Think you know everything there is to know when it comes to one of golf’s most prestigious swing-offs, the Masters Tournament? Think again. The Masters is a sporting event with a fascinating history and some truly unique — and arguably outdated — traditions, most associated with its permanent venue, the uber-exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Below, we’ve rounded up a few factoids about the Masters and Augusta National that we found particularly eye-opening. And yes, don’t you worry, we address the green jacket issue.
Inside Augusta: 80 years of questionable exclusivity
Unlike the three other major championships in men’s golf — the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship — the Masters has had a permanent home at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club since its inaugural year, 1934. In fact, the men behind the club, amateur golfer Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts, also started the Masters. That said, for many golf lovers it’s simply unimaginable that the Masters could be hosted anywhere but the former indigo plantation turned nursery turned lush, 18-hole golf course. Although Augusta National is thrust into the spotlight during the first week of April for the Masters, the iconic Alister Mackenzie-designed course is active year-round (save those sweltering Georgia summers) and is home to one of the most exclusive private golf clubs in the country, boasting only around 300 members that, as of 2002, included Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. And with such exclusivity, of course, comes a fair amount of controversy.
Augusta National is something of a rare bird these days, a leftover from a bygone era: an old-school, invitation-only good ol’ boys club once overseen by a gentleman known as “Hootie.” It’s a country club steeped in discrimination, decorum, discretion and, of course, dough of the mostly old variety. It’s the kind of establishment that would get (fictional) Southerner Julia Sugarbaker really fired up. Augusta National did not invite its first African-American member, Ron Townsend, until 1990, although Lee Elder became the first black golfer to play the course during the Masters in 1975. Up until 1983, all caddies at the Masters were black and employed by Augusta National; golfers were not allowed to bring their own bag jockeys to the tournament. Clifford Roberts himself even is quoted as saying: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be black.” In 1977, 20 years before Tiger Woods won his first of four Masters Tournaments, Roberts, age 83, committed suicide by gunshot to the head at Augusta National. In the photo at right, you can see a gathering at the 1965 Masters that includes, clockwise from lower right, Clifford Roberts, Bobby Jones, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and A. Downing Gray. (Photo: Getty Images)
In 2012 Augusta National finally decided to admit women, starting with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore.
Playing by the rules
Although Augusta National and the Masters are separate entities — this is something the club emphasized in 2002 when a media firestorm erupted over the long-standing no-women membership policy — some of the uber-exclusive country club’s arcane rules also extend to the Masters when the gates are opened to ticketed “patrons” (Augusta National speak for spectators). For one, running is absolutely verboten as is the signing of autographs. Broadcast commentators have even been politely asked not to return to the course for failing to follow Augusta National protocol. In 1966, a year before the Masters became the first live sporting event to be broadcast internationally, Jack Whitaker committed a big no-no by referring to a gallery of patrons as a “mob scene” and in 1994, pro-turned-announcer Gary McCord made unsavory references to bikini waxes and body bags, which earned him a spot on the Augusta National broadcasting blacklist.
And then there’s the famous, strictly enforced “no electronics” policy: During the Masters, absolutely no cellphones, pagers, or i-anything are allowed on the course. Cameras are allowed but only during practice rounds days. These rules apply to both patrons and pros.
The Guardian’s Lawrence Donegan summed up Augusta National’s attitude toward technology in 2010 after the club announced it would broadcast the Masters live in 3-D: “It may seem contradictory that a golf club so indelibly linked in the mind with 19th-century social attitudes should be so forward-thinking when it comes to 21st-century technology. But when you spend a little time at Augusta National, you discover that everything about the place is contradictory.” Donegan continues: “Augusta National loves iPhone apps, but woe betide the man who is caught with an iPhone in his hand; he will be escorted off the premises.”
Blazers with a backstory
The attire worn by professional golfers is famously predictable: polo shirt, lightweight pleated pants (golf skirts, walking shorts, slacks or culottes for the ladies) and a visor or hat. But if you just happen to be the winner of the Masters, you get the honor of topping off the standard ensemble with a shamrock green blazer. Yay! Professional golf’s version of a beauty queen crowning ceremony, the presenting of the Green Jacket by the previous year’s champion to the current champion at the conclusion of the tournament dates back to 1949, when Sam Snead won the Masters. However, the signature jackets started appearing at Augusta National 12 years prior. The Masters website has more on the sartorial backstory:
"The Club’s green coat, however, had first been worn in 1937 when members were encouraged by co-Founder Clifford Roberts to buy one and wear it during the Tournament, so patrons would be able to identify a source of reliable information. The first coats were manufactured from a heavy fabric and weren’t popular with members given how warm spring in Georgia can be. Several years later, though, a lightweight jacket was made available — a single-breasted, single-vent model with the Augusta National Golf Club logo stitched on the left chest pocket. The logo is also embossed on the jacket’s brass buttons."
