The Masters – the history and more
There has always been an attraction for golfers towards the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. The Masters is one of the most unusual events in sports. It’s all about tradition, and it’s defined by a set of old rules and customs that just do not exist in other tournaments. To commemorate such an amazing place, I have collected some interesting items.
In the Beginning
1. The Masters as we know it would never have been, if the USGA hadn’t turned down Bobby Jones’ request to host the 1934 US Open. Angry at the rebuff, Jones and Clifford Roberts decided to stage their own event.
2. Bitter Sweet
Course architect, Alister McKenzie, never saw his famous course completed. He died January 6th 1934, just 2 months before the Inaugural Masters Tournament.
- The Language
You should never hear the word “championship” on the telecast. The U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA are championships held by the major ruling and organizing bodies of the sport (or a vestige thereof in the case of the PGA). The Masters is an invitational tournament held at a very pretty golf course, given prestige by the involvement of Bobby Jones. The winner is not the champion of anything.
Other words you shouldn’t hear: “fans,” “bleachers,” “sand traps,” “front/back nine.” The officially preferred words are “patrons,” “observation stands,” “bunkers,” and “first/second nine.” That last distinction is aimed at avoiding use of the phrase “front side” for the first nine holes, leading inevitably to the so, so vulgar “back side” for the next nine.
Some amateurs have always been invited to the Masters, out of respect for the career of club founder Bobby Jones. But himself was no longer considered an amateur by the USGA by the time Augusta National opened. He never competed for prize money, but his equipment deals and Hollywood instructional short films made him a professional in the eyes of all, except for the eyes of the Masters hierarchy, of which he was a part of.
- Ahhh…the Green Jacket
If you just happen to be the winner of the Masters, you get the honor of topping off the standard ensemble with a shamrock green blazer. Professional golf’s version of a beauty queen crowning ceremony, the presenting of the Green Jacket by the previous year’s champion to the current champion at the conclusion of the tournament dates back to 1949, when Sam Snead won the Masters. However, the signature jackets started appearing at Augusta National 12 years prior, when members started sporting them during the tournament so that they would be easily identifiable by patrons in need of assistance or directions. Also, when a member hosts guests in the clubhouse, the green jacket designates who gets the bill. The Masters web site has more on the sartorial back story:
“The club purchased the Jackets from the Brooks Uniform Company in New York and urged members to buy and wear them at the Masters. Initially, the idea met a lukewarm reception from the membership, for the heft of the coats made them warm to wear during a typical April in Augusta. Within a few years, the Club introduced a lighter-weight version more suited to the season. Today’s single-breasted, single-vent Jacket bears the Club’s logo on the left chest pocket and on the brass buttons adorning the front of the coat and each sleeve. The unmistakable color is known, simply, as Masters Green.”
So does the Masters winner get to take home that fetching piece of outerwear? He sure does. After the presentation ceremony, a custom version of the Green Jacket is tailored to the champ’s exact measurements and he gets to call it his own for an entire year. So, to be clear, a single jacket isn’t passed on from winner to winner. During the following year’s tournament, he must return to Augusta National and relinquish the Green Jacket, at which point it’s placed in a locker but available any time he returns to play at the club. Seve Ballesteros famously challenged the decision by saying to the Augusta committee: “If they want it, they can fly to Spain and come and get it.”
- The Template
The Masters invented the template for what we know as tournament golf. It was the first 72-hole four day event and the first to use the over/under par system. The Masters also saw the first grandstands for viewers.
- Strict, But Polite
The level of respect that the patrons of The Masters have is only surpassed by their understanding of the game. It is awesome to witness. In the 10+ years I have been to this tournament, I have never seen a single spectator get out of line, say something in appropriate or make a scene. It is as if everyone has collectively agreed to be on their best behavior. There is no need for marshals to hold “Quiet Please” signs because everyone respects the tournament so much.
As mentioned earlier, they are not fans, they are not a crowd or even a gallery. They are patrons. You’ll hear it often during the CBS broadcast. Also, while on the grounds, patrons are told not to run. Walking only.
If you watch any pro tournament, behind the golfers you’ll see a cadre of sign-bearers, reporters, photographers, broadcast personnel and cameramen. Not at Augusta. Between the ropes, competitors, caddies and rules officials only.
Patrons who show up early and place their chairs and leave will find their chairs waiting for them when they return. Try that at any other PGA event and let me know what happens
More than 40 years ago, during one tense moment, CBS commentator Jack Whitaker used the term “mob” to describe the scene around a green. The Masters leadership let his bosses know that he wouldn’t be invited back, and he wasn’t.
It’s one of the best-kept numbers in sports—the initiation fee to Augusta National. With barons like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, among others, as members it goes without saying that money isn’t the object. And it isn’t. To join is reportedly under $100,000, which might be one-tenth of other high profile clubs in the country. And if you were lucky enough to play the course with a member, you can probably afford it. Guest fees are said to be about $40.
- The Reagan Appointment
On October 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan was playing at Augusta National as a guest of his secretary of state (and club member) George Schultz when his round was interrupted at the 16th hole by a disgruntled local named Charles Harris, who had crashed his truck through the gate and was demanding to see the President. Harris held hostages at gunpoint in the pro shop for two hours before Secret Service agents subdued him.
- Clifford Roberts’ Demise
Augusta National’s co-founder Clifford Roberts, a quiet investor turned autocrat, was at turns beloved and despised. In the fall of 1977, at age 83 and in failing health, Roberts walked to a slope next to Ike’s Pond and ended his own life with a single pistol shot to the temple.
- The Crow’s Nest
Located above the main clubhouse at Augusta, this is where the amateurs stay for the Masters week. Bobby Jones spawned the idea and the rest is quite literally history, lots of it. Eight youngsters who stayed in this infamous bedroom and gone on to win the green jacket; Nicklaus, Aaron, Watson, Crenshaw, Stadler, O’Meara, Mickelson and Woods – that’s quite a list. There are four beds, a bathroom and a living area which is lined with paintings of historical moments at the Masters and books about the history of the game.
- Sweet Georgia Peaches
The history of Augusta is much more than golf; it was once home to Fruitland Nurseries. Owned and operated by P. J. Berckmans and his family the nursery was one of the most successful horticultural sites of its time in the South. Located on Washington Road, approximately 3 miles northwest of downtown Augusta, Fruitland planted millions of peach trees in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and made Georgia famous for its sweet Georgia peaches. In 1931, the land was purchased and transformed into the most famous golf course in the world, Augusta National. The Berckmans’ family home still remains on the Augusta National property and serves as the clubhouse.