Short History of East Lake Golf Club

Courtesy of CEM0030

Courtesy of CEM0030

The East Lake Golf Club has a long and rich history.  As with any venue over 100 years old, it has witnessed the good and the bad.  With 30 of the world’s best golfers currently playing at the club and golf fans everywhere focused on East Lake, a captive audience awaits its tale.

The Atlanta Athletic Club bought almost 200 acres of land in 1904 around East Lake, a body of water surrounded by a forest. The property was to the east and south of the town of Decatur, about five miles east of Atlanta. Tom Bendelow designed the East Lake course. The first nine holes were completed by 1906 and the last nine in 1907.  In 1908, Bendelow created the “No. 2” course at East Lake.

World-renowned golf course designer Donald Ross re-designed East Lake in 1913.  His design called for the front and back nine holes to end at the clubhouse. Unfortunately, this same clubhouse fell to a fire in 1925, and soon after, Atlanta architect Philip Shutze constructed the present day two-story Tudor style building. Shutze’s East Lake clubhouse is one of several of his projects listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.  Other Atlanta works include the Swan House, The Temple, the Albert E. Thornton House, and the Citizen’s and Southern Bank Building.

While the course and clubhouse remain icons of golf, East Lake may be better known for its association with legendary golfer Bobby Jones.  Robert P. Jones, Bobby’s father, was a club member from its inception.   Bobby learned and developed his game on the East Lake course under the tutelage of the club pro, Stewart Maiden. At the age of 11, Jones carded an 80 at East Lake. With his game honed on the East Lake course, Jones would enjoy an illustrious career as an amateur, including winning the Grand Slam of golf in 1930 (United States Amateur, United States Open, British Amateur, and British Open). Jones served as president of East Lake from 1946-47 and some of his golf memorabilia can be found today in the clubhouse.

East Lake hosted the Ryder Cup in 1963, and Arnold Palmer played and captained the winning United States team. Unfortunately, this event became one of the last pleasant memories until the early 1990s. The surrounding neighborhood in the 1960s fell into disrepair prompting the Atlanta Athletic Club to sell the No. 2 course and move to its current site in Duluth, GA.  In 1968,  a group of 25 East Lake members purchased the original course and clubhouse and created the East Lake Country Club.

The 1970s witnessed the construction of a public housing project on the site of the No. 2 course.  Poverty, drugs, and violence surrounded the golf club through the 1980s.

However, in 1993, a local charitable foundation purchased East Lake with the intent of restoring it as a tribute to Bobby Jones and the club’s other great amateur golfers, such as Charlies Yates.  Around this time the East Lake Foundation emerged to aid in the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods. In 1994, golf architect Rees Jones restored Donald Ross’ original design to give East Lake its current appearance and soon after, the East Lake Country Club became the East Lake Golf Club.  Jones also re-designed the No.2 course, which opened as the Charlie Yates Golf Course in 1998.

Today, all of the profits from the East Lake Golf Club go to the East Lake Foundation. The Foundation aids in the support of the health, education, safety, and productivity of the East Lake neighborhood.

One of the biggest supporters of the East Lake Foundation is the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola, which is the finale of the Professional Golf Association’s playoffs and the pursuit of the FedEx Cup (winner receives $10 million). The Tour Championship first came to East Lake in 1998 and rotated with Champions Golf Club of Houston until 2004 when East Lake became the permanent home of the Tour Championship.

Besides the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, East Lake has hosted six Southern Amateur tournaments, three Southern Opens, one Western Junior tournament, one U.S. Amateur tournament, and one U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament.

East Lake Golf Club honors the golfing greats of the past, present, and future while giving back to the surrounding community. It is a place revered by people across the globe but certainly no more so than those living a short lob shot away.  Tradition and charity combine to form one of golf’s greatest venues!

Willie Anderson

340px-WillieAnderson1909

Born in North Berwick, Scotland in 1879, Willie Anderson moved to the United States at the age of 16.  He was the first golfer to win four United States Opens—1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905.  He remains the only man to win three consecutive U. S. Open titles, and only Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus can equal his four U. S. Open championships.

Anderson began to develop his golf knowledge and skills at an early age, serving as a licensed caddie at 11 while in Scotland.  While in his teens, he also served as an apprentice club maker. Once in America, Anderson obtained a job as the golf professional at Misquamicut Golf Club in Rhode Island.   He worked at 10 different clubs in 14 years.

