The Masters Golf Tournament
It is hard to imagine that the world's most famous and beautiful golf course was once nothing more than a 365-acre tree farm. But thanks to the vision of two men, Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts, Fruitlands Nurseries, purchased for a mere $70,000 in 1931, is now home to the Augusta National Golf Course.
After finishing the course in late 1933, Jones and Roberts decided to organize an annual tournament and invite all the best players from across the country. Roberts proposed the event be called the Masters Tournament, but Bobby Jones objected thinking it too "presumptuous."
At Jones's insistence, the tournament was called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament, but after five years he gave in to the wishes of Clifford Roberts and the name was changed to The Masters in 1939.
Many decisions made in the very early days of the Tournament remain in place today. Among these is the four-day format with 18 holes played each day instead of the then-customary 36 holes on the third day, the elimination of qualifying rounds and denying permission for anyone except the player and caddie to be in the playing area. A complimentary pairing sheet and a spectator booklet were provided, and commercialization in any form of the Tournament was limited.
The first Tournament, played March 22, 1934, was won by Horton Smith. Bobby Jones, who was persuaded to enter as a player, finished in 13th place -- his best finish in the nine pre-war tournaments.
In 1935, the future Masters Tournament, was already causing worldwide headlines thanks to Gene Sarazen's double eagle on the par five 15th hole, which has been described as "the shot heard round the world." Sarazen forced his way into a tie with Craig Wood and 36-hole play-off courtesy of his remarkable feat. The next day he won the tournament by five shots.
The Tournament was moved to the first full week in April in 1940 and Byron Nelson beat Ben Hogan 69-70 in an 18-hole playoff in 1942. The Tournament was suspended in 1943, 1944 and 1945 while America went to war. Cattle and turkeys were raised on the Augusta National grounds during those years to assist the war effort.
The Masters was back in full swing in 1946 when Herman Keiser held off Ben Hogan for a one-stroke victory. Over the next 60 years the event has grown to become the single most prestigious sporting event in the world and has showcased the talents of celebrated champions from Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods.
Hogan made his mark with two victories in the 1950s and Arnold Palmer got the first of his four victories in that innocent decade following the war. Palmer's 1958 win began the tradition of Amen Corner.
The name Amen Corner refers to holes 11, 12 and 13. The nickname Amen Corner was coined in a 1958 Sports Illustrated article by Herbert Warren Wind, who wrote that it was composed of the second half of hole No. 11, hole No. 12 and the first half of hole No. 13. The writer was searching for an appropriate name for the location where the critical action had taken place that year. He borrowed the name from an old jazz recording "Shouting at Amen Corner" by a band directed by Milton (Mezz) Mezzrow, a Chicago clarinetist.
Heavy rains soaked the course on Saturday evening in 1958 and for Sunday’s round, a local rule was adopted allowing a player whose ball was embedded to lift and drop it without penalty.
Arnold Palmer hit his ball over the green on No. 12 and the ball buried itself in the steep bank behind it. Being uncertain about the applicability of the local rule, the official on the hole and Palmer agreed that the ball should be played as it lay and that Palmer could then drop a second ball and play it.
Palmer holed out for a 5 with the original ball and a 3 with the second ball. The committee was asked to decide if the local rule was applicable and if so, which score should count.
At No. 13, still unsure of what his score was at 12, Palmer sank an 18-foot putt for eagle 3. When he was playing No. 15, Palmer was told his drop at 12 was proper and that his score on the hole was 3, leading to his first major victory.
The Par 3 Contest was added to the Tournament schedule in 1960 and Gary Player became the first foreign player to win the event in 1961. Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, began his remarkable run at Tournament history in 1965-66 when he became the first Masters champion to defend his title successfully. He still holds the record for the most titles won at Augusta with six, his last coming in 1986 at the age of 46.
The two founders of the Masters Tournament died in the '70s, leaving indelible impressions on the Masters Tournament and on the world of golf. Player won again in 1974 and 1978 setting the stage for foreign domination over the next few years.
Seve Ballesteros won in 1980, and foreign players, who had had little luck at the Augusta National up until then, won 10 tournaments in 17 years. Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam all won during that period.
The Tiger Woods era began in 1997 when the 21-year-old golfer exploded onto the national scene and broke the Tournament four-day scoring record that had stood for 32 years. Woods won his fourth consecutive professional major at the Masters in 2001, and became only the third player to win consecutive Masters titles in 2002. In 2005 he became the third person to win at least four tournaments.
Though steeped in tradition, the Augusta National has not been afraid to make changes. The club converted the greens from Bermuda to bent grass 25 years ago, created a second cut in 1999 and added 285 yards in 2002. The course was stretched even more for the 2006 Masters and at 7,445 yards became the second-longest in major championship history.
One must think that the two founders, dead all these many years now, would wholeheartedly approve of the changes designed to test the best players in the game with the best, and most challenging, course.