In Augusta, it’s “the second most wonderful time of the year!” This coming Monday Masters Week begins! People descend upon Augusta from all over the world to enjoy the gorgeous grounds and the world’s best golfers at the country’s most famous golf tournament.

I’m not a golfer, but even non-golfers love the Masters. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a coveted practice round ticket or a prized Tournament badge, you will find that just walking on the hallowed, springy ground is a treat! “The Tournament,” as it is known by the locals, also has the cheapest and most delicious concessions of any major sporting event.

Everything about the Masters is fascinating! Enjoy learning about The Tournament from the report below, written by Jack Baker, one of my Georgia History writing students in 2014, when he was a 7th grader!

Golden Champions

Gold can be found at the Augusta National, home of the Masters.  This is literally true. Carefully nestled between the 13th and 14th fairways lies a spring that produces tiny amounts of gold after heavy rainstorms.  Travelling hundreds of miles from home, men will search endlessly for gold. Likewise, the Masters certainly has this charm.  Since many of the world’s best golfers have travelled to Augusta for their chance to strike gold, there is surely something magical about this place. Legendary golfer Bobby Jones, who founded the Augusta National Golf Club, set many of golf’s most astounding records.  In future years, more records would be created at Augusta. The gold that bubbles up from the spring at the back nine also bubbles up each spring when it’s Tournament time. The Masters is the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, because it is rich with champions, golden champions.

Bobby Jones was an extraordinarily gifted man.  When he was young, though, he had a terrible temper as revealed in his habit of throwing his golf clubs.  Wanting to become an engineer, Jones went to Georgia Tech.  He received a B.S. degree. Law school, which as his next endeavor, would bring him to Emory University in Atlanta. Because his father had been a lawyer, Jones knew much about the law profession already and when he was only half way through his second year of law school, he went into practice. Jones’ family was his top priority, his law practice was second in importance to him, and a close third was his love of the game of golf. His character and values were like no other.  During the 1925 U.S. Open, he penalized himself for the ball moving the slightest fraction of an inch. Anyone he talked to felt comfortable and Jones made that person feel important. According to Gene Sarazen, “Bob was a fine man to be partnered with in a tournament…He made you feel that you were playing with a friend, and you were.”  Amazingly, Jones retired from golf at the age of 28. With all the records he now held, Jones still had one more dream to fulfill. The dream would perhaps leave an even more astonishingly remarkable legacy than all his wins, and that dream would be the creation of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Golf Tournament.

Jones immediately began to work on his dream golf course when he retired from competitive golf.  Planning for it to be a winter golf course, Jones chose Augusta as the location because its winters were warmer than his hometown of Atlanta.  Surprisingly, it took no time for Jones to find his ideal location for the course in Augusta.  Fruitland Nurseries was chosen.  Fruitland Nurseries had been started in the mid 1800’s by a Belgian man named Louis Berckmans. Upon his death in 1883, Berckmans’ son took over the family business.  In 1910, upon the death of the junior Berckmans, the company closed down, though many of the plants continued to grow on the property. With its rolling hills and mature plant material, it was the perfect location. As Jones surveyed the grounds of the former Fruitland Nurseries he exclaimed, “Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course on it.” So in 1931, the Bon-Air Vanderbilt Company paid $5,000 to purchase nearly 365 acres for the future Augusta National Golf Club. Jones then hired architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie to design the course. MacKenzie, who had already designed three courses in California, was Jones’ choice from the start.  Although Jones had nearly gone bankrupt in purchasing the property, it took less than three years for the course to be designed and built. Jones’ dream was being brought to life. The Club would remain poor for several years, but soon, amazing players would bring popularity to the Masters Golf Tournament. 

The Masters has been played for 80 years, and in that time has seen many amazing champions as well as changes to the game of golf. The first Masters Tournament was played in 1934, and Horton Smith was the victor. Smith, who had won by a close one stroke, would win it again two years later.  Respectfully, in 1943 the Club halted the Invitational Tournament for two years during the height of World War II. The sudden death playoff system was introduced in 1976. If players were still tied for the lead after finishing the 18th hole, they would replay the 18th.  If they tied again, they would replay the 10th hole, continuing until someone won the hole. The Masters of 1978 was unlike any other.  Gary Player made an unbelievable comeback and finished with the lead. What makes it so amazing is that three other players were unable to tie him. One hit into a bunker and the other two missed three-foot putts! Players’ Masters’ wins were now three. But the true Master, second only to Jones, is Jack Nicklaus.  Playing in his fourth Masters, Nicklaus finally captured his first Masters win in 1963.  Nicklaus would win five more. In 1986 he won his sixth Green Jacket, and because he was 46 years old, he was the oldest player ever to win the Masters. This would be his last of 18 majors won, with numerous second and top 10 finishes.  In future years, more champions such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Rory McElroy, would win and create more legacies, legacies founded at the Masters. 

In Stan Byrdy’s book The Augusta National Golf Club: Alister MacKenzie’s Masterpiece, Byrdy writes, referring to the Club’s grand opening festivities held January 1933 and the fulfillment of Jones’ dream: “In an all too brief moment, Jones turned back the hands of time and blistered the course with a round of 69. The man who transformed the game of golf had given the dream course at Augusta National his personal stamp of approval.” When Jones did this, he left the course with one of the largest things that drives golfers. He left records.  Records are most important because they leave the champion’s name in the spotlight, which will win them fame for many years. Unsurprisingly, fame is a great motivator, as well as playing for the love and challenge of the game. There is no better course to play and challenge a golfer’s skills than the Augusta National. As one of the Masters’ greats, Arnold Palmer, stated, “When I drove through that gate off Washington Road and pulled my car down Magnolia Lane, I thought, ‘This must be what golf is like in heaven.’”  Having its long list of golden champions, the Masters is surely the greatest golf tournament in the world. 

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