The Masters, A History Unlike Any Other

Hello friends. Two words spoken by Jim Nantz that have opened up every CBS broadcast of the Masters’ Tournament for as long as I can remember. Then the view of Magnolia Lane, lined with 61 magnolia trees on each side, which leads up to Founder’s Circle and the main clubhouse at Augusta National.

Although this is one of the most picturesque driveways in the United States, the course, on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful sets of 18 holes in the world. From Magnolia Lane to memory lane, let’s take a trip and learn about Augusta National and how the Masters Tournament came to be.

The year is 1930 and Bobby Jones Jr has just completed the original “grand slam” of golf by winning the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Amateur, and the U.S. Open. You heard me right, he was an AMATEUR. From 1923-1930, Jones won 13 of 20 major championships he entered which is why he is considered to be the greatest amateur golfer who ever lived.

He retired from championship golf that year and went to work on his dream of building a golf course that’s open in the winter only. There’s a fun fact, Augusta National is closed from May-October. During the mid-1920s, Jones had met a man named Clifford Roberts, an investment banker who made his mark on Wall Street as a partner with Reynolds & Co.

Only after a brief conversation, it was decided the two would build a course near Augusta, GA if a suitable piece of land was available. Lucky for them, and every golf fan since then, a 365-acre property known as Fruitland Nurseries was available.

When Jones first laid eyes on the property, he was quoted saying “Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course on it.” This would be the future site of the most exclusive and storied course in the country. The price they paid? Wait for it…..$70,000. Not a bad investment since the current value of the property is surging over $180 million today.

Now they needed an architect. Enter Dr. Alister MacKenzie, most known for designing Cypress Point which neighbors Pebble Beach. Construction would begin in the first half of 1931 and in December of 1932, Augusta National would open with limited member play and the grand opening would occur in January 1933. Every hole is actually named for a different plant that grows on each hole to honor the nursery the course was built on. Sadly, MacKenzie passed away in January of 1934, two months before the inaugural tournament.

So now that we have a history lesson on how Augusta National came to be, let’s dive into the tournament itself. The Augusta National Invitational was the original name for the tournament for the first five years of its existence from 1934-38 and in 1939, the name was officially changed to The Masters.

Actually, several of the decisions made about the tournament remain to this day. Four days of stroke play, back then they played 36 holes on day three, roping off the fairways only allowing the player and caddie inside, and complementary pairings sheets and spectator booklets that are provided.

Horton Smith was the winner of the inaugural tournament with a four day total of 284 (-4) with a purse of $1,500. No green jacket, unfortunately, that tradition wasn’t started until 1949 with Sam Snead being the first to wear the coveted jacket. Another piece of trivia, the first tournament was the only one in which the nines were reversed, meaning current holes 10-18 were once 1-9. The change was made due to current holes 1-9 sat on higher ground and the frost would disappear sooner so golfers could tee off earlier. Total yardage at its inception? 6,700. Today? 7,475.

The Green Jacket, purchased from the Brooks Uniform Company in New York City, is another tradition we all know synonymous with the Masters. The tradition actually started in 1937 where members were urged to buy and wear the jacket during the tournament, so patrons could easily identify them if they had any questions about the club or the tournament itself. This was not a popular decision among the members because the jackets were hot and heavy but within a few years, a lightweight option became available in the golf shop for the members.

The Champion’s Jacket is a single-breasted, single vent jacket in “Masters Green” with the Augusta National Golf Club logo on the left chest pocket and the logo also appears on the brass buttons as well. The champion from the previous year is the one who presents the current champion with the jacket when the tournament concludes. He is then allowed to take the jacket off property for one year but then returns it when he comes back for the following year’s tournament. It is then stored at the Club and it’s available to the player whenever they visit. Another perk? Once you are a Masters champion, you have an invitation for life to play the tournament.

Let’s fast forward a few years to 1943 and the world is at war. With golf being the farthest thing from people’s minds at the time, Augusta National closes. From 1943-1945 there were no Masters and for those first two years, the grounds were used to raise cattle and turkeys to help assist with the war efforts. When the Masters returned in 1946, the first photograph tower was established behind 18 green; and in the following year, Magnolia Lane was paved as the first field scoreboards were erected on the course.

Then in 1952, the Masters Club, better known as the “Champions Dinner” was founded which was suggested and hosted by Ben Hogan. This tradition occurs on Tuesday evening following the start of the Masters. The defending champion hosts previous winners of the tournament and also selects the menu for the evening’s feast. As a bonus, the host also receives an inscribed gold locket in the form of the Club emblem.

Over the next several decades, there are numerous additions, events, and records that happen at the Masters. 1956 was the first television broadcast, 1958 saw the opening of the par 3 courses, the Nelson and Hogan Bridges were built and dedicated, Arnold Palmer wins his first of four Masters, and the term “Amen Corner” was first used in a written story. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to holes 11-13 tucked back in the southern corner of the property along Rae’s Creek. Another tidbit, Rae’s Creek is only full during tournament play, a mill sits on the creek with a lock system that fills it during the week of the tournament. Back to Amen Corner, it was later revealed that it came from the title of a Jazz Album called “Shouting in the Amen Corner.”

If you have ever been lucky enough to witness this stretch of holes, you know all too well that there’s a lot of shouting in Amen Corner, especially on Sunday. The 1960s saw the first miniature clubhouse trophy handed out to the first international Masters champion, Gary Player. Jack Nicklaus wins his first three of six Masters titles and the first overseas broadcast with the BBC televising the event.

Now I could go on about the players thru the years, memorable shots, heartbreaking defeats, Jack and Tiger’s dominance, but let’s save that for another time. We are now less than a month away from the first-ever fall Masters and I am excited to see Augusta National with foliage and thankful that the event wasn’t canceled altogether! We can only hope that next year it can get back to what we know the Masters as a tradition unlike any other.