So does the Masters winner get to take home that fetching piece of outerwear? He sure does. After the presentation ceremony, a custom version of the Green Jacket is tailored to the champ’s exact measurements and he gets to call it his own for an entire year. During the following year’s tournament, he must return to Augusta National and relinquish the Green Jacket, at which point it’s placed in storage but available any time he returns to play at the club. (The photo above shows 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel, right, with 2010 winner Phil Mickelson.)
Given that you have to take out a second mortgage just to buy a few hot dogs, a couple of boxes of peanuts and some beers to wash it all down with at a major league baseball game, you’d think the fairway fare served at one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the country would be prohibitively priced. Au contraire, mon frère — the grub up for grabs at Augusta National during the Masters is outrageously affordable, idiosyncratic (pimento cheese sandwich, anyone?) and stuck in some kind of bizarro time warp much like the entire tournament itself. The most spendy selections on the “Patrons' Menu,” aside from imported beer ($3.75), are the Bar-B-Que sandwich and the grilled chicken wrap — they’ll set you back $3 each, Georgia sales tax included. For mayo-lovers on a budget, egg salad or the signature pimento cheese on white bread cost a buck fifty.
It’s all rather unbelievable — the fact that you can eat so well and so cheaply ($15 will get you two ham and cheeses on rye, two domestic beers, two bags of chips, an iced tea and, of course, a pimento cheese sandwich provided that there’s no freak shortages) at a major — and majorly prestigious — sporting tournament. Noting that most of the chow can be consumed with one hand and that none really requires a napkin (save for the BBQ sandwich) which cuts back on concessionary waste, ATL Food Snob describes the food situation at the Masters as being “simple in a good way.”
Green on the green?
You’d assume that a private golf club that’s so resistant to change would be slow to embrace sustainability. And in the case of Augusta National, that’s true for the most part: The course is not recognized by Audubon International for any eco-initiatives, and the club has not made aggressive efforts to reduce the amount of water and toxic landscaping chemicals used to treat the famously lush, unreal-looking 365-acre course. But as it turns out, the club doesn’t really need to. As reported by National Geographic, the course’s natural timing allows Augusta’s groundskeepers to rely on minimal amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizers to keep up the course’s pristine appearance. And the fact that the course is located on land once used as a nursery and is closed for play from May through October doesn’t hurt. So, as it turns out, the Augusta, with its famed dogwoods and azaleas, is a natural beauty and little if no environmentally harmful cosmetic enhancements are needed. Explains Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s (GCSAA) environmental programs director Gregory Lyman: “Augusta takes sustainability seriously. But their product is just different than everyone else’s … each blade of grass has a name.”
In addition to Augusta National’s naturally low-impact loveliness, the deep-pocketed club has taken additional efforts to green course operations: Augusta has instituted both tree reforestation and tree mulching programs; a state-of-the-art live rain radar system helps to conserve water and reduce runoff; the parking area for the Masters remains unpaved as to reduce surface runoff and provide a habitat for ground-nesting birds; and 55 acres of the property, located to the left of the 11th hole, is a wildlife habitat.
And on the topic of holes, all 18 of them at Augusta National are named after a tree or shrub: Tea Olive (the first hole), Magnolia (the fifth hole), White Dogwood (the 11th hole), Holly (the 18th hole), and on.
While Augusta National is famed for its almost unnaturally beautiful flora, as it turns out some rather interesting fauna once called the course home as well: 200 heads of cattle and more than 1,400 turkeys. From 1943 until late 1944, Augusta National was closed for play and transformed into a farm of sorts to help support the war effort. Some of the turkeys were given to club members during Christmas (meat rations were in effect) while the rest were sold to local residents to help fund the club. And the cows? Well, they acted as natural lawnmowers but also inflicted quite a bit of damage to Augusta National, devouring many of the course’s famed plants and shrubs.
To help repair cattle-related damage and revive Augusta National for its reopening, 42 German prisoners of war from nearby Camp Gordon were shuttled back and forth to work on the course. Writes John Strege in “When War Played Through: Golf During World War II:”
"The POWs had been with the engineering crew serving Rommel, the Desert Fox, in North Africa, part of the Panzer division responsible for building bridges that enabled German tanks to cross rivers. It was a useful skill for the renovation work to be done at Augusta National. The Germans were asked to erect a bridge over Rae’s Creek adjacent to the tee box at the thirteenth hole."
The Masters resumed at Augusta National — now free of German prisoners and barnyard animals — in 1946. And interestingly enough, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower, later became a member of Augusta National. Two Augusta National landmarks bearing Eisenhower’s name still stand today: the Eisenhower Tree (a loblolly pine at the 17th hole that the former president and avid golfer repeatedly struck with golf balls and requested be cut down; photo above) and the Eisenhower Cabin (built in the 1950s according to Secret Service security guidelines by the club for the former president’s visits).