The golf tournament thatmany fans regard as the greatest in the world, The US Masters, takes place this month at the Augusta national Golf Club. Starting on Thursday the 7th and finishing, as tradition dictates, on the 10th, the second Sunday of the month, the event holds a special place in the affections of players and fans alike. This is due largely to the fact that unlike any of the other three major tournaments of the year, it is held at the same venue and has been since it’s inception in 1934.
The Augusta National Golf Club has an aura and mystique all of its own, as many of the players and spectators who first arrive at the course have attested to. Each hole of the eighteen is named after the tree or flower with which is most closely associated, and names such as Magnolia, White Dogwood and Golden Bell are familiar to golf aficionados around the world.
The idea for both the course and the tournament came from Bobby Jones, the greatest golfer of his day and one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport. First played in 1934, the tournament has grown from an invitation event only into the most popular golfing event of the year and attracts the best players in the world. Thankfully, now that the worst of the pandemic restrictions are over, this years event will be watched by a capacity crowd, although as always they will be very well behaved, as the committee take a dim view of any unruly behaviour from spectators. Back in 2019, the year of Tiger’s comeback win, the sight of thousands of fans racing up the 18th fairway must have given them some anxious moments!
The tournament has grown at an astonishing rate. When you consider that Arnold Palmer, the man who made such a huge contribution towards making the game what it is today, collected 11,250 US Dollars for his first victory in 1958 and the winners for the last five years have each won around two million, you can see how the event has gained in popularity, especially since Tiger burst onto the scene in 1997. Jack Nicklaus, the bridge between Palmer and Woods, also supported the tournament throughout his career, winning a record six times between 1963 and 1986, when at aged 46 he became the oldest winner in the history of the event. This feat was only bettered by Tiger’s win at aged 21 in 1997, making him the youngest winner ever. Of course, that was by a record 12 shots!
The course itself, being old and well established, at least in American terms, has had the same problem as many layouts across the world in that the advancement of technology, in both ball and club, has led to players hitting it much further than they ever have in the past, making the task of setting a major championship test for the players that much more difficult. Over 500 yards in length has been added since 2000 and the organisers are constantly tinkering with the course to ensure that it continues to represent a stern examination for the players.
Every golf fan will have their own favourite memory of the Masters, mine being Nicklaus’ last win in 1986. For some it will be Tiger’s first win in 1997, but for the large majority it will be his “comeback” win in 2019 that will live longest of all. After numerous trials and tribulations, including career threatening back surgery, Tiger came back to win his 5th Masters by one shot and the scenes afterwards were something that Augusta, and indeed the world of golf, had never witnessed before.
Although still an invitation only tournament, meaning that the field is generally smaller than for the other “Majors”, certain criteria has been laid down to ensure that the cream of the worlds players attend the event. The current top fifty in the world are invited, both for that particular week and the past calendar year, and a raft of other exemptions are in place to capture the top names in the game. Along with the history and the draw of the venue itself, this always leads to a top quality field.
I am sure that many golf fans on this side of the world will be awake in the early hours of the morning on that weekend to watch the final two rounds of the tournament and find out who will be declared the 2022 Masters champion and don the traditional Green Jacket. I know I certainly will.