The Masters, one of the four major golf tournaments – along with the US Open, the (British) Open and the PGA – will be played April 11 – 14. The Masters is the first of these majors to be contested. For you non-golfers, the tournament consists of four rounds of 18 holes each, played Thursday thru Sunday. Low total score wins. A tie would be settled by a sudden death playoff.
Prior to the advent of the Masters and the growth of professional golf the four “majors” included the US Open, the (British) Open and the US and British amateur championships. Winning those four in the same calendar year became known as the “Grand Slam of Golf.” It has only been done once, by Bobby Jones in 1930. At the time, the feat did not have a name because it was thought to be impossible to achieve. According to Wikipedia, the originator of the term “Grand Slam” was O. B. Keeler, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal, who simply took the term from bridge.
The modern GS came into being in 1960. That year, Arnold Palmer won the Masters and the US Open. Supposedly, a reporter friend of his, Bob Drum of the Pittsburg Press, spread the notion that if Palmer were to add the Open and the PGA he would have completed a GS. Palmer did not, but the notion “stuck.” (Can you name the five golfers who have won all four majors during their careers?)
The Masters is always the first full week of April and, unlike the other three majors, it is always played at the same venue, Augusta National Golf Club, a private club located in Augusta, Georgia. How private is AN? Well, membership is highly restricted, invitation only, and the list (approximately 300) is confidential. The membership list is not public information. This year, ticket prices will be $75 for the practice rounds and $115 for the tournament, itself.
AN was designed by golf legend Bobby Jones, and it opened in 1933. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the land on which the course is situated was an indigo plantation and a plant nursery, which is why each hole is named after a particular tree or plant. How many of these can you name? See answers below.
The first Masters, known as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament, was held in March 1934. The winner was Horton Smith, and he won a mere $1,500. By contrast, last year’s winner, Patrick Reed, earned $1.98 million out of an $11 million total purse, not to mention everlasting fame and other perks, such as invitations to play in the other majors that year, and a lifetime invitation to the Masters. Yes, the tournament and golf, itself, have come a long way.
The tournament is famous for its various traditions, which are unique to this tournament. Some of the more significant ones include:
1. Since 1949 each year’s champion has been awarded a special green jacket. This jacket is presented to him in a post-tournament ceremony by the previous year’s winner. Although the jacket becomes the personal property of the winner he can only keep it in his possession for one year after which time it is required to be stored at the club.
2. Since 1952 the previous year’s winner has hosted a Champions’ Dinner. Generally, only past champions are invited to attend. The host selects the menu, and, over the years, there have been some unusual choices. For example, Scotsman Sandy Lyle served haggis, and South African Trevor Immelman ordered up bobotie. Are you familiar with these dishes? See below.
3. Since 1963 certain legendary golfers, generally also past champions, have been given the honor of hitting a ceremonial opening tee shot. In recent years, the honorees have been Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. (Palmer passed away in 2017, so, last year, to honor him, Nicklaus and Player performed the honors without him accompanied by an empty chair with his green jacket draped over it.)
4. Since 1960 a par-3 contest has been held on the Tuesday before the tournament. This is an informal affair, and golfers often invite their children to caddy for them.
5. Until 1983 golfers were required to use caddies employed by the club. This was significant, since professional golfers habitually use their own caddies. Often, the golfer and the caddy become a team, and the golfer comes to rely on the caddy for advice and support during the round. By tradition, the caddies were black. In those pre-PC days, club co-founder Clifford Roberts was quoted as saying “as long as I’m alive golfers will be white and caddies will be black.” Roberts was not the most enlightened man. Thankfully, neither he nor that particular tradition is still alive.
6. CBS has televised the event every year since 1956. Because the club is private and its membership highly affluent, it has been able to impose various unusual restrictions on CBS in exchange for lower revenue. For example, commercial interruptions are very limited; the announcers are required to refer to the gallery as “patrons,” rather than “fans” or “spectators; and “plugs” for other CBS network programs are forbidden (except it may notify the audience of a delay in the following program, “60 Minutes,” should the situation arise.
One final question. Which golfer has won the most Masters?
The Masters has become arguably the most prestigious of the four majors, at least in the US. Golfers revere tradition, and, as noted above, the Masters has them aplenty. Also, it is played on the same beautiful, impeccably-groomed course every year.
Over the years, there have been a plethora of famous “Masters moments.” I was too young to experience Gene Sarazen’s so-called “shot heard ’round the world (man, has that phrase been overused or what?) in 1935 when he “holed” a shot from the fairway on hole 15 for a double eagle. But, I did see Larry Mize sink a 45-yard pitch shot to win a sudden death playoff in 1987. In addition, I felt badly for Roberto de Vicenzo, who lost a playoff in 1968 when he was penalized one stroke for inadvertently signing an incorrect scorecard. Golf has strict rules, and they are enforced unequivocally. De Vicenzo’s reaction was a classic: “What a stupid I am.”
Answers to questions:
1. Names of holes – 1) Tea Olive, 2) Pink Dogwood, 3) Flowering Peach, 4) Flowering Crab Apple, 5) Magnolia, 6) Juniper, 7) Pampas, 8) Yellow Jasmine, 9) Carolina Cherry, 10) Camellia, 11) White Dogwood, 12) Golden Bell, 13) Azalea, 14) Chinese Fir, 15) Firethorn, 16) Redbud, 17) Nandina, 18) Holly.
2. Haggis is the national dish of Scotland. It is a pudding containing sheep’s “pluck” ( heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, suet (fat), and various spices.
3. Bobotie, pronounced “ba boor tea,” is the national dish of South Africa. Basically, it is a mixture of curried meat and fruit. Hmm. Yummy.
4. The five golfers who have completed the “career slam” are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
5. Nicklaus has won the most Masters – 6.
Prediction – In my view, the field is wide open. Don’t be surprised if a relative unknown wins. I hope Tiger and/or Phil are in contention on Sunday. If one or both of them are, it always makes any tournament more interesting for me. Phil is my sentimental favorite. He’s won it three times and I’m rooting for a fourth.