If you’re like me, the beginning of Masters Week is filled with more anticipation than the coming of Christmas morning. I start thinking about the iconic CBS golf announcer Jim Nantz and his famous “Hello Friends” opening line to begin weekend coverage and it sends chills down my spine.
It’s the same for me every year. The week begins with watching Golf Channel’s Live from the Masters on Monday morning. Next comes the flood of e-mails in my inbox from friends inviting me to join Masters pools. After the beating I take every year in March Madness I probably shouldn’t allocate any more funds, but I do anyway. Then comes the Par 3 contest on Wednesday afternoon where wives and kids get to caddy in oversized white jumpsuits and the roars of tee shots finding the bottom of the cup echo through the Georgia pines. By the time Thursday coverage starts it’s been made clear to my girlfriend that I am not to be bothered with yoga classes or healthy food for the next four days. To cap it off on Sunday, I invite anyone that wants to join over to watch the final round where we eat too many pimento cheese sandwiches, drink sweet tea (mixed with something else) and dress in Master’s green.
For most golfers, the Masters is indeed a tradition unlike any other. Not only is it the symbolic beginning of spring and the first major of the year, but it’s also the only one that returns to the same venue every year. What began as a vision of the great Bobby Jones to be a gathering of friends nearly a century ago has become the most celebrated tournament in the game. Over the years there have been career-defining moments that we all remember but there are also countless stories and anecdotes that are less told but equally important. If you’re curious to know a little more about the hallowed grounds of Augusta National and the Masters, read on.
Alister McKenzie Never Saw the Finished Product of the Course He Designed
Alister McKenzie was a renowned golf course architect who designed some of the most revered courses in the world dating from 1905 until 1933 when he completed his final work, Augusta National. When the club’s founder, Bobby Jones, played Cypress Point in California (another McKenzie design) he knew McKenzie was the man he wanted to design Augusta National. With the course ready to open its doors and the inaugural Master’s tournament slated for the early spring of 1934, McKenzie passed away on January 6th just a couple months before the tournament was to be held.
Tournament Officials Kick Announcers Off the Air if They Don’t Follow the Rules
There is no denying that the decorum expected at the Masters is unlike anything else in all of sports. For announcers doing the broadcast, spectators are to be referred to as patrons or gallery. Calling them fans is strictly forbidden. Just asked Gary McCord and Jack Whitaker who violated the rule and were promptly dismissed from their posts.
Gary Player is the Only Masters Winner Not to Have His Jacket Kept at Augusta National
When Gary Player won the first of his three green jackets in 1961, he took the jacket with him as winners are allowed to do. Augusta asks that jackets be returned the following year where they will be stored from then on. In the years that followed his victory, Player developed a habit of perpetually forgetting to return his jacket. It is now on display at the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida.
It Hasn’t Always Been Called the Masters
When the tournament was first played in 1934, it was called the Augusta National Invitational. It wasn’t until 1938 that founding member Clifford Roberts coined the term Masters. Fellow co-founder Bobby Jones never like the term and often referred to the tournament as the “so-called Masters.”
Augusta National Couldn’t Afford to Pay the Purse to the First Winner
Horton Smith was the first winner of the Masters. The initial plan was for the club to have 1,800 members from which revenue would be generated and purse could be paid. At the time of the first Masters, however, the club only had 76 members and there wasn’t enough money to pay the winner. Horton eventually collected thanks to a private collection taken up by the membership.
Augusta National Closed During WWII
Despite several attempts to raise money to keep the doors open, Augusta National was forced to close during WWII. During the war, the club used the land to raise cattle and turkeys in a failed attempt to make money.
Green Jackets Were A Bit of an Accident
In 1939 members of Augusta National decided to all wear green jackets so that spectators (patrons) could easily identify them and ask questions. It wasn’t until 1949 that Sam Snead was the first winner to receive a green jacket.
It wasn’t until 1982 that players were allowed to bring their own caddies. Prior to then, they were assigned local caddies who knew the course inside and out. One of the most notable local caddies of all time is Carl Jackson who began caddying for Ben Crenshaw in 1976. The relationship continued for more than 30 years.
One of the most indelible images is Masters history is the two embracing on the 18th green in 1995 after Crenshaw’s emotional win shortly after the death of his lifelong friend and coach, Harvey Penick the week before the tournament.
How Did Rae’s Creek Get its Name?
The iconic creek that meanders through holes 11-13, known as Amen Corner, was named for the property’s original owner, John Rae, who passed away in 1789 long before Americans even knew what golf was.
The Masters Almost Never Came to Be!
In 1934 founding members Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones petitioned the USGA to host the US Open. When the USGA denied their request, they decided to host their own tournament called the Augusta National Invitational.
Arnie’s Army Started at the Masters
In 1958 Augusta National granted military personnel from a nearby army base free admission to the tournament. As a former military man, Arnold Palmer was a huge hit with all the soldiers in attendance. As Palmer passed a scoreboard during the tournament, a military member hung a sign that read “Arnie’s Army” and the moniker is still used to describe the King’s fans today.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Is More Than A General and President
Eisenhower is the only president to have ever been a member at Augusta National. On hole 17 a large tree overhung the fairway on the left side that Eisenhower purportedly hit more than any other member. The tree affectionately became known as the Eisenhower tree. Unfortunately, the tree was cut down after it suffered serious damage during an ice storm in the winter of 2014.
Whose Jeff Knox?
Anytime an odd number of players making the cut at the Masters, a marker plays with the first player out on Saturday and Sunday morning. So who is the marker at Augusta? None other than Jeff Knox. And Knox isn’t just some 4-handicap that’s lucky enough to play alongside the game’s greats. He’s not only an Augusta member but the guy can flat out play. He holds the course record from the member tees at 61. He’s won the Georgia Mid-Amateur three times. He’s also a member of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
When Knox plays as a marker his score is not officially reported but it’s pretty well known that the 50+-year-old has a decent record against some of the game’s best notably beating the likes of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. If you ever get the chance to watch the Masters early on Saturday or Sunday morning, keep an eye out for this guy.
A Tradition of Amateurs
Augusta’s founding members, Clifford Roberts, and Bobby Jones were both amateurs their entire career. That tradition continues to be reflected at the Masters every year. The winner and runner-up of the U.S. Amateur and winners of the British Amateur, Asia-Pacific Amateur, Latin America Amateur, and the U.S. Mid-Amateur all receive invitations to the Masters the following year. While it’s rare that one of these players finds there a way to the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon, the amateur with the lowest score at the end of the tournament receives the Low Amateur award and a piece of coveted Augusta crystal for the feat.
If you’re a golfer and the Masters isn’t your favorite tournament of the year, you need to have your head examined. With the trimmings of southern hospitality and a rich golfing history steeped in tradition, there exists no greater stage in the world for the best players usher in the beginning of spring. While we all remember Nicklaus’ iconic win in 1986, Larry Mize’s chip-in on hole 11 to beat Greg Norman in a playoff in 1987 and Tiger’s 12-shot victory in 1997, there is so much more to the Masters worth mentioning that goes overlooked. As you watch the Masters this year, take time to appreciate the minor details and little tidbits that are barely mentioned and you’re viewing experience will only be enhanced. In the meantime, I have to get to the ATM and turn in my pools.