What follows is an edited excerpt from the new book The Caddy’s Cookbook: Remembering Favorite Recipes from the Caddy House to the Clubhouse of Augusta National Golf Club by Tripp Bowden, an author and former Augusta National caddy who lives in Augusta, Georgia.
Though he trained under some of the world’s finest chefs and quietly honed his craft with culinary legends from as far away as Germany and France, Chef James Clark, who managed the kitchen at Augusta National golf course for nearly thirty years, was a country boy at heart, with Carolina blood in his veins. A meat and potatoes kind of cook, Chef Clark’s idea of the perfect meal was a quick nine holes at Augusta before whipping up a little this and a little that and seeing the smiles on the faces of Augusta’s members and guests when the oven smoke cleared.
All that changed, in the early 1970s, when an Augusta member placed an order for pound cake. The chairman, in fact—Mr. Clifford Roberts, the very man who, along with legendary Bobby Jones, created what would one day become the most exclusive and coveted golf club in all the world.
In town from a New York business trip in 1973, Augusta’s chairman was eager to show off his revered golf club, and in particular his newest hire, Chef James Clark. Mr. Cliff had handpicked Chef from the highly respected Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
As cocktails arrived, Mr. Roberts called Chef over and told him what they would all like for dinner—a meat and potatoes kind of meal, a request right up Chef’s alley.
“One more thing, please, Chef.”
“Well, you see, I’ve been telling these boys how we have the best of everything here at Augusta, and I just know that the best of everything has to include my favorite dessert. I would like to order that, to finish out our meal tonight.”
“And what might that be, Mr. Roberts?”
“Pound cake, Chef. What other dessert is there?”
Chef didn’t know crème brûlée from a cream-filled doughnut; desserts and baking were simply not in his wheelhouse. But he did know Kroger, the all-night grocery across the street from Augusta National. Like a stealth bomber dressed in all white cooking garb, Chef slipped across the street to the Kroger, picked up a few tins of Sara Lee pound cake, snuck back to the kitchen, warmed up the tins and lightly toasted the slices, and presented them to Mr. Roberts as his Augusta National secret recipe pound cake.
It’s important to note here that Clifford Roberts wasn’t like the rest of us in that he seldom did his own shopping, rarely ever set foot in a grocery store, and wouldn’t know Sara Lee if she walked up and bit him.
“Well, didn’t I tell you boys? Didn’t I tell you?” said Mr. Roberts, knifing into his pound cake a proud and confident man. “Did I not tell you Augusta National has the best of everything there is to offer?”
For the rest of the season, Chef Clark did his best to duck Mr. Roberts. When the golf season ended, Mr. Roberts, rabbit-anxious to head home to cooler weather, confronted Chef Clark in the kitchen and demanded to be heard. “Chef, I don’t know why you’ve been avoiding me all season long and I don’t have the time right now to find out why. All I want is that damn pound cake recipe, so I can take it home to New York, give it to my private chef, and he can make it for me and the wife. She has a bit of the sweet tooth as well, you see, and a recipe like this would go far in helping me get back in good graces, what with me being gone all the time.”
With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, Chef had no choice but to give up the ghost. “It’s Sara Lee, sir.”
“Mr. Roberts, the pound cake. It’s, it’s Sara Lee.” Chef stared a hole in the kitchen floor too small to crawl into, looked up. His words came out slow as syrup. “Sir, that pound cake is Sara Lee.”
“Chef, I don’t give a damn if it’s Robert E. Lee! I want that recipe!”
An untimely death took Chef James Clark far too early, but for as long as he was alive, the Augusta National secret recipe for pound cake was Sara Lee.