At 20 years of age, Anderson won his first professional tournament, the Southern California Open, but the U. S. Open became Anderson’s playground.  He played in the U. S. Open fourteen times from 1897-1910.  Besides winning four times, he finished in the Top 5 in 11 of the tournaments. He used the gutta percha ball to win the title in 1901 but won the other three with the newly invented Haskell rubber-cored ball. He still owns the honor of the only man to win U. S. Opens with the two different balls, one that he certainly will own in perpetuity.

Anderson also dominated the second-largest professional golf tournament in the United States at the time, the Western Open—winning in 1902, 1904, 1908, and 1909.  In the 1902 contest, Anderson became the first professional golfer in United States history to break a score of 300 in a 72-hole tournament.

His peers marveled at Anderson’s club accuracy and concentration under pressure.  These skills and his professional victories, particularly those in the United States Open, served as the basis for his election into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.

Anderson died from epilepsy at the age of 31. Cheers to one of golf’s early greats!

The U. S. Open: America’s National Golf Championship

Dustin Johnson Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison

Theodore Havemeyer returned to his summer home in Newport, Rhode Island in 1889, after playing golf in southern France, determined to play the game again somewhere closer to home.  Havemeyer, and others like him, had a limited number of options for a round of golf in the Newport area or in the United States at that time.  While the game of golf had sprung deep roots in Scotland and England, it had inspired limited interest in the United States.  Those who played generally came from wealthy backgrounds and belonged to the smattering of private golf clubs around the country.  The undeterred Havemeyer persuaded some of the area’s upper crust–John Jacob Astor IV, Perry Belmont, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II–to buy a 140-acre farm property in 1893 with the intent to establish a golf club.  That club would become the Newport Country Club.  Not satisfied with a venue for his golfing buddies, Havemeyer wanted to host national championships at his new course.  In 1894, he held a tournament for some of the best amateurs in the United States at the new club.  That tournament would be one of two National Amateur Championships that year, the other held at the Chicago Golf Club.

Hoping for a single amateur championship every year, Havemeyer prompted a meeting in December at New York City’s Calumet Club with representatives of four other golf clubs:  St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island; The Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club.  The representatives agreed that the Newport Country Club would host the first U. S. Amateur Championship, confined strictly to amateurs, and the first U. S. Open Championship, for professionals and amateurs, in 1895.  In addition, the representatives formed the Amateur Golf Association to administer the national amateur championship and the Rules of Golf for the United States.   Soon afterwards the name changed to the United States Golf Association (USGA) to order to include both amateurs and professionals, and Havemeyer became the USGA’s first president.  The U. S. Amateur trophy is named in his honor.

The U. S. Open started as almost an afterthought.  It took place the day after the U. S. Amateur at the Newport Golf Club in 1895.  Both tournaments were originally scheduled for September but were pushed back to October so as not to interfere with the America’s Cup yacht races, a more established Newport competition.  The first U. S. Open unfolded over a nine-hole course at the Club in a single day. Ten professionals and one amateur competed in the 36-hole competition for an overall purse of $335 and a $50 gold medal.  Englishman Horace Rawlins won the first tournament and the grand sum of $150, plus the gold medal.  By contrast, 2016 winner Dustin Johnson took home $1.8 million.

Because Rawlins was an assistant golf pro at the Newport Golf Club, the Club received the USGA-sponsored Open Championship Cup trophy.   Winners of the U. S. Open today take possession of the trophy until the next Open when it must be returned to USGA officials.

For a decade and a half British professionals won the U. S. Open Championship, but in 1911 John J. McDermott became the first American winner.  McDermott accomplished the feat again the next year before American amateur Francis Ouimet pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history.  At the Country Club of Brookline in 1913, Ouimet defeated in a playoff arguably the world’s best professional golfers of the day–Britain’s Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.  Considered one of the great upsets in sports history, Ouimet’s victory spurred an interest in golf in the United States that eventually would lead to the obsession that it is today.  After Ouimet’s triumph, the sport moved from that of the ultra-rich to a game shared by people from many different socio-economic levels.  According to USGA historian Michael Trostel, Ouimet’s conquest prompted the addition of about two million Americans to the list of golf participants over the next decade.  Also, more golf courses, both public and private, emerged in the United States to meet the demand.

