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The Masters Tournament – An Early History

The Masters Tournament – An Early History

The Masters is coming April 10-13, let’s talk about its past

Robert T. Jones, Jr. had just completed his magnificent accomplishment of winning golf’s Grand Slam in 1930. At 28 years old, and with nothing else to prove, he retired from competitive golf to attend to his career as an attorney and the founder of Augusta National Golf Club.

Bobby Jones had heard about an old indigo plantation and nursery in Augusta, Ga., that perhaps would make a wonderful foundation for a golf course. He was well impressed with the rising and falling landscape with its stunning trees and creek, so he immediately made plans to acquire it.

bobby_jones

Grand Slam winner and Augusta National Golf Club co-founder Bobby Jones. 

Jones, along with New York businessman Clifford Roberts, put together a group of nationwide members to form the Augusta National Golf Club, which opened in 1933.

Jones hired famed course designer, Dr. Alister MacKenzie to work with him to create the course layout. MacKenzie, a Scot, was influenced by St. Andrews Old Course with its rolling seaside terrain. Although Augusta National is not on the ocean, the likeness to St. Andrews is still visible.

The course was ready for its first national tournament in spring 1934, but sadly MacKenzie had died in January of that year and never saw the event.

MacKenzie and Jones had shaped the new course and in 1934 the first “Augusta National Invitational” was held. The tournament would be called that until 1939. The press kept referring to the tournament as the “Masters” and finally Jones and Roberts relented and adopted the name.

Sarazen Bridge No. 15

Sarazen Bridge, named after Masters winner, to the far left of famed Hole 15.

With a stellar field consisting of such golf legends as Walter Hagen, Paul Runyan, Craig Wood and Henry Picard, the first winner would be Horton Smith. Smith was a tireless practitioner of golf and had a great short game, which he used to defeat Wood over the closing holes. To prove that it was no fluke, Smith would win the tournament yet again in 1936.

Horton-Smith

Inaugural Masters Tournament winner Horton Smith, circa 1934.

Unable to attend the inaugural tournament, Gene Sarazen played in 1935. Sarazen was already a multiple-major winner. He made his mark at Augusta that year with “the shot heard ‘round the world” when he holed out for a double eagle two on the difficult par-5 Hole 15. That shot was enough to carry Sarazen to victory over Craig Wood the next day in a 36-hole playoff.

Don’t feel bad for Craig Wood. He would capture his own Masters title in 1941.

augusta masters

 For years called the Augusta National Invitational, the press dubbed it the Masters.

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