Rolling terrain and immaculate beauty blossoms this time of year around Augusta National Golf Club, making fans feel as if they are walking through Bobby Jones’ version of the Garden of Eden. The course is rich with crystal-clear ponds, manicured fairways and massive trees flanked by pristine gardens and snow-white bunkers. It’s a magical time for golf enthusiasts around the world, as millions wait to see who will wear the next green jacket—the historic symbol of a Masters Tournament champion.
Mason K. Banks was an avid golfer who tuned in every spring to watch the tournament and marvel at the beauty—never knowing that the discovery he made years before in the rural Appalachian Mountains helped create golf’s greatest course.
Mr. Banks was a TVA geologist and engineer who developed a mining process, called froth flotation, which helped TVA create hundreds of jobs and a better way of life for those living in the region. His patent unlocked feldspar and mica from large deposits of North Carolina quartz, found in the town of Spruce Pine.
At the time, the junked tailings from the froth flotation process had no value. Today, however, the tailings are ground into super-pure sand that is used to fill the bunkers at the Masters as well as make pristine crucibles for Silicon Valley microchip manufacturing—meaning Banks’ work not only put the beaches at Augusta, but made the digital world possible, too.
For more than 60 years, the significance of Mr. Banks’ patent was unknown. The discovery followed Vince Beiser’s August 2018 Wired magazine article that linked a group of TVA engineers to the remote Appalachian mountains where pure quartz sand is still being mined.