Pimento Cheese Sandwich Controversy At Augusta National

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(Darron Cummings/AP)
Augusta National's famed pimento cheese sandwich has undergone a change. (Darron Cummings/AP)

At Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, there are many traditions. The golfing traditions are widely celebrated. The club’s membership traditions – which are slowly changing – have been widely criticized. But another of the time-honored rituals is eating one of the club’s pimento cheese sandwiches. And even that simple pleasure is causing something of an uproar.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson, who examined the issue in an article titled "A sandwich stumper at the Masters," joined Bill Littlefield to explain.

BL: Before we get into the history of the controversy, just describe Augusta National’s original pimento cheese sandwich and tell us how this year’s tastes different.

WT: The original – it’s much more like your grandmother’s than something that would come out of like a Sysco truck in that you could see the individual shredded pieces of cheese and the pimentos, and it was very obviously made by a human. You know, we could argue forever. I mean, I personally think my grandmother’s pimento cheese recipe is much better than the original August National one, but I need to be careful to say that because the Pinkertons might come get me. But they changed it, and so this year, honestly it feels a little chef-ified to me. There’s some more spice. The true offense is just any sort of change.

BL: You learned that a man in South Carolina made the pimento cheese for years until Augusta National gave the business to the Georgia fried chicken restaurant chain “Wife Saver” about 10 years ago. What happened next?

[sidebar title="A Golf Mystery" width="630" align="right"]Anthony Kim was one of golf’s rising stars. Then came the injuries and, after surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2012, Anthony Kim disappeared from the PGA Tour (and he’s got one very big reason to remain missing).[/sidebar]WT: So they gave it to them and then the old man wouldn’t tell ‘em the recipe. So the Wife Saver guy had to figure it out. And they couldn’t find the right cheese. And the cheese the old man used was more orange than usual cheese. So they kept trying different cheese, and they would bring samples out to the club. They would taste them and be like, "This is close, but isn’t it." And so finally he arrives upon the correct cheese, makes it, and it still isn’t the same.

So now they don’t know what to do, so they go above the old man’s head and call his suppliers and get them to check his invoices to find out what he’s ordering. Lo and behold, he’s only ordering cheese, pimentos and mayonnaise. So there’s a secret ingredient that the old man has cleverly not revealed. They keep trying things until the guy at Wife Saver one day wakes up in the middle of the night, “Aha, I got it!” He goes in, mixes it, takes it to the club, they’re like, “This is it.”

BL: After all the trouble of perfectly recreating the pimento cheese sandwich, why did Augusta National take the business away from “Wife Saver”?

WT: I guess it’s a legal liability issue. I don’t know. Augusta National doesn’t comment on cheese, so I’m totally speculating now. They just had to add all the concessions in house where they could follow [food safety] regulations, etc. They made the recipe and once again realized that they also did not know the secret ingredient, and the Wife Saver guy wouldn’t tell ‘em. Somebody made a call, and it was the wrong call.

I mean, I wonder, like, I don’t know if you can get your green jackets [taken away]. Do you think they make them wear like a yellow jacket, like the "shame" jacket? Like, “You’re the pimento cheese guy.”

BL: If you screw up the pimento cheese thing you have to wear a candy-striped jacket. [laughs]

WT: Totally, or plaid. Something a hippie professor would wear with like the arm patches, like, “That’s what you’re wearing.”

BL: A pimento cheese sandwich from concessions stands will run you $1.50, so it’s a low-risk gamble for fans – or “patrons” as they’re called at the club. How are they reacting to the 2013 rendition of the sandwich?

WT: Some say, “Oh, I like the spice.” A fan I corresponded with, Paul Jones, said, “I’m fine with adding the female members, and I am tolerating the belly-putters, but changing the pimento cheese recipe is taking change too damn far. We actually spent a lot of time trying to recreate the recipe." This is serious business, Bill.

This segment aired on April 13, 2013.


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