Each spring, the Masters represents a rite of passage in golf. The official beginning of a new season dawns with the passing of the Masters.There is some spellbinding quality that Augusta National Golf Club has on the psyche of golfers. No televised sporting event can match the beauty, color and serenity of the Masters.
Gary Player once said, “The Masters is the only tournament I ever knew where you choke when you drive through the front gate.” The trip down
Sam Snead once said, “If you asked golfers what tournament they would rather win over all others, I think every one of them to a man would say the Masters.”
Late at night after Tiger Woods’ record-breaking victory in 1997, Earl Woods looked in on his son and found him curled up in bed, asleep with a smile on his face, his arms wrapped around his green jacket.
The Masters today gives the impression of having existed forever, probably because it is played on the same course each year.
In fact, it is the youngest of the four majors. The British Open is 70 years older, the U.S. Open is 39 years older, and the PGA Champ-ionship is 18 years older. Exactly, when the Masters became a major championship, as opposed to when it was first contested, is a matter of debate.
Horton Smith won the inaugural event in 1934. The club could not afford to pay the winner or any of the other top finishers until 17 members chipped in for the purse. The winner in 1946, Herman Keiser, had to be told his plaque would be along shortly, just as soon as the club could come up with the silver.
The club survived those early adversities because of the perseverance of its two founders, Clifford Roberts and Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr. They were, respectively, Augusta National’s first chairman and its only president.
It usually is said that Jones conceived the club and Roberts financed it, but one could argue that the roles were reversed, that without Jones’ immense popularity the enterprise never would have attracted enough financial support to survive.
Without the vision and stubborn determination of Roberts, the club would have folded, and the Augusta National Invitation Tournament never would have grown into the modern Masters.
Founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, the club faced financial ruin repeatedly during its first 15 years. As the club was being formed in 1931, the first business plan called for 1,800 members, with each paying dues of $60 a year. The initiation fee was $350.
Roberts was from
Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National Golf Club, was an English physician of Scottish ancestry. He also designed Cypress Point on the
Unfortunately for MacKenzie, the financial troubles of Augusta National prevented him from being paid his full design fee before his passing in 1934. In later years, Roberts paid MacKenzie’s widow the balance owed by Augusta National.
One of the club’s best hopes for raising money in the early years was to sell building lots on which members might construct winter homes. About a third of the property was reserved for that purpose. For the most part, the lots occupied the areas west of the second fairway and east of the 10th and 11th.
Some 20 years later, in 1952, only one lot had been sold. Local real estate agents would not return Roberts’ phone calls. The Masters had established itself, the club was on firmer financial footing, and Roberts decided that development was a mistake.
Some would say that the legend of the Masters was launched in 1935, when Gene Sarazen holed a 4-wood for a double-eagle on the 15th hole during the final round, which was proclaimed “the shot heard ’round the world.”
CBS televised its first Masters in 1956. Many would credit Arnold Palmer and his heroics in the late 1950s and 1960s as being a modern-day architect for Masters fame.
The youngest major also is the oldest modern one. Many key features of professional golf tournaments were introduced in
The Masters was the first golf tournament at which there was room for 10,000 autos to be parked on the club grounds. It was the first tournament that spared spectators from having to lug a bulky program around; daily pin sheets with a diagram of the course on the reverse side were supplied for free.
The Masters was the first 72-hole tournament to be scheduled for four days. It was the first tournament to be covered live on worldwide radio. It was the first to use bleachers, which Roberts preferred to call “observation stands.”
It was the first to rope galleries and to allow only players, caddies and officials inside the ropes. It developed the first on-course scoreboard network, in which scores were gathered over dedicated telephone lines as they occurred. It introduced the now universal over-and-under par scoring system with red and black numbers.
And finally, in the early years, the Masters participants played in the afternoon so Augusta National Golf Club would be open for member play on mornings during the tournament. Today, members can play until the Sunday before the Masters.
Roberts and Jones were men before their time, and this week we enjoy their legacy.
Ted Bishop is director of golf for The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in
Photo Caption: Each spring, the Masters represents a rite of passage in golf. The official beginning of a new season dawns with the passing of the Masters.
There is some spellbinding quality that Augusta National Golf Club has on the psyche of golfers. No televised sporting event can match the beauty, color and serenity of the Masters.