The prestige of the U. S. Open grew rapidly and players from around the world competed for one of its coveted spots.   The USGA began sectional qualifying in 1924 to meet the demand.    The tournament ‘s and the sport’s popularity skyrocketed again in the 1920s as amateur Bobby Jones won three U. S. Open titles and then a fourth in 1930 on his way to winning the Grand Slam–U. S. Open, British Open, U. S. Amateur and British Amateur.  Only five amateurs have ever won the U. S. Open:  Jones, Ouimet, Jerome D. Travers (1915), Charles Evans, Jr. ( 1916), and John Goodman (1933).

The design of the U. S. Open courses over time has allowed only the best to win the tournament, and amateurs now have very little chance.  The courses today generally are very long with  narrow fairways and high primary rough around those fairways.  They also generally include undulating greens.  An example of such greens can be found at Pinehurst No. 2, of which NBC analyst Johnny Miller compares trying to land a shot on the greens to “trying to hit a ball on top of a VW Beetle.”  The vast majority of U. S. Open courses play at par 70.  All of these elements normally lead to a winning score somewhere close to par.  Because of this the U. S. Open has the reputation as the most difficult of the four majors–U. S. Open, British Open, the Masters, and PGA Championship–to play.

The U. S. Open format has changed several times since the inaugural tournament in 1895.  In 1896, the championship became a 72-hole contest with 36 holes played each day for two successive days.  The format changed again in 1926 with participants playing 18 holes for two successive days, then 36 holes the next day.  The current format took hold in 1965 as the contestants began to play 18 holes over four successive days.

Ties after 72 holes are decided by the players involved playing an additional 18 holes the next day.  If after 18 holes a champion has not been crowned then sudden death ensues. The first player to win a hole outright is declared the winner.  The U. S. Open is the only major that uses this playoff format.

While the U. S. Open’s four-day format provided more exposure for the tournament, television helped launch it to new levels of popularity beginning with ABC’s live coverage of the final two rounds in 1977, then ESPN’s live coverage of the first two rounds in 1982.  NBC became the first network to provide live television coverage of all four rounds.  Currently, Fox Sports televises the four-day spectacle.

Four men who have won the U. S. Open four times:  Willie Anderson (1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905), Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930), Ben Hogan (1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953), and Jack Nicklaus (1962, 1967, 1972, and 1980).  The United States has produced 82 U. S. Open champions with the rest of the 34 winners divided among England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina.

Fifty-one private and public courses have hosted the 116 U. S. Opens—Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania has hosted 9; Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey boasts 7; Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan can claim 6; while Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York; Merion Golf Club in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania; The Olympic Club in San Francisco, California; and Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California have all hosted 5 U. S. Opens.  The 117th edition will be played at Erin Hills, in Erin, Wisconsin, a public course.

Today, more than 9,000 golfers participate in sectional qualifiers across the world hoping to claim one of the available spots in the 156 player field.  Qualifiers are open to men and women, both professional and amateurs.  However, an amateur must have a USGA Handicap Index no higher than 1.4 to participate in one of the sectionals.

After its meager beginnings in Newport in 1895 as a secondary sporting event, the U. S. Open now plays on some of the most majestic courses in America and holds the attention of the sporting world for four days in June every year.  Theodore Havemeyer would certainly be amazed at how the acorn he planted over 100 years ago has grown into the mighty oak that it is today.

 

America’s First Great Golfer: Francis Ouimet

389px-FrancisOuimet1913

With all due respect to Bobby Jones, the title of “father of amateur golf” in the United States belongs to Francis Ouimet (pronounced wee-MAY).  Ouimet’s stunning victory in the 1913 United States Open spurred the growth of golf in America and a love affair with the sport that continues today.

Ouimet was born in May, 1893 in Brookline, Massachusetts during a time when golf in America had few players, no public golf courses, and only the wealthy could afford to play. He grew up in a working class family. The family moved across from the 17th hole at The Country Club of Brookline when Ouimet was four years old, and he showed interest in the game at an early age.  By 11, Ouimet had secured a job as a caddie at The Country Club.  Using old clubs and balls, Ouitmet taught himself how to play the game.  His natural ability earned him the reputation as one of the best high school golfers in the state.  Ouimet’s father believed golf and school offered very little future for his son and told Francis to find a job.  Francis landed a position in a dry goods store before landing a job with a sporting goods store owned by baseball hall of famer George Wright, one of the original players on the franchise now known as the Atlanta Braves.  Wright encouraged Ouimet to continue playing golf.

