Image courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library and Golf.com

Charles Harris was mad and wasn’t going to take it any longer. So he took it out on Augusta National.

Despite decades of historic Masters tournaments and shots heard ’round the world by many of the globe’s best golfers, one of the most newsworthy events in the history of the Augusta National Golf Club property occurred not during competition but rather because of a moment of madness.

On Oct. 22, 1983, Harris, a resident of Augusta, crashed his Dodge pickup truck through a locked gate at the golf course and made a beeline for the pro shop, where he corralled several hostages and then made a strange demand. It so happened that President Ronald Reagan was playing the course that day, and Harris had a beef with the commander-in-chief. Perhaps having overserved himself with liquid spirits, Harris decided to smash his way onto the course with his truck and have a discussion with Reagan.

As one might imagine, this did not go well.

The backstory, according to news media reports, is that Harris, 45, was in a big downswing in life. His father had died, and Harris lost his job. Alcohol was a nearly constant companion.

When Harris discovered that U.S. Steel planned to replace thousands of its workers with employees from foreign countries, his anger ignited. He knew Reagan was in Augusta, so it seemed logical in his befuddled state to head over to the golf course and confront him about the issue. 

For good measure, Harris carried a .38 caliber revolver.

Reagan was playing the 16th hole when he heard about the intrusion. Although security personnel initially wanted Reagan to depart for safer ground, he declined, and officials soon connected him with Harris via telephone in the pro shop. But the connection apparently was spotty, and Harris became suspicious, ripping the phone from the wall. Reagan was ushered into a bulletproof limousine, and Secret Service officers can be seen in brandishing assault weapons in photographs from that day.

The pro shop hostages were released by Harris or escaped one by one as police surrounded the building. Harris eventually surrendered after shooting out one of the shop windows in a fit of rage. Convicted of kidnapping and false imprisonment, he served three years in prison. He died in 2007.

Lanny Wiles was among those in the pro shop with Harris. Wiles was on the course that day because he had worked as part of the advance team setting up Reagan’s visit. He had made a fateful decision to stop in the pro shop to buy a Masters souvenir and walked into calamity.

Harris threatened Wiles by pointing the revolver between his eyes and later slamming him against a wall. Wiles later remembered Harris saying, “I’ll give you my gun when he shows his face through that door. I’ve risked my life here. I’m not going to hurt anybody. I just want to talk to the man.”

When every hostage had exited the shop, Harris finally dropped his gun. Officials had delivered Harris’ mother and estranged wife to the course in an attempt to persuade him to surrender. Plans were already underway for a sharpshooter to take out Harris in the shop if such measures became necessary.

After serving three years of a 10-year sentence, Harris was paroled. The events of that day at Augusta National changed his life in more ways than one. He put away the bottle and became a stalwart member of a local Methodist church.

Seventeen years after the incident at Augusta National, nationally famous sports writer Dave Kindred tracked down Harris and interviewed him at home alongside Ol’ Blue, the pickup he drove into infamy.

“I believed in God,” Harris told Kindred, “but I didn’t live the Ten Commandments. If I’d had God in my heart the way I do now, I’d have not done it. I was weak.”

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.