Every year from April 7th to the 10th, the who’s who of the golfing world descend on The Masters, and quite rightly so; it’s the greatest tournament in the history of the game.
Riveted to their screens, golf fans worldwide watch in awe as the world’s best professional golfers face off against arguably one of golf’s most demanding courses, Augusta National. Of all the tournaments in any sport, The Masters is the one that has continued to stay true to itself by not only keeping its traditions alive but embracing them.
The dichotomy fascinates so many of us golf fans; technology has improved in leaps and bounds, yet the hallowed fairways and greens of Augusta National remain the same as they did nearly 90 years ago.
The history of The Masters is littered with golfing legends, epic come-from-behind wins, breakout performances, and even heartbreak.
To many, golf is The Masters; it is Augusta National. So let’s take a walk down memory lane and look back at some of the most significant events that have not only shaped The Masters but the game of golf.
The Masters 101
- 1 The Masters 101
- 2 The Founding of Augusta National G. C.
- 3 What Year Did The First Masters Take Place?
- 4 The Shot That Changed The Game Forever
- 5 The Masters and Its Early Years
- 6 The Masters in the 50’s
- 7 The Masters in the 60’s
- 8 The Masters in the 70’s and 80’s
- 9 The Masters in the 90s and 2000’s
- 10 The Masters Traditions and Quirky Events
Similar to tennis, golf has four “Major” tournaments each calendar year.
- The Masters in April
- The PGA Championship In May
- The US Open in June
- The Open Championship in July
Each of the Major tournaments is played in different locations and courses, with only one of the Majors held on the same course each year; you guessed it; The Masters. The tournament is held in Augusta, Georgia, at The Augusta National Golf Club.
The Masters is played over four days, with this year’s prize money pool topping 11.5 million dollars; not bad for four days’ work.
The Founding of Augusta National G. C.
Development started on the course back in 1932 after arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time, Bobby Jones, purchased a large swath of land from a fruit farmer.
The course was developed relatively quickly and was ready for play in two years, which is quite a remarkable achievement, especially as they didn’t have access to the technology and heavy machinery we do today.
Jones purchased the land for $70,000 and chose Alaistar Mackenzie to help with the design of the course. At the time, Mackenzie was the most distinguished course architect globally, and although long gone, 100s of his course designs stand as reminders of just how good he was.
Jones and Mackenzie came up with some pretty wild ideas, including a 19th hole which was to be littered with obstacles; as you can imagine, though, the idea was scrapped.
What Year Did The First Masters Take Place?
The Masters golf tournament first took place on the 22nd of March, 1934, and was played on the immaculately designed and kept Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Do you want to know how much the prizemoney was back then? $1,500; a far cry from the almost absurd 11.5 million dollars they’ll play for this year.
Horton Smith won the inaugural tournament by a shot, just edging out Craig Wood and taking home the $1,500, which just out of curiosity is close to $30,000 in today’s money. Interestingly enough, for the first five years, the Masters initially went by the “Augusta National Invitation Tournament,” later changing its name to The Masters in 1939.
The Shot That Changed The Game Forever
In 1935 one of the most memorable shots in the history of the game took place on the 15th hole; in popular golf culture, it’s known as the “shot heard ’round the world.”
Legend and icon of the game Gene Sarazen was three shots behind clubhouse leader Craig Wood. After a fairway finding drive off the tee at the par 5 fifteenth, Sarazen elected to go for the green in two. A large lake guards the green, but that didn’t deter Sarazen, who lasered a 4 wood and holed out for a double eagle; golf’s rarest shot.
The double eagle tied him for the lead, which would mean Sarazen and Woods would duel it out in a 36 hole playoff. Sarazen won the playoff by 5 strokes, which also meant he had captured the career grand slam. (a career grand slam means you have won all four of the Majors at least once)
Most people, even golfing buffs, don’t know that the 15th hole was actually the 6th hole on the Gold course back in the day. Course designers rearranged the front nine to make it the back nine because they thought it would provide a more spectacular finish, and boy, we’re they right. The large lakes surrounding the 15th and 16th were a big part of why Sarazens shot was heard ’round the world.
