How exactly does someone become a marshal at the Masters? Apparently, you enlist.
At least that was the case for Bob Marslender, who served in that capacity at Augusta National Golf Club for 32 years, the final 20 years spent as the marshal in charge at the iconic par-3 12th hole in Amen Corner.
During that time, he built memories and friendships that continue today, nine years after giving up his spot on the No. 12 tee box — though he still returns most every year as a patron to walk among the dogwoods and azaleas and watch some of the world’s best golfers negotiate the deceivingly difficult, yet beautiful, Augusta National layout.
A golf fan, Marslender was in the U.S. Army — he would achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel — when he sought to become a marshal. He explained Augusta National has had a long association with the military, dating back to the fact former President Dwight Eisenhower was a member there and the Eisenhower Medical Center is at Fort Gordon, located in Augusta. For many years, Marslender noted, active military personnel served as marshals for the tournament.
Hearing this, Marslender sought to join their ranks, but he wasn’t successful right away. He kept trying.
“I found out there were some guys there on some of the voluntary committees and I called them up and believe it or not, the guy in charge told me to come to Gate 3 and tell the guy at the gate you’re supposed to meet me at the volunteer tent. I did and they let me in. Can you imagine doing that today? I don’t think so,” Marslender said.
That was in 1980. Marslender spent his first couple of years as a marshal “really not doing much,” as he described it, before being assigned as a marshal at No. 15 in 1983. His task that year was to help a CBS employee determine the club being used by players on their second shot at the par-5, 530-yard hole.
“I was there with the CBS reporter who was supposed to call in the club selection for the second shot. He had the eyes of Mr. Magoo so he had to rely on me,” Marslender said. “Many times I could see what club they pulled and when I couldn’t the caddies would signal what club was being used.”
During the first round, there was a delay in play. Craig Stadler hit his second shot behind the scoreboard next to the green, so a rules official was called in to determine what the course of action should be before Stadler hit his next shot. That led to the group behind Stadler’s having to wait to play its second shot.
“Lo and behold, who is in that next group but Mr. Arnold Palmer,” Marslender said. “He was right down the hill from us and finally he walked up and asked me what the hold-up was. I told him. Instead of walking away, he stood there for about 10 minutes and chatted like we were old buddies. He walked off and I was in awe, just absolute awe. People came up to me and asked, ‘What did Arnie say?’ I told them, ‘He was asking me about club selection.’ They laughed. I said, ‘This is it. It does not get any better than this.’’’
Marslender was hooked, and not only an official member of Arnie’s Army, his favorite player, but he was head over heels in love with Augusta National and the Masters.
“After seeing the beauty of the course and spending a few moments with Palmer, I left there that day thinking, surely I’ve died and gone to heaven, but that can’t be because I have to go to the bathroom … I told myself I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can.”
He moved from 15 to later serve as a marshal at holes 8, 9, 14, back to 15 and as a supervisor at No. 2. Then he was sent to No. 12, and he fell in love all over again.
“They asked me to help out on 12 one year because Ralph wasn’t feeling well. I went over to help ole Ralph, and he said, ‘This is the last year I’m going to do this,’’’ Marslender said. “… So I ran in [to volunteer headquarters] and I said, ‘Ralph’s retiring. Can I do this [work on 12]?’ And they said, ‘Absolutely.’ And 12 became my hole, and I was the only guy on the hole for the week.
“I kept going back every year. No matter where we lived — I was active military at the time — and we lived all over the country [including Mobile], and I would make plans to come in and do that. It became such a highlight for me. I pointed to Masters Week … It became a ritual and it was like I had an extended family down there in Amen Corner. People have been [seated] at 12 for years and years and years. I have so many interesting stories of people I met and situations I encountered.”
Marslender shared some of his stories.
In 2005, late in the day during a Tuesday practice round, he was at the 12th tee when he heard a man behind him say, “This is one of the most beautiful spots in the world.” Marslender said, “Yes sir, it is.” The man continued, “This is my father’s favorite hole … He passed away.” Then added, “I wonder if I could ask you a favor?”
“I figured he wants a picture or something, but he reached in his pocket and extracted a bag. I instinctively knew what it was,” Marslender said. “He said, ‘Can you spread some of these [his father’s ashes] on the 12th tee?’ I gazed around and I looked and looked and looked. I said, ‘No sir, I can’t do that.’ He said, ‘I understand. It’s OK.’ Then I held the rope up and said, ‘But you can.’
“He totally lost it. He came out on the tee box and spread a few ashes. We cover all the divots with a [mixture of materials] green in color, which is why you never see a divot on TV; after every group left the tee I’d sprinkle the divots with this mixture. When he came off the tee box I handed him this cup [containing the mixture] and said, ‘Sprinkle this on his ashes — it will nourish his soul.’ Well, he lost it again, completely.”
Two gentlemen in their 80s visited one day and one of them said, “I just wanted to come here to see what heaven looks like on earth.” They posed for photos.
One year, Marslender was at the tournament stationed at No. 12 and awaiting word of the birth of his granddaughter, who was due at any moment. After several trips away from the tee box to phone home, he returned and informed those seated, “We’ve got a girl!” The news was followed by cheers.
“Billy Casper would come up on the tee box and chat with people,” Marslender said. “One day, he pulls up the rope and sits down with a fella. Next up on the tee box comes Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara. They saw Billy’s bag and saw him sitting in the gallery. He said, ‘You guys go ahead and play through. You go ahead and hit and when you get to the green I’m going to hit and tell people I drove into the great Tiger Woods.’”
That led to another Casper story.
“Casper’s son, also named Bob, came over to me one day [during a practice round] and said, ‘Let’s set the ole man up. When he comes over to ask me what club [selection], you say, Billy, I’ve got his; I’ll club you. Tell him, You’ve got 157 all day to the hole. Hit your 22-degree.’
