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Fri, Jan. 17

Some history behind golf’s first major of the year, The Masters
Tee it Up

The Masters Invitational at Augusta National Golf Club is being held this week. I want to share with you some history and interesting tidbits regarding the first golf major of the year.

Bobby Jones, after completing his legendary Grand Slam of 1930, shocked the golfing world by announcing his retirement from competitive golf. While visiting the small town of Augusta, Georgia in late 1930, Jones met with a New York banker, Clifford Roberts, who vacationed there often. Jones confided in Roberts his desire to build the perfect golf course.

Together they found a 365-acre site that was originally an indigo plantation that was turned into a nursery in 1857. The owner planted magnolia seeds along the drive to the mansion and introduced a garden wonderland of camellia, azalea and dogwood. With the property prices hit hard by the Depression, they bought the land at a bargain price. Today, each hole is named after a plant or scrub.

A highly respected Scottish architect, Alister MacKenzie, joined Bobby Jones in designing the course. Jones disliked long par-5 holes and placed emphasis on accuracy rather than length, especially around the greens. Augusta National opened in 1932 and its intentions were to be a private club surrounded by nature’s beauty.

When you are watching the Masters, remind yourself that the greens back then and until recently (1960’s on), were never meant to be this fast and slick. Watch films of earlier Masters and how hard the players had to hit their putts on greens that were maybe about six to eight on the stimpmeter. With the original contours still in place, they now run at about 13 on the stimpmeter.

Approach shots at Augusta must be strategically hit to score well, placing a premium on shot making and putting. Dan Pohl, who in 1982, lost the Masters in a sudden-death playoff to Craig Stadler, once told me that he would place my ball on every green in regulation and I would not be able to break 90 (meaning I would at least three-putt every green). I am a good putter, but I believe him after seeing in person the contours of the greens that you cannot see and appreciate on television.

One member, Fielding Wallace, who later served as president of the USGA, proposed that a US Open be held at Augusta National. It was rejected unanimously but in 1934 the members decided to host their own invitational of the top players in the world, hence Augusta National Invitational (in 1939 its name was changed to the Masters Invitational). It is still an invitational, hosted and run by its members. It is not a PGA Tour event and is the only major to be played at the same course every year.

Augusta National members wore green jackets (and still do) so that the patrons (not called spectators) could easily identify them to assist with information. It wasn’t until 1949 when Sam Snead was the first winner to be presented with the famous traditional Masters green jacket.

This past week, history was again made when Augusta hosted it first women’s golf tournament. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur was very successful, and a large audience witnessed the world’s top 72 women amateurs displaying not only their excellent golf skills but also the awesome sportsmanship that makes golf truly great.

Enjoy this one-of-a-kind major golf event and remember some quotes from one of the founders, Bobby Jones: “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies.” And “I never learned anything from a match that I won.”

John Gunby Sr. is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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