In 1913, Ouimet won his first tournament of any significance, the Massachusetts Amateur Open.  That win propelled him to the United States Amateur Open where he lost in the quarterfinals at the Garden City Golf Club in New York City in September.  Soon afterwards, Robert Watson, president of the United States Golf Association, asked Ouimet to play in the United States Open later that month at The Country Club of Brookline, a course Ouimet knew very well.  The U.S. Open that year changed its playing date from June to accommodate the schedules of the first and second ranked golfers in the world at the time—British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

Ouimet had never played in a U.S. Open but found himself tied with the two British stars after 72 holes.  In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, Ouimet beat Vardon and Ray the next day in the rain during an 18-hole playoff.  A 20-year old amateur beat the two best golfers in the world—Ray by six strokes and Vardon by five. Ouimet’s stunning victory became the catalyst for the growth and popularity of the game in the United States.

Players from England and Scotland had dominated the sport in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  In America, mostly members of private clubs played the game during this time and very few public courses existed. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, about 350,000 Americans played golf in 1913. Ten years later, over two million Americans played golf and private and public courses sprang up across the country to keep up with the demand.

Ouimet won 27 tournaments as an amateur, including the 1914 and 1931 U.S. Amateur Opens.  He came close to winning several other U.S. Amateur Opens during the 1920s, but many of those championships belonged to another great amateur, Bobby Jones.  Ouimet was the first person to win both the U.S. Amateur Open and the U.S. Open.  Also, Ouimet played on the first eight Walker Cup teams and was Captain of the next four. His teams compiled a record of 11-1.

Because of his ambition to move up into the middle class, Ouimet remained an amateur his entire life and focused his attention on the business world.  Golfers in Ouimet’s era found it difficult to become wealthy playing golf.  How times have changed!

Only ten years after winning the U.S. Open, Ouimet had become a banker and stock broker.  In later years, he became a successful financial adviser.

In 1949, a group of Ouimet’s friends started the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund.  The Fund gives college scholarships to young caddies in Massachusetts.  To date, more than 5,100 young men and women have received over $26 million in scholarship money.

Ouimet, in 1955, received the Bob Jones Award–the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The World Golf Hall of Fame inducted Ouimet along with Jones, Vardon and six others into its first class for men in 1974.

The “father of amateur golf” passed away in Newton, Massachusetts in 1967 at the age of 74. Cheers to the great Francis Ouimet, America’s first golf hero!

 

A Brief History of Golf

 

800px-AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowers

Millions of people play golf every day around the world. Young and old, men and women, enjoy the game that traces its roots as far back as 100 BCE in Rome. Through the magic of television, live streaming on the internet and other forms of media, people today see the majestic beauty of Augusta National, the ancient links of the Old Course at St. Andrews, the splendor of Pebble Beach or any one of the hundreds of courses on which today’s professionals showcase their super human skills. Certainly, golf course design, the technology, and the players have come a long way since the nascent years of the game. The following will examine some of the history behind the game of golf, specifically its development into what we know as golf today.

The earliest form of golf can be traced to ancient Rome where people played a game called paganica around 100 BCE. Players hit a stuffed leather ball with a bent stick. During the Song Dynasty (960 CE to 1279 CE) in China, participants played chuiw an, which was played with several clubs and a ball.

A 1261 manuscript of Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant referred to a game with a ball and club. The reference may have been to the Dutch game called colf or kolf during which four players hit balls over a certain distance with the winner being the one who reached the starting point of one of the other players. Some colf or kolf games lasted multiple days.

However, the modern game of golf can trace its roots to Scotland. In a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, the game of gowf (golf) received its first mention. The Act prohibited the game because King James II saw it as a distraction from archery practice, necessary for the defense of the country.   Further mention of the game can be found in government documents in 1471 and 1491 banning the sport. By 1500, Scotland lifted all bans and within a couple of years King James IV purchased balls and clubs to play the game. At that time, balls were made of wood or hard leather while clubs were made of wood, mostly beech, holly, pear and apple. In 1724, various documents referenced balls stuffed with feathers.

Royalty provided the impetus for the spread of golf in Europe.  With King Charles I’s blessing, the game took root in England in the sixteenth century.  Mary Queen of Scots, while studying in France during this same period, introduced the sport there.  Interestingly, the term “caddie” comes from her French military aides, referred to as cadets.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG) established the first rules of golf in 1744. Twenty year later, the Old Course at St. Andrews reduced its total holes from 22 to 18, establishing the format for today’s game.