“So he comes up to the hole and says, ‘What have we got, Bob?’ I said, ‘Billy, let me club you today.’ He looked at me and looked at his son. I said, ‘It’s OK; you’ve got 157 all day to the pin. Pull your 22-degree.’ He said, ‘What’s going on here?’ I said, ‘Trust me, I’ve been here all day.’ He pulls the club and he hit it to within two feet. He turned and pointed at me and said, ‘You’re on the bag.’’’
There was also the Golden Girls, three ladies in their 60s, who always watched the tournament at No. 12, who befriended Marslender. The group shared meals during Masters Week and one, Lillian, offered her patron’s badge “for one day only” so Marslender’s son, Chris, who later became a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, could attend the tournament. It was also Lillian who Marslender spotted one day with a flask, telling Marslender the flask was filled with “sweet tea.”
The Bud Boys were regulars too. They were associated with Anheuser-Busch of Budweiser fame. One year one of the Bud Boys said they would have a special guest on Friday and asked Marslender if he could get the guest a seat at the front of the gallery at No. 12 for a short time during Friday’s round.
“The [guest] had a huge cigar with him, and I said, ‘Sir, please don’t light that cigar while you’re down here or these ladies will be upset,” Marslender recalled. “The guy with him said, ‘I don’t think you know who this is, Bob.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ He extended his hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m August.’ It was August Busch IV. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Bob. Don’t light that cigar.’ He said he wouldn’t and he didn’t. I later got a nice note from him and we were invited to get a tour of the Budweiser plant in St. Louis.”
One of the Bud Boys took a photograph of a stern-looking Marslender and had the photograph enlarged, placing it on posterboard with the words, “To get to Amen Corner you’ve got to go through Bob.”
One year, as Marslender was crouched down in front of the ropes at the 12th tee during a practice round, John Daly, at the urging of playing partner Fuzzy Zoeller, walked over and signed the top of Marslender’s yellow marshal’s helmet. The moment was captured by an Augusta Chronicle photographer. Worried it would end his time as a marshal — marshals are not to ask for autographs of the players during play or practice rounds — Marslender called the paper requesting it not be used. To be safe, Marslender also told his supervisor what happened, and the supervisor told him not to worry about it. But he did, especially when the photo appeared in the next day’s edition.
“I thought, that’s the end of the road for me,” Marslender said. “On that Sunday evening when I left the course, the supervisor gave me a bag and asked me to toss it in the trash on my way out. For some reason, I looked in the bag and it was my helmet. I thought to myself, this is my parting gift, and I worried the whole year that I wouldn’t be asked back. As luck would have it, I was. And I said I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can do it.”
One year he presided over a mock wedding near the No. 12 tee box.
“A stockbroker from Atlanta showed up and went into the restroom and popped out later wearing a tux that he had in his backpack,” Marslender said. “He came down to the hole and he proposed. Of course, everybody was enthralled. So they asked me to perform a mock wedding ceremony. I’d hear from them or see them every year after that.”
The stories and memories are numerous, but most of Marslender’s favorites begin and end with “Mr. Palmer.”
One Tuesday night at a local restaurant Palmer frequented when in town, Marslender, dining with other marshals, approached Palmer to seek an autograph. “I have a daughter,” he told Palmer, adding, “Would you sign this ultrasound?” Palmer did, then noted, “Well, I’d be delighted; you know, I’ve been asked to autograph a lot of different things in my life, Bob, but never an ultrasound.” Marslender’s daughter still has the autograph.
“Arnie would come and sit next to me at No. 12 and just chat; it was like we were old friends,” Marslender said. “He would come over and if he was wearing a visor he would take it off and shake hands, and I would take off my cap, too … There was only one Arnold Palmer; there will never be another like him, not even close.”
Marslender did not take his role at Augusta National lightly. “I made it a point of wearing a brand new golf shirt every day at the Masters, just because I thought I had an obligation to look presentable,” he said. “I took it seriously, so much so that on my way down to the 12th hole each day, so I didn’t get my shoes dirty, I would wear surgical booties over my shoes, then take them off down at the hole.”
The year after he retired from the Masters, attending as a patron, Marslender was walking over to the Par-3 Contest. One of the players, passing close by, looked at Marslender and yelled, “Hey, 12!”
He last worked as a marshal in 2012.
“I had 20 years at No. 12 in 2012,” Marslender said. “I said, that’s got a nice rhyme to it, my granddaughter has been on the tee box with me, I knew my son, Chris, was going to deploy the next year, and I said it’s not going to get any better … I may as well go out on top.”
He has badges and has returned to watch the tournament, spending a lot of time at No. 12, every year since — except for last year when the tournament was moved to November and no patrons were allowed.
He’ll miss this year’s tournament as well. The Masters is allowing only limited attendance and Marslender, despite having patrons’ badges for the tournament, was informed a few weeks ago he had not been selected in the lottery of ticketholders.
“One guy in Texas who has been there for 54 years, he wasn’t selected. And another lady I know who has been going for 60 years, she didn’t get selected,” he said. “I don’t know who’s going this year but I know who’s not.”
It’s the people, as much as the place itself, that made his time at the Masters memorable, Marslender said.
“I’ve met people from Paris, from all walks of life, all different interests,” he said. “They all have a story just like we all do, different stories of life. That’s what made it special. I liked being nice to the people. It was an honor and a privilege … I looked forward to that every year and I tried to do the right thing and the honorable thing in how I went about things … Like Jim Nantz says, it’s a tradition unlike any other. I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life.
“I have already started [writing] a book, but I don’t know everything about putting a book together. It would be a human-interest story.”
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