BRASELTON, GA. - The late Gene Sarazen's name has become a glaring omission from the ceremonial Master's threesome on that first Thursday in early April. But the spirit of the Italian immigrant born Eugenio Saraceni, made famous by the "shot heard around the world" and the invention of the sand wedge, is alive and well in the Peach State.
Forty minutes northeast of the spaghetti junctions and bright lights of Atlanta sits the Chateau Élan Resort, and with it, a fairway full of Sarazen memories. His old office in the Legends Course clubhouse overlooks the course he helped design and make famous with the Sarazen World Open, a European Tour stop from 1994 to 1998.
The balcony outside his study has a raised floor constructed by resort owner and dear friend Don Panoz, so the diminutive Sarazen could see over the rail and out to the golf course. The Legends proshop still houses the $20,000 escalator that Panoz built for the elderly Sarazen while he was away in his winter home in Marco Island, Fla. His green jacket, one of the only to be removed from Augusta National, is on display in the Legends Clubhouse along with his other trophies and awards.
Sarazen - as proud at age 97 as he was at age 29 - refused to use the escalator and would take the stairs no matter how long it took.
Just as important as the keepsakes, memorabilia, and crazy stories about the man known by many as the "Squire" is the living, breathing reminder of himself that Sarazen left behind the resort's golf counter his grandson, Geoff.
Twenty-nine-year-old Geoff Sarazen is the director of golf for the resort after having come up through the ranks as an assistant professional outside in Delray Beach, Fla. Geoff landed his first gig at Chateau Élan in 1994 when Panoz befriended him during a practice round at the Masters and convinced him up the beach for the Bordeaux.
If it is beginning to sound like a case of the grandson son that was born and bred for a life in the game of golf, allow us to peel this story back like well-spun approach shot.
Growing up outside of Fort Lauderdale, Geoff Sarazen could have cared less about golf. His interests revolved around the typical young boy pursuits: girls, baseball, the beach and more girls and more baseball.
His grandfather was simply that a grandfather. As a child, Geoff knew Gene by his familiar family name, "Da," and visits' to Da's house were all about swimming, playing on the beach and eating seafood, not tee times, birdies and mulligans.
"I never even knew he played golf when I was little," says Geoff. "It just never came up. That was his old job and when you are a kid, you just don't talk about work with your grandfather"
The talks would eventually come, but not until Geoff hit the terrible teens. The younger Sarazen played golf for the first time when he was 13-years-old, hitting the flagstick on a par three, tapping in for bogey, and essentially becoming hooked for life. When the chance to spend the summer with Da up in Lake Sunapee Country Club in New Hampshire the next year, Geoff jumped all over it like a short par four.
"We lived on the first tee at the Country Club," Geoff says. "I worked at the club until noon everyday, and then we played nine holes every afternoon at four o'clock. This is when he was in his early 90's and he could still shoot in the low 40's. He beat me quite a bit back then"
A stickler for the fundamentals, Sarazen would not let Geoff have a set of golf clubs until he learned a perfect grip. Da finally purchased him a set of irons from Wilson, the company Sarazen had endorsed for over 70 years.
"The funny thing is, I was never pushed into golf," Geoff says. "He held fast to the fundamentals, but he was no swing guru, so he wasn't inclined to tell me how to do this and how to do that. The players back then weren't as into the golf swing and they weren't as concerned about the courses. They just wanted to win"
Geoff gathered these tidbits of historical knowledge because his appetite for spending time with Da on the golf course became insatiable.
His first summer with Gene was barely over before he began to look forward to the next. And who could blame him? Mornings were spent mowing the course, or working the bags. Afternoons melted away on the fairways of the Sunapee Country Club, and evenings were spent watching baseball and playing gin rummy.
"When it became clear that I loved the game, Da finally told me his stories about the Masters and about winning seven majors and the character he met along the way," Geoff says. "But I learned most of what I know about him from reading about the Masters and from watching the Golf Channel"
So it was, a full 15 years after discovering that his grandfather was one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game, that Geoff took to the links to defend Da's honor. To celebrate the 100 anniversary of the birth of Georgia golf legend Bobby Jones, Chateau Élan staged a match pitting the young Sarazen against Bobby Jones IV.
The two prodigal grandsons were dressed in 1920's golf garb replete with knickers, ties, and cat hats and even used the wooden shafted golf clubs from Bagger Vance on one hole. When the dust settled, Geoff took the match 78-81.
"That is why this is such a great place to live and work," Geoff says, unwilling to talk any trash about his victory. "There is an appreciation for the game here that you won't find anywhere outside of Scotland or Pinehurst"
An appreciation, no doubt, that is being carried on and cared for by the Squire in waiting.
"Be patient when playing The Chateau Course. There are many birdie opportunities to offset any misfortunes you may encounter during your round."
"The Woodlands Course is the newest, and it will beat you up the most"
"You have to see the Legends Course to believe it. It was designed by my Grandfather, Sam Snead and Kathy Whitworth. They were asked to choose six of their favorite holes from famous courses they had played around the world. The par-3 15th is modeled after #12 at Augusta, and #7 is a rough replica of the Postage Stamp at Troon. Mr. Panoz designed two of the holes, numbers six and 14, because some of the legends choices overlapped."
May 19, 2002