The Masters Tournament: A History of Rich Traditions
Posted on March 8, 2017
The legendary Bobby Jones wanted to construct a golf course after he had retired from playing. This desire would lead to the birth of Augusta National Golf Club and eventually the Masters Tournament. Over 80 years later the Masters is now the inaugural major tournament of the PGA Tour season with rich traditions. Many of golf’s greats have competed at Augusta and a select few have had the honor of donning the now iconic green jacket. Let’s explore how an idea to build a golf course led us to a major golf tradition.
Bobby Jones looked for advice from Clifford Roberts about his desire to build a golf course. The pair found an area of land in Augusta, Georgia which seemed perfect for their golf course. To assist in designing the course Bobby Jones hired Alister MacKenzie and they began development in 1931. The course was finalized and opened in 1933. Jones requested that the USGA hold the U.S. Open at Augusta, but they declined noting the Georgia heat would create tough conditions.The first Masters Tournament was held the following year on March 22, 1934 and was known then as the “Augusta National Invitational” tournament. The field was comprised of Bobby Jones’ friends from his time playing. Jones himself competed in the tournament as well and finished 13th which would be the highest he would ever finish in the tournament. Horton Smith won the inaugural tournament. For the first year the format had competitors playing holes 10 through 18 as the first nine and 1 through 9 as the second. The order of play was reversed permanently the following year.
The 1935 Augusta National Invitational tournament bore witness to “the shot heard ’round the world” made by Gene Sarazen. In the final round Sarazen hit a 235 yard 4-wood on the par 5, 15th hole that went in, giving him a rare double eagle 2. The shot tied Sarazen with the leader Craig Wood and the two would compete in a 36-hole playoff. Sarazen would emerge victorious by a five stroke margin. The stunning turn of events helped catapult the Masters Tournament into the national spotlight. Craig Wood did later win the Masters in 1941.
In 1939 the Augusta National Invitational tournament would change its name to The Masters Tournament. In 1942, golfing great Byron Nelson won the Masters tournament for his second time, his first win came in 1937. Play of the Masters tournament was suspended from 1943-45 due to World War II. During that time the Augusta National grounds were used for farming purposes to raise turkeys and cattle to help the war effort.In 1949 Sam Snead won the first of his three Masters tournaments and earned the first green jacket, which is now a tradition for all Masters champions. The green jacket up until that point was worn only by official Augusta National club members. The winner of the Masters tournament becomes an honorary member and is awarded with the green jacket. Interestingly although the green jacket becomes property of the winner, the year after their victory the champion is to return the jacket to the clubhouse and it’s stored in a special room at the clubhouse with the other victor’s jackets and is not supposed to be removed. If a player wins multiple Masters tournament they will use the same green jacket he was initially awarded, unless they need to be re-fitted.
Along with the now highly sought after green jacket, the Masters tournament is rich with traditions. Another Masters tradition was started in 1952 by Ben Hogan who was the returning champion, having won his 1st green jacket in 1951, which was the Champions’ Dinner. Hogan held the first dinner to honor past tournament champions, which were 11 from the 15 tournaments played. Known officially as the “Masters Club” only past Masters winners are included, although select Augusta National Golf Club members, usually the chairman, joins the dinner as an honorary member. The defending champion gets the honor of selecting the menu and hosting the event.
In 1960 the relaxed and friendly par 3 contest was introduced and played on the Wednesday before the first round on Augusta’s newer par 3 course. Sam Snead won the par 3 contest the inaugural year. Since its inclusion, no player has won the par 3 contest and then went on to win the Masters in the same year. 1960 also saw the “King” Arnold Palmer win his second Masters, his 1st was in 1958, in spectacular fashion. Palmer was behind Ken Venturi by a shot going into the final two holes on which he made back to back birdies to claim the victory.The 1960’s through the 70’s saw the emergence of the dominant force known as the Big Three, comprised of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. During the 20 year span the Big Three won 11 Masters Tournaments. Player became the first non-American to win after defeating Palmer in 1961. Player would win the Masters again in 1974 and 1978. Player holds the record for the most Masters played with 52 and shares the record of most consecutive cuts with Fred Couples at 23.
Arnold Palmer won his third green jacket in 1962. In 1963 Jack Nicklaus won his first Masters Tournament and another Masters tradition began, which was having an honorary opening tee shot by golfing greats, originally Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod. Palmer won his fourth and final green jacket the following year in 1964, he’s joined by Tiger Woods with the second most wins in Masters history. Nicklaus holds the record with 6 total Masters Tournament wins, 1963, 65, 66, 72, 75, & 1986. His victory at the 1966 Masters made him the first player to successfully defend his championship. While Nicklaus won in 1975 another competitor made history, Lee Elder who became the first African American to compete in the Masters. Nicklaus’s final Masters victory in 1986 at 46 years old made him the oldest player to win the green jacket.In 1980 Seve Ballesteros won the Masters to become the first European to win the tournament. From 1980 through 2000, non-American golfers won eleven of the twenty Masters Tournaments, which was the longest streak for non-American golfers in any U.S. major tournament since the early years of the U.S. Open. Tom Watson won his second Masters in 1981 by two strokes ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller; Watson claimed his first green jacket in 1977.
Seve Ballesteros earned his second Masters Tournament in 1983. Ben Crenshaw won two green jackets in 1984 and 1995. Nick Faldo became the second player to successfully defend his 1989 Masters championship by winning in 1990. Faldo would earn a third Masters title in 1996. In 1997 Tiger Woods won in record breaking fashion by becoming the youngest Masters champion at 21 years old. Woods also set the record for largest margin of victory with a 12 stroke lead and the lowest winning score of 18 under, 270.At the 2001 Masters Tiger Woods won his second Masters to complete his “Tiger Slam”, in which Woods won all four of golf’s major championships consecutively. Woods became just the third player in Masters history to successfully defend their title by winning the following year in 2002. Woods won his fourth green jacket in 2005, tying with Arnold Palmer for the second most Master wins.
In 2003 Mike Weir became the first Canadian to win a men’s professional major by earning himself a green jacket. Weir was also the first left-handed golfer to win the Masters. The following year in 2004 another left-hander would emerge atop the leaderboard as Phil Mickelson birdied the final hole to win his first major at the Masters. Mickelson would return to the victors circle at the Masters two more times in 2006 and 2010. Another left-hander Bubba Watson won his first major at the 2012 Masters. Watson would win his second Masters tournament two years later in 2014.
In 2015, the Big Three started the ceremonies at the Masters by hitting the traditional opening shots. Jordan Spieth won his first major with a record tying low score of 18 under. He also became the second youngest winner in Masters history behind Tiger Woods. Spieth was the first winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976 to lead the field from start to finish. Spieth also scored the most birdies in tournament history with 28 total.
The 2016 Masters opened with an emotional ceremonial start which featured honorary starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hitting the opening shots with Arnold Palmer watching joyously. It was the last time we would see Palmer grace Augusta National. The defending champion Jordan Spieth had a strong first three days but Englishman Danny Willett made a came back from a five stroke deficit going into the back nine on the final day. Willett shot a bogey-free round on Sunday to capture his first major championship with a three stroke lead to become the first European champion since 1999 and the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1996.
With the Masters rich history and elite champions the green jacket is one of the most sought after trophies in golf. Being the start of major season, the Masters tends to captivate players and audiences alike. The Masters Tournament is less than a hundred years old and has already been stage to some of the greatest players this game has ever seen. Only time will tell what further exciting battles shall be staged upon the field of Augusta.