The NCAA crowns its winning teams via March Madness. The NFL anoints its champion through the Super Bowl. In golf, where big-time tournaments take place practically every week, one event stands above all the rest: the Masters Golf Tournament. Played every April since 1934 at Georgia’s illustrious Augusta National Golf Club, a victory at the Masters means more than the iconic green jacket or a stake in the ~$10 million purse; it’s a place among the very elite of the world golfing circuit.
The tourney’s past winners have included the likes of Arnold Palmer (1958, 1960, 1962, and 1964), Tiger Woods (1997, 2001, 2002, and 2005), Jack Nicklaus (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, and 1986), Sam Snead (1949, 1952, 1954), Byron Nelson (1937 and 1942), and many more legends. In the last few years, several more young talents have added their name to this illustrious list: Adam Scott (2013), Bubba Watson (2014), and Jordan Spieth (2015). Spieth especially has garnered a bit of celebrity due to his win, appearing on “The Late Show” in March 2016 to talk about, among other things, winning at the Masters and how to survive Georgia in mid-spring.
From April 7-10, 2016, players from across the globe will take the journey down Augusta’s legendary fairway. But this isn’t just the biggest event in all of golf; there are loads of important history and unique traditions attached to the Masters that make it a one-of-a-kind spectacle.
For more on golf’s most prestigious tournament, tee up for this primer:
Setting the field
The Masters is the first major tournament of the calendar year. However, it differs from events like the US Open and the PGA Championship in that it’s invitation only. Past champions can compete, and the status of each golfer is considered by the Masters committee, who assembles the field (the player roster) and tee times based on a number of factors. That’s in contrast to the computer programs used by many tournaments, further proving just how much the Masters values tradition. Even if they’re not past champions, there are numerous opportunities for professional golfers to secure that career-changing invite.
Winners of the US Open, the PGA Championship and The Open all receive a five-year invite. The top four players, even the ties, are also allowed to participate. The Masters has a global range and invites winners of various British, Latin American and Asian-Pacific tournaments. And unlike many other major tournaments, the Masters also makes plenty of room for amateur players. In fact, many of the international players in the tournament are up and comers, and the tournament officials even awarded a silver cup and medal to honor the lowest scoring amateur and the runner-up. Several amateur participants, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Hideki Matsuyama, have gone on to become true pros.
The Masters, though, is more than just the prestige: it’s also about the points. Golfers are ranked based on a points system – the better they perform at individual tournaments, the more points they’ll accrue. These totals are tracked over a two-year period, with each golfer ranked by their average per-tournament points. The Masters alone is worth a whopping 600 points, making it one of the most important tournaments for rankings alone.
A one-of-a-kind tourney
It’s not just the players and the course that have helped make the Masters one of golf’s most watched events. The tournament features a number of unique traditions, including:
- There is no running at the Masters. Security immediately ejects all runners.
- Tickets for the Masters are hugely coveted, and some people even pass theirs down through family lines.
- Organizers implemented the green jacket so members would stand out and help guide guests. They were later given to champions in lieu of trophies.
- Fans are always called “patrons,” and the rough is referred to as “the second cut.”
- All caddies must wear Masters-sanctioned white jumpsuits.
- Concessions are rather cheap. At past events, you could buy a beer for $3 and a piece of fruit for $1.
- From 1934 to 1938, the tourney was called the Augusta National Invitational. The name changed in 1939 to sound more prominent.
- The menu for each years Champions Dinner is chosen by the previous year’s winner. Jordan Spieth is cooking up Texas BBQ for the 2016 Masters.
- To maintain exclusivity, tournament organized have banned cell phones entirely.
- For the 2016 tournament, Arnold Palmer will not hit the ceremonial first tee shot. This is the first time since 2007 that the icon hasn’t helped ring in the Masters.
Par for the course
There are golf clubs, and then there is the Augusta National Golf Club – which is a beautiful backdrop for the Masters. First opened in January 1933, the club was previously a plant nursery, and that still shows thanks to its rows of tall trees, shrubbery arrangements and alluring water traps. There’s no denying the picturesque beauty of the Augusta club, and it stands as one of the most definitive examples of what a golf course should look alike. Don’t take our word for it, though; you can take a mini-tour of the course as it stood in early 2016.
Still, not everyone gets to enjoy the amenities; with annual fees between $25,000 and $50,000, Augusta caps its membership at 300. Aside from a slew of golf icons, Augusta has at one time counted people like Bill Gates, NFL great Lynn Swann, and former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano as members.
If you do happen to gain access to Augusta (can we come too?), you play on one of the most important fairways in all of golf history. Augusta is home to some of the most famous and highly celebrated holes in all of golf. There’s No. 2, Pink Dogwood, a par 5 known as much for its challenging bunkers as the songbirds that frequent the nearby treeline. Of course, you can’t forget about hole No. 9, Carolina Cherry, which may house loads of colorful flowers but is best known for the level of accuracy it demands. Of all the challenges presented to golf pros, No. 15, Fire Thorn, has one of the most well-known approaches in the entire world.
In all, Augusta runs 7,435 yards and has only gotten bigger over the years. In the 1940s, the course was 6,800 yards, and it was slowly lengthened over the decades. Though it got smaller in the 90s – dropping to 6,905 yards from a record of 7,040 yards – the grounds were expanded to its current dimensions in the 2010s. Even the grass has changed over time. When the once famous Bermuda grass began to impede play in the late 70s, maintenance crews eventually switched it out more efficient bentgrass. In golf, grass can make all the difference between a winning shot and going home with fewer points.
Between long-held traditions, a long history of iconic players and some of the best golf on the planet, it’s no wonder the Masters is like March Madness and the Super Bowl all wrapped into one for golf fans.