By 1826, hickory, imported from the United States, became the wood of choice for club shafts in Great Britain. About 20 years later, the gutta percha ball became the ball of choice. The ball makers placed strips of gutta percha (dried sap from a Sapodilla tree) in boiling water then molded the ball by hand before submerging in cold water to harden it.

The first British Open Championship was played at Prestwick in 1860. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club established the British Amateur Championship in 1885–Hoylake hosted the first tournament.

Montreal established the first permanent golf club in North America in 1873, the Canada’s Royal Montreal Club, while in 1894 the United States Golf Association (USGA) was  formed in New York with five charter members—St. Andrew’s Golf Club of Yonkers, New York; Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in South Hampton, New York; The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois.  A year later, the Newport Country Club hosted the first United States Amateur Championship and United States Open.  The USGA maintains the official rules of golf for the United States and Mexico.

By 1900, persimmon became the wood of choice for club heads while aluminum became a popular alternative. Groove-faced irons, which promote increased backspin, entered the market two years later.  Around the same time, the rubber-cored Haskell ball joined the list of new equipment. This ball revolutionized golf because it traveled farther than the gutta-percha ball and cost much less to manufacture. Golf enthusiasm and participation soared to new heights. By 1910, 267 clubs claimed USGA membership.

In 1916, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) was  formed and the first PGA Championship took place at Siwanoy Country Club in New York. Five years later the British team won the first Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. However, the United States team won the first Walker Cup in 1922 at Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York.

Golf technology continued to evolve and the Royal and Ancient (R&A), the recognized stewards of the rules of golf for everywhere except the United States and Mexico, accepted steel-shafted golf clubs for the first time in 1929. The next year, Bobby Jones became the only person to achieve the Grand Slam of golf with victories in the United States Amateur, the British Amateur, the United States Open and the British Open. Not long afterwards, Jones was instrumental in designing Augusta National Golf Club, where the first Masters took place in 1934. In 1939, the Royal and Ancient indoctrinated the 14-club rule to promote individual skill and to prevent golfers from using an inordinate amount of clubs.

Women shared the golf spotlight with the men beginning in 1932 when the United States team defeated the team of Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England.   The United States Women’s Open was staged for the first time in 1946 at Spokane Country Club in Washington and four years later the Ladies’ Professional Golfers’ Association (LPGA) was formed.

Since 1952 the R&A and the USGA have worked together to produce a common set of rules for golfers worldwide called the “Rules of Golf.”  The rules are revised every four years.

More equipment changes followed World War II. Influenced by research in synthetic and composite materials, golf club manufacturing changed. In 1963, the casting method for manufacturing club heads was introduced.  This new technology lowered the costs of golf clubs, which led to increased participation in the sport. Graphite shafts hit the market in 1973, which were lighter and stronger than steel shafts. TaylorMade introduced the first metal woods in 1979. Callaway owns the honor of the best-selling golf club in history, the Big Bertha, which hit the market for the first time in 1991.

Golf has a long and rich history. The game may have its roots as far back as ancient Rome and China. Certainly, the game as we know it today can be traced to Scotland in the fifteenth century. As the technology changed over the years and equipment costs fell, more and more people began to play the game. Arguably, it is the one sport that people can truly enjoy well into their later years in life.  Play the game once and you will probably be hooked. Just remember to yell “fore!” after an errant shot.

The Birth of the Masters

800px-AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowers

For Bobby Jones, the time had come to retire from competitive golf in late 1930.  He had just completed the Grand Slam—United States Open, United States Amateur, British Open, British Amateur—and the strain of competing in major championships had taken a physical and mental toll on him.  Playing as an amateur, Jones won 13 major championships between 1923 and 1930 .  He was the overwhelming favorite in any tournament he entered.  Thousands of fans followed him from one hole to the next, and he wished he could just play golf somewhere with his friends, out of the spotlight.  So Jones announced his retirement at the age of 28 to shocked fans across the globe.  However, golf was still in his blood. A conversation over a drink with friend Clifford Roberts set in motion the wheels of destiny that would eventually lead to Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.

