It began with a succinct 78-word letter from Ben Hogan to Clifford Roberts dated March 31, 1952, and typed on Augusta National stationery. As the defending champion, Hogan came up with the idea of forming a special club to foster camaraderie during Masters week.
"My only stipulation," he wrote in his final sentence, "is that you wear your green coat."
The Masters Club, as it's formally called, held its annual gathering Tuesday night. Those who attended, save for Club Chairman Billy Payne and certain dignified others, all met only one requirement for an invitation.
Win the Masters.
"There's not many of us, is there?" Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, said this week as he prepared for the Tournament.
Hogan's brainchild, better known as the Champions dinner, added a poignant moment to its illustrious history Tuesday night with Phil Mickelson serving as the host. The reigning champion always chooses the menu and picks up the tab (and is presented with an inscribed gold locket in the shape of the Augusta National emblem).
Mickelson's menu choices didn't exactly match the fare he ate as a youngster growing up in San Diego. But Seve Ballesteros was one of Lefty's idols, and when a 17-year-old Mickelson played in his first PGA Tour event, he was set up with the Spaniard for a practice round.
Ballesteros, 53, has been unable to attend recent Masters after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 and undergoing subsequent surgery and treatments.
"He was the classiest gentleman to me," Mickelson said Tuesday. "From that day on and the rest of my career, he has been the nicest guy and supportive and nothing but class to me. I just always appreciated that. Here is a guy I looked up to as a kid, loved the way he played and was drawn in by his charisma, and he didn't let me down at all."
In honor of Ballesteros, the two-time Masters champion, Mickelson dedicated the Champions dinner with a flair worthy of Seve's swashbuckling plays. The menu, printed in Spanish and English, included:
Green Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
Prime Beef Tenderloin with Manchego Cheese and Smoked Paprika Demi-Glace
Spanish Apple Pie
"All of the past champions are really thinking about Seve," Mickelson said. "I just want him to know that we all wish he was here and we are thinking about him, so we're just having a little Spanish cuisine tonight."
Perhaps Mickelson's gesture will grow into another tradition. Scotland's Lyle was part of another one when he famously served haggis, a dish from his homeland made of sheep innards, minced oatmeal and spices brought to a simmer in the stomach lining of a sheep.
"I had a steak that night after I found out what haggis was," Charles Coody said. "Sandy was the first to really do something like that. Before that, it was always steak, fish or chicken on the menu, and you ordered from that."
Like a true Texan, Ben Crenshaw shipped in brisket and Hill Country sausage from his home state. Like a true Brit, Faldo countered one time with fish and chips. Angel Cabrera served an array of grilled meats from Argentina, including morcilla, or blood sausage, prompting Jack Nicklaus to quip, "I hope he enjoys it."
"The food has been very interesting," Lyle said. "I think Vijay (Singh) wins the order of merit on that, though. He brought in Thai food and served it in 15 different courses. I got the low round with my haggis."
"It's always been the best part of my year," Lyle added. "To see all the past champions like Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, old and new, I've learned so much at that dinner over the years."