic sauce, rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce, baked filet Chilean sea bass with three flavor chili sauce, lychee sorbet
Tiger Woods, 1998: Cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries, milkshakes
Nick Faldo, 1997: Fish and chips, tomato soup
Sandy Lyle, 1989: Haggis, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips
See the full run-down of Masters Champion Dinner menus here.