Roberts had moved around the country while growing up and eventually became a Wall Street stockbroker.  The market crash of 1929 hit Roberts very hard, but his financial abilities would prove invaluable as Augusta National tried to become a viable and sustainable operation.  He and Jones had met in the 1920s through mutual friends.  While sharing a drink one day, Jones informed Roberts of his wish to build a golf course in the South that would reflect Jones’ golf values—the course must be strategic and full of options for players of all skill levels.  Roberts suggested that Jones look in Augusta, Georgia for land.  For several decades, Augusta had served as a winter destination for wealthy northeasterners.  Roberts had been a part of some of these groups and believed these people could form the core of a national membership for the new club.  Jones had visited Augusta on numerous occasions and liked the thought of a private club in that city in part because the climate was warmer in Augusta during the winter months than Atlanta, which would allow more playing opportunities and better course conditions.  Roberts told Jones he would work with Jones on making his dream a reality, but only if Jones agreed to allow Roberts to handle all of the financing for the project.  Jones wholeheartedly agreed.

In the spring of 1931, Thomas Barrett, the vice president of the Bon-Air-Vanderbilt Hotel in Augusta, suggested a piece of property to Roberts that could be converted into Jones’ course.  The 365-acre property turned out to be the old Fruitland Nurseries, which had ceased operations in 1910.  The Berckmans family bought an old indigo plantation and turned it into a nursery in the 1850s.  The family imported trees and plants from all over the world, including the azalea plant.  The property, mainly because of the Depression, could be bought very cheaply.  Jones stated in Golf Is My Game (Doubleday & Co.:  New York, 1960), that when he first saw the property it was an “unforgettable” experience and further declared, “It seemed that this land had been lying here for years just waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it.  Indeed, it even looked as though it were already a golf course.”  With Jones’ blessing, Barrett and Roberts handled the financing for the purchase of the property.

With the property secured, Jones needed to decide on a designer for the course.  Jones wanted someone who shared his values on the game of golf.  Alister MacKenzie sent a book he wrote to Jones in 1927 entitled Golf Architecture Economy in Course Construction and Green-Keeping (Originally published in 1920.  Republished by Coventry House Publishing: Dublin, OH, 2017).  Jones remembered that the book detailed similar views to his on how a golf course should be designed (the book is on display today at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta).  MacKenzie believed that a course should preserve all natural beauty and emphasize strategy as well as skill. He also thought that a course should be challenging and interesting for golfers of all skill levels.  Clearly, Jones and MacKenzie shared a common vision.

MacKenzie, a Scotsman, became a golf course designer after practicing medicine and serving as a civil surgeon for the British Army in two wars.  The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews hired MacKenzie as a consultant for the Old Course in the 1920s.  He came to California in the mid-1920s where he was commissioned to design Cypress Point Golf Course near Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Not long after, Pebble Beach management hired MacKenzie to re-design the eighth and 13th greens.  He was next commissioned to design Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz.

In 1929, Jones headed to California to play in the United States Amateur held at Pebble Beach.  He went out early to play several of the courses in the state, and one of those was MacKenzie’s Cypress Point.  After Jones was upset in the first round of the U.S. Amateur, he decided to play Cypress Point one more time.  On this occasion Jones spoke with MacKenzie about course design.  Jones then played Pasatiempo, where Jones gained further appreciation for MacKenzie’s talent.

With these memories etched into his head, Jones knew that MacKenzie was the man to design Augusta National.  After a meeting at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York, MacKenzie agreed to a formal offer of $10,000 to design Augusta National.  Roberts helped secure some funding for the course construction.  With Jones’ input, MacKenzie began the design of Augusta National in 1931.  The course was completed in less than two years with the formal opening in January 1933.  With the suggestion from one of the Berckmans, distinctive trees and flowers were planted on each hole of the new course.

After MacKenzie made several requests for payment after the completion of the project, Roberts finally gave him $2,000.00 to appease him, but MacKenzie never received the money originally agreed to in New York.  He died at his home on Pasatiempo in 1934.

Augusta National struggled financially after the course opened.  Getting members to join became a problem.  Grantland Rice, the famous sportswriter, agreed to become a member and recruit others. Finally, Roberts and Jones came up with the idea to host a golf tournament in order to raise much needed capital.  Originally, they thought of bringing the United States Open to Augusta National but that idea dissipated because of scheduling conflicts and Augusta’s summer heat.  So Roberts and Jones decided to host their own tournament.  As a means to attract participants and to lend credibility to the event, Jones agreed to participate.  The city of Augusta gave $10,000 to support it.

The first Augusta National Invitation Tournament took place in the spring of 1934.  Horton Smith won the inaugural event while Jones finished 13th.  Jones, Roberts and all involved deemed the tournament a success.  The next year, the tournament gained more notoriety when Gene Sarazen scored a