by Mike Schutsky
This past April, the most prestigious professional golf tournament was played yet again. The Masters, a PGA Tour Major Championship, is the crowned jewel of professional golf and was played at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia for the 75th consecutive year. South African Charl Schwartzel was the champion this year after a late fourth round charge of four consecutive birdies to claim victory at Augusta. What makes this tournament so unique and special is the history and tradition behind this great championship.
For one to understand the championship, one must know the history of the founders of Augusta National and the tournament. Bobby Jones was the most accomplished golfer in the 1920’s. He was the only man (and still is to this day) to win all four major championships (the most coveted and prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour) in the same calendar year. What made this feat so impressive was that he was an amateur. Jones retired in the early 1930’s to focus on his family and to open a law firm. Once into retirement he noticed a wonderful piece of property in the nearby town of Augusta that he believed could become a beautiful golf course.
Jones, with business partner Clifford Roberts, and world renowned golf course architect, Alistair Mackenzie, created the golf course at Augusta National. Then with Clifford Roberts’ vision and Bobby Jones’ competiveness they decided to invite 100 of the best golfers in the world to play a championship called the Masters.
Horton Smith won the inaugural Masters in 1936. Smith, a fantastic putter won the tournament again in 1938. This was an incredible achievement considering Augusta National’s hilly terrain and difficult putting surfaces. Still, the Masters was different from all the other professional golf events; there were certain nuances that made the Masters and tradition like no other.
Bobby Jones was a polite, conservative, and mild- mannered southern gentleman. He believed that his tournament should simply be the best tournament in the world and uphold the values of the game. Clifford Roberts, the eventual chairman of the golf club was heavily involved with the pomp and circumstance of the tournament. Roberts wanted to separate this tournament from the others. Roberts did this by awarding the champion not only a trophy but a coveted green jacket, that would signify and permanent membership in the elite fraternity that was Masters Champions.
What makes a Masters champion so special besides winning the green jacket is that the champion receives all that is associated with winning the tournament. This includes membership to the club, an invitation to the tournament forever, and spot in the golf history books.
Past champions are treated like kings when they return to the Masters every year. Each year before the tournament begins a private dinner is held for the past champions. It is the most exclusive guest list in all of sport; only men who have donned the green jacket can attend. These men include the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and most recently Charl Schwartzel.
The tradition and history behind the Masters always seems to inspire the players and eventual champions to give the spectators an excellent show. Jack Nicklaus shook the Georgia pines with his epic win at the Masters twenty five years ago, to claim his 18th major championships (most out of anyone in the history of the game) and his sixth green jacket at the age of forty six. No sport fan can forget Tiger Woods’ historic win in 1997 when he became the youngest Masters champion at the age of 21 and the first African American man to win a major golf championship. Last year Phil Mickelson left no one with a dry eye in the house as he claimed his third green jacket for his ailing wife Amy, who was being treated for breast cancer. And just recently, Charl Schwartzel had a miraculous to close his final round and snag the green jacket away from a giant group of contenders, including Tiger Woods.
The traditions of the game are shown in the traditions of the Masters. The difficulty and prestige of Augusta National brings out the best in the players and at the end of the tournament, a deserving champion is crowned. While there are numerous Masters memories the best is yet to come.