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MASTERS MUSINGS - TALES OF A MASTERS FANATIC

06 April 2021

It’s probably the most written about golf Tournament in history, and arguably the best loved. For many golfers worldwide it is the ultimate bucket list item. Most do not get the chance to go but for those who do it is a totally unforgettable experience.

Much is known about its genesis, but it might be useful to have a quick look back at some of its more interesting history. The men behind the creation of Augusta National and the Masters.

Augusta National was the brainchild of the legendary Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones probably the most famous amateur golfer who has ever lived. Jones was born in Atlanta Georgia, on St Patrick’s Day 1902, weighed 5 lbs at birth and was not expected to live past his fifth birthday. But he did and established a legacy unequalled in the sport of golf.

There are three Golf Clubs in Georgia that claim a piece of the Jones legacy. East Lake located in a rundown area of downtown Atlanta; Atlanta Athletic Club (AAC) located in its suburbs, and of course Augusta National. During the 60’s the area around East Lake deteriorated due to urban decay and white flight, so as part of that flight, the members of East Lake including Jones, moved to AAC in 1967.East Lake fell into disrepair and was mostly forgotten

However, in 1993 a charitable foundation purchased East Lake and rebuilt it in homage to Bobby Jones, restoring it to its former glory and in the process regenerating the local area. In 2005 it hosted the Tour Championship, and it has remained there ever since, now also incorporating the FedEx Cup finale.

If you ever get the chance to play or even visit these clubs, make sure to visit their trophy rooms which are shrines to the great man. It is a wonderful experience.

Jones started golf at the age of 6, playing at East Lake. He became enchanted with the game and progressed quickly through the amateur ranks winning the Georgia amateur in 2016 and the Southern amateur a year later. He came to national attention in 1923 by winning the US Open.
 
Between the ages of 19 and 28 he won 13 majors and in 1930, went on to achieve the most remarkable feat of all which came to be called “The Grand Slam” a feat that has never been equalled.

In that year he won the Open Championship, the British Amateur, The US Open and the US Amateur. Jones could not play in the PGA Championship as it is the only major that is reserved exclusively for professional golfers. Between 1920 and 1930 Jones competed in 45 events, winning 21 and finishing second seven times. Jones remained an amateur all his life but quit playing competitive golf soon afterwards. During World War II he joined the US Air force, was based in England for a time and participated in the Normandy landings on D- Day. His health began to deteriorate shortly afterwards, and he developed a serious nerve disorder in his spine, a condition that stayed with him until his death in 1971.


Bobby Jones & The Claret Jug  /  Tiger Woods and the incredible scenes at East Lake

Coincidentally, it was his loss in the first round of the 1929 US Amateur at Pebble Beach that brought him into contact with golf course designer Alister Mackenzie (think St Andrews Old, Pebble Beach. Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point, Lahinch GC, Cork, Galway, Nenagh, Muskerry Golf clubs).

Jones decided to hang around Monterey for a bit, and it was there that he met Makenzie who was redesigning Pebble at the time. Jones had recently seen a tract of land; an old nursery called Fruitlands in Augusta and felt it was just waiting to be made into a golf course. This chance meeting with Makenzie led to him being asked to design the course at Fruitland’s, which Jones subsequently named Augusta National.

So, in 1933 Augusta National opened its doors to a fine and very select bunch of Southern gentlemen, and indeed gentlemen it remained until 2012, when Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State, became the first woman to be admitted to membership.

In 1934, Augusta National hosted its first professional tournament known then as the First Annual Invitational Tournament. The winner was Horton Smith. But from 1935 onwards it was referred to as the Masters Tournament, a name attributed to the other main man in the Augusta story, Clifford Roberts.
 
Roberts, who was a financier, came from humble beginnings and had never been to college. He made his fortune in oil speculation, and by age 29 he was christened “The Boy Wonder of Wall Street”.

Roberts became chairman of Augusta National in 1935 and remained so till his unlikely death in 1977 (he was found alongside a lake at the par 3 course with a .38 pistol nearby).

Roberts set the standard for membership of the club and ruled Augusta with an iron fist. Some of his actions are the stuff of legend. He made all the rules and woe betide anyone who broke any of them. As an example, players could only hit one ball during Tournament practice rounds, one unfortunate soul caught playing a second ball was ordered off the course and his invitation withdrawn.