The Masters and Its Early Years
The first two-time winner of The Masters was Horton Smith, who also won the inaugural event back in 1936, where he beat Craig Wood by a stroke. In 1937 the legendary Byron Nelson etched himself into Masters folklore. Going into the final day’s play, Nelson found himself six shots back from the leader, Ralph Guldahl, but with a blistering final round, he leapfrogged Guldhal on the leaderboard capturing the Green Jacket.
Two years later, in 1939, Guldhal got his revenge and shot a stunning 3-under on the closing nine to win his first Masters. Guldahl was an eccentric character who stopped to comb his hair before every shot, so it seemed fitting he would win the year The Masters officially changed its name.
During World War II, The Masters was put on hold for three years, with the club committee dedicating the course to the war effort by raising cattle and turkey. Once the war had finished and the course repaired, The Masters came back bigger and better than before.
The Masters in the 50’s
Jimmy Demaret captured the Masters title in 1950, edging out Jim Ferrier, making him the first three-time winner of the event. In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower became President of the United States, and in 1953 the members of Augusta National voted to build a cabin dedicated to Eisenhower; the cabin is known as “Ike’s Cabin” and is situated on the tee near the 10th hole.
The very next year in 1964 saw Sam Snead capture his third Green Jacket after beating Ben Hogan in a playoff; The victory was also Sneads last Masters Win.
1956 was one of the most significant years in Masters history because it was the first time the event was broadcast on TV. The tournament couldn’t have been scripted any better as it saw Jack Burke Jr come from a whopping 8 shots behind to overcome Ken Venturi and capture the title.
1958 was another year of significance, with famed sportswriter Herbert Warren Wind, naming holes 11, 12, and 13 as “amen corner.”
It was also the year that Arnold Palmer captured his first Masters win, taking home prize money of $11,250. Palmer would go on to cement his name as a legend of the game, with other greats like Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, and Tiger Woods.
The Masters in the 60’s
1960 saw the introduction of the “par-3 contest,” which has now developed somewhat of a cult following. The club designed a short course specifically for the event, with the first contest won by legendary, Same Snead. The same year Arnold Palmer birdied the final two holes to capture his second Green Jacket.
1961 saw another big moment in Masters history play out, with Gary Player becoming the first foreign player to win the event. It was a good year to win, too, as prize money for the event was now $20,000.
The win by Player set off a chain reaction that would see a plethora of unique and rare accomplishments in the coming years.
In 1963 Jack Nicklaus, or “The Golden Bear,” would win his first Masters and became the youngest player ever to do so at 23. In 1964 Palmer won the Green Jacket again, making him the first golfer to win the event four times.
In 1965, Nicklaus set a new 72 hole course record. The following year he would go on to win again, making him the first back-to-back winner.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in Masters history occurred in 1968 when Roberto di Vicenzo signed for an incorrect scorecard. The gaffe awarded second placed Bob Goalby the Green Jacket; Vicenzo was gracious in defeat and won the hearts of many in doing so.
The Masters in the 70’s and 80’s
The start of the ’70s was a heartbreaking time for Masters and golf fans alike as it saw the passing of the two original founders of the event, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.
The Golden Bear would win his 5th Masters in 1975, which at the time was the most of any player in history. Nicklaus went on to surpass his own record in 1986 by winning his 6th Green Jacket and becoming the oldest winner in Masters history.
In 1979 the first-ever “sudden-death playoff” was introduced, with Fuzzy Zoeller taking home the title. Up until that point, the playoff was played the next day over 18 or 36 holes. The current format uses holes 10 and 18 because of their proximity to the clubhouse and each other. In 1980, Spaniard golfer Seve Ballesteros became the first European to capture The Masters.
The Masters in the 90s and 2000’s
The ’90s got off to an impressive start with English golfer Nick Faldo winning back-to-back titles in ’89 and ’90; notably, the prizemoney had now increased to $225,000. Faldo paved the way for European players as Masters wins by Langer, Woosnam, and Olazabal continued the emergence of European golfers.
In 1995 Ben Crenshaw won the Green Jacket, with Faldo winning again the following year in 1996. In 1997 the game of golf changed forever as a young Tiger Woods captured his first-ever Green Jacket.
Woods shattered the 72 hole scoring record and signaled to the world that he was here to stay. Woods still holds the record, although he now shares it with Jordan Speith, who also shot 18-under in 2015.
The start of the millennium was an exciting time for the Masters, with the event being shown live on TV for the first time. In 2000 The big Fijian, Vijay Singh, donned his first green jacket. Tiger won the event in ’01 and ’02 and, in doing so, became the first player to win all four Majors back-to-back; this is known as the “Tiger Slam.”
The following two Masters went to Canadian Mike Weir and the enigmatic American Phil Mickelson. Tiger then followed, taking home his 4th Masters title. Prize money was now at $1,26 million.
Mickelson won again in 2006, with the subsequent two events won by Zach Johnson and South African Trevor Immleman. Argentinian Angel Cabrerra won the 2009 Masters in a dramatic sudden-death playoff.
The Masters Traditions and Quirky Events
The Masters is one of the only events in the world where time seems to stand still; the traditions have been handed down through the generations and are just as much a part of the event now as they were then. So, with that said, let’s look at some of the traditions and quirky events that occur each year at Augusta National.
The First Tee Ceremony
Every year The Masters tees off with one of the greats of the game, crushing a drive down the fairway. In my opinion, this tradition, above all else, exemplifies the respect The Masters tournament has for past players and the greats of the game. I wish more events across all sports would follow the lead of the Masters.
Every year on Wednesday, Augusta National plays host to the Par-3 tournament. Most players take part in the event, which is played on a specially designed short course with holes ranging in length from 150 to 190 yards. Because the holes are short, it allows fans to get up close and personal with some of their favorite players.
It’s a fun-filled and festive event with many players even bringing their wives or kids to caddy.
Fun Fact: No player in the event’s history has won the Par-3 title and the Green Jacket in the same year. As a matter of fact, many players lose the par-3 tournament on purpose, so it won’t jinx their chances of wearing the green jacket.
The Champions Dinner
The Champions dinner is one of those quirky events I talked about earlier. Every past winner gathers on the Tuesday before the tournament for dinner in the main clubhouse; sounds respectful and full of tradition, right, and it is. But here’s where it gets quirky; last year’s winner is responsible for selecting the menu.
Most players choose dishes from their native homelands. My fellow compatriot Adam Scott selected the most mouth-watering menu with Moreton Bay Bugs or Lobster as it’s known here in the US, along with Aussie steak and an array of desserts including pavlova and Anzac biscuits.
The Coveted Green Jacket
Without a doubt, the most coveted prize in all of the sports, the Green Jacket, inspires players from past and present and is one of the many traditions which help make The Masters the tournament it is.
After winning the event, players are presented with a Green Jacket, and it’s placed on them by the previous winner. Players only have their jacket for one year and need to return it the following year. The jackets can only be worn on the grounds of Augusta National, which again helps to cement the importance of maintaining traditions like the green jacket.
There Are No Course Sponsors
The Masters is no different from any other tournament regarding how many sponsors they can have. The main difference is that, unlike other courses where logos and branding are displayed on every hole, you’ll find none at the Masters.
There is no branding or logos on cups, merchandise, banners, blimps, and anything green; even the players dial back their dress code to respect the traditions.
Want an Autograph? Forget about it
Because the club wants to provide a safe and relaxed atmosphere for the players, asking for an autograph is simply a no-no. The club committee says they aim to make the players feel like they’re teeing it up for a casual round with friends on their local course.
No Electronic Devices Allowed
Yep, that’s right; you are not allowed to take your phone, camera, or any other electronic device into Augusta National. Now, although this seems over the top, especially in today’s world, not having your cell phone allows you to enjoy the moment and savor every experience the tournament offers.
And, while it would be great to take a heap of videos and photos of the course, I can understand why it’s a no-no.