Back in 1952, Ben Hogan had an idea: how about the Master’s champion from the year prior host a dinner. Remember, the winners of the Masters are an exclusive club, so they get together each year on the Tuesday night of the tournament week to welcome the previous year’s winner to the club. That club is officially known as the Masters Club, but unofficially it’s called the Champions Dinner.
The previous year’s winner gets to select the menu, and he also pays for it. Since the Masters has had champions from all over the world, the menu items are a wide range. Former champs aren’t required to eat what the defending champion is serving. They can order off the Augusta National regular menu. The Members of the Masters Club arrive at the stately white clubhouse wearing their green jackets and ascend a staircase to the second floor, where dinner is served in the library.
While it’s difficult to find some of the early menus, there are a few that stand out:
When Tiger got to choose the menu for the 1998 Champions Dinner, he stuck to a typical 22-year old fare: cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries, and milkshakes.
Some good ones from the 90s: Fred Couples served Chicken cacciatore in 1993, ‘Gentle’ Ben Crenshaw served Texas barbecue in 1996, and Mark O’Meara served chicken and steak fajitas, sushi, and tuna sashimi in 1999. It’s hard to imagine Tom Watson plowing down on some Texas BBQ. Instead, he probably wrote another letter to Augusta National complaining about it.
The 2000’s produced some great champions, as well as some good menus. The most memorable Masters champion of that decade was Phil Mickelson in 2004, finally getting that non-major winner stigma off of his back. His 2005 menu was lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce, Ceasar’s salad, and garlic bread. Phil’s 2007 menu was spot on, serving barbecued ribs, chicken, sausage, and pulled pork with cole slaw. Well done. Mike Weir, our friend from north of the border brought some hometown flare to the 2004 Champions Dinner, serving Elk, wild boar, Arctic char, and Canadian beer. The house money is on quite a few orders off the Augusta National menu that night.
Angel Cabrera served an Argentinian menu of asado, a multicourse barbecue featuring chorizo, blood sausage, short ribs, beef filets and mollejas. Phil went with a Spanish themed menu in 2011 in honor of two-time defending Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, who was battling brain cancer and could not attend (he died a month later). He served seafood paella and machango-topped filet mignon, asparagus, a salad and tortillas, then ice cream-topped apple empanada for dessert.
Charl Schwartzel knocked it out of the park with his South African-themed meal. The opening course consisted of a chilled seafood bar, including shrimp, lobster, crabmeat, crab legs and oysters. The main course was a braai, a South African barbecue, which includes lamb chops, steaks and South African sausages. On the side were salads, cheese, sautéed sweet corn, green beans and Dauphinoise potatoes. Desert was simple – a vanilla ice cream sundae…if they made it that far. Fuzzy Zoeller, who has been known to offer some advice to previous Champions Dinners, said this about Charl’s selection: “Just make sure Schwartzel doesn’t burn the steaks and we’ll have a good time”.
Jordan Spieth did it right. He went middle-of-the-road in terms of menu, but kept true to his Texas roots. He started with a local greens salad, then ‘Authentic Texas Barbecue’, with beef brisket, smoked half chicken, or pork ribs, BBQ beans, potato salad, and green veggies (for those that didn’t load up on BBQ). He finished it off with a warm chocolate chip cookie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Well done, sir.
All indications are that 2016 Masters Champion Danny Willett will keep his menu ‘quintessentially British’. I’d probably stop by Chick-fil-A on the way…just in case.