Augusta has had to change ' continuously. Golf itself has been in a constant state of flux the past century, and Augusta National has been swept along with it. Some of the changes have furthered the Mackenzie-Jones concept of golf as being a game of ultimate strategy. Others, sadly, havent, a victim of space-age metals, vastly improved ball construction, and a total change in agronomy. Yes, this is a far different place than what Augusta National was in 1934 when Horton Smith won the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament.
The course had opened for play late in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, and two years later, only 76 members were on the rolls. Augusta National was in danger of going under before the first Masters was ever played.
In 1934 Jones and Clifford Roberts decided to have a tournament. Nothing so grandiose as a major was envisioned then. In 1934, the two nines were the opposite of what they are today, play ending where the ninth green presently sits. But early-morning frost repeatedly delayed play on the first few holes for the membership, so the nines were reversed after the tournaments first year. The change has resulted in an untold number of great Masters finishes on the newer back nine ' though Mackenzie would be bewildered were he to see it today.
Gene Sarazens double eagle on Sunday at the 15th the second year of the tournament (1935) may still be the greatest single shot in golf history. Immediately wiped away was Craig Woods three-shot lead and Sarazen claimed the title in a 36-hole playoff Monday. The 4-wood shot from 235 yards wouldnt have been possible today, though. The lake fronting the green has been enlarged and the area where the ball hit has been shaved drastically. Sarazens magnificent poke, alas, probably would have ended up in the water.
Jones steadfastly refused to call the tournament the Masters, though everyone else did after the inaugural in 1934. Jones believed the Masters was much too pompous and held out until 1939, when he finally relented.
The course was closed in the World War II years of 1943, 44 and 45. Turkeys were raised on the property, and cattle were allowed to roam the fairways, keeping down the mowing expense.
Magnolia Lane, the 330-yard path from the street to the clubhouse, wasnt even paved until 1947. That was the year that the tournament first had field scoreboards on the course. And Sarazen didnt win a green jacket. That didnt happen until 1949, with Sam Snead earning the first winners coat. Incidentally, no one felt the need to rope the fairways until 49, when the 11th fairway was roped.
In 1952, Ben Hogan inaugurated the first champions dinner after his win in 1951. Hogan had suggested the meal, and he began the tradition of the winner paying for the grub. Of course, when Hogan initiated the dinner, there was far fewer invitees than there is now. It has mushroomed with each year so by the time Phil Mickelson serves the lobster and ravioli this year, there will be three times the number of winners there as was at Hogans soiree.
The first time the Masters was broadcast was in 1956, when play was described on four holes (15-18). And in 1957, they finally got around to instituting the 36-hole cut ' the low 40 and ties was the rule. Today, it has been amended to include the low 44 and ties, plus anyone 10 shots of the leader at the end of 36 holes.
In 1958, writer Herbert Warren Wind first used the term Amen Corner to describe the green at 11, the par-3 12th, and the tee shot at 13. Augusta National introduced the scoring method of over- and under-par in 1960, now used at golf tournaments around the world. And in 1963, when Jack Nicklaus won his first of six Masters titles, attendance was limited for the first time.
Roberto de Vicenzo committed the most monumental blunder in golf history in 1968, signing for a 4 on the 17th hole instead of the correct birdie 3 and thereby forfeiting a chance at a playoff with Bob Goalby. In 1972, the Masters finally instituted a waiting list for tickets.
The Masters had a Monday playoff until 1976, when the present-day sudden-death playoff was instituted. And in the fall of 1980, perhaps the most monumental change in Augusta National history occurred when the course was planted with bentgrass. The previous 40 years, play was on the slower Bermuda. But with the advent of the bent, Augusta Nationals greens became the slippery surfaces that they are today.
In 1983, players were finally allowed to use caddies of their choice instead of utilizing caddies from Augusta Nationals barn. In 1999, the list for qualification into the Masters was changed - no longer did winning a PGA Tour event guarantee a spot into the Augusta field. And in 1999, another huge change to the course was instituted ' rough was allowed to grow (Augusta National referred to it as the second cut.)
Through it all, the club has been open for play only from October to May, with the summer months reserved for course conditioning. But that has done nothing to change the desire for inclusion ' Augusta National is the most sought-after membership in the world.
Yes sir, Alister Mackenzie would blink his eyes in wonderment at the course he and Jones created. Thursday, for the 69th time, they gather to play the Masters once again. Conditions change, features change, but the Masters is always The Masters. It is timeless as the sport of golf itself.
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