Spring is here, and with that, we take a look back at the history of The Masters and the founding story of its host, Augusta National.

Master, a term universally defined as someone who has control or domination over something or someone. In the world of golf, this word seems to carry much more dignity, excitement, and honor. Annually, at the beginning of April dating back to 1934 with a few exceptions, the best golfer’s prepare themselves for one of the world’s most significant and prestigious sporting events.

With the smallest field in major championship golf, the players who receive invitations compete for a robust menu of opportunity. Not only are cash prizes, a lifetime exemption into the Masters, and invitations to the other three majors for the next five years rewarded, but they also compete for one of sport’s most unique, and prized trophies. The coveted green jacket that has been slipped onto the winner since 1949.

Each spring, this immaculate championship course, and its surrounding grounds get put on full display. Although most know about the tournament itself, it never hurts to have a quick refresh of its rich history. A type of history that can be traced back many decades to Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts, a plant nursery, and a plan that has changed the game of golf forever.

A Brief History of The Masters: Augusta National
A Brief History of The Masters: Augusta National

The Origins of Augusta National

Following his retirement from championship golf in 1930, legendary amateur champion Bobby Jones seemed to be looking for something to sink his teeth into.

During the seven years leading up to his last competitive days, Jones had dominated the game. A resume that consisted of four U.S. Opens, three “British” Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, and a British Amateur Championship cemented him as the greatest golfer of his era.

With the fame of his achievements came the desire to shy away from the limelight. Now that his playing days were behind him, Jones fixed his eyes on a new challenge. To build the ideal golf course. One where he could go play with his friends and get away from the adoring crowds.

This concept struck a chord with the investment banker, Clifford Roberts, and the founding team was born. The duo set out to look for a piece of property where they could turn this vision into a reality. They set their sites on a 365-acre plant nursery known as Fruitland Nurseries in Augusta, Georgia.

Upon the first visit of what would become Augusta National, Jones later wrote:

“The long lane of magnolias through which we approached was beautiful. The old manor house with its cupola and walls of masonry two feet thick was charming. The rare trees and shrubs of the old nursery were enchanting. But when I walked out on the grass terrace under the big trees behind the house and looked down over the property, the experience was unforgettable. It seemed that this land had been lying here for years waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it. The broad expanse of the main body of the property lay at my feet then just as it does now. It looked as though it were already a golf course.” – A Golf Story by Charles Price

So for a whopping 70,000 dollars, the land was theirs.

Augusta National’s Founders Bobby Jones & Clifford Roberts

With all the right components in place, Jones knew just the guy to help him build his vision. Renowned architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie was tapped for the job. According to an article written by O.B. Keeler in 1932, the two men were a perfect fit.

“I suppose no two people ever agreed better — on a golf course,” Jones said. “Doctor MacKenzie and I tried each other out thoroughly. Our ideas seem to be synonymous.”

Jones and Mackenzie moved with swift action, and the course was ready by 1932. Augusta National was alive. On March 22-25, 1934, The Augusta National Invitation Tournament was first held, and the competitive game would change forever.

A Brief History of The Masters: Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones
A Brief History of The Masters: Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones

Historical Moments of The Masters

As one can imagine, a major tournament dating back so many decades holds feats, statistics, and accomplishments that are still talked about today. Outlined below you will find some of our favorites for your Master’s small talk this week:

  • The first Augusta National Invitational Tournament began on March 22, 1934, and was won by Horton Smith from Springfield, Missouri. Smith went on to win again at Augusta in 1936, his name forever holding a special place in the history book.
  • Another historical achievement many people are familiar with, earned itself the universally adopted slogan, “the shot heard around the world,” was when Gene Sarazen holed out for double eagle from the fairway on the par 5, 15th in 1935. This incredible shot put him in a tie for the lead which he later went on to capitalize on as he beat Craig Wood by five strokes in the ensuing 36-hole playoff.
  • The Masters was canceled from 1943-1945 due to World War II. Fortunately for golf fans, they still had the memories of the stellar 1942 battle between Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Nelson ultimately defeated Hogan in an 18-hole playoff, 69-70.
  • Numerous players have won the Masters Tournament multiple times, but none more than the great Jack Nicklaus who has recorded six victories at Augusta National. Tied for second on that list are Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer who have each won four.
  • Only four times in Masters history has there been a player who has led from start to finish, a list that includes Raymond Floyd, Craig Wood, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.
  • The four-day scoring record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 wasn’t challenged for 32 years. Then 21-year-old Tiger Woods cruised to a 12-stroke victory in 1997, shooting a 70, 66, 65 and 69. His 18-under par score smashed the previous record and marked his first major championship win.
  • Twenty-four aces have been recorded on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.
Gene Sarazen: The Shot Heard Round the World
Gene Sarazen: The Shot Heard Round the World

Changes to the course

Just as many professional tournament courses incur changes, Augusta National’s championship setup has developed over time. In recent years the more noticeable developments have pertained to the length of the course.

Since 2001, the layout has been lengthened by almost 500 yards, tipping out at nearly 7,450 today. While some of the most successful players in Masters history have argued that shorter hitters are going to struggle with its length, other icons such as Gary Player have disagreed. He stated:

There have been a lot of criticisms, but I think unjustly so, now I’ve played it, the guys are basically having to hit the same second shots that Jack Nicklaus had to hit in his prime.” – BBC Sports

In addition to the course length, other recognizable changes have been altering the sand in the bunkers from typical beige sand to white feldspar before the 1975 Masters and converting the greens from wide-bladed Bermuda to Bentgrass in time for the 1981 Masters.

A Brief History of The Masters: The White Feldspar Bunkers
A Brief History of The Masters: The White Feldspar Bunkers

The Best Sporting Event In the World

The Masters differentiates itself from all other tournaments around the world for so many reasons. The history of the course, its surrounding grounds, the layout and unique naming of each hole after a plant or shrub, and the pre-tournament traditions are just a few.

But most importantly, once a year, golf fans around the world get to celebrate the greatest game on earth at it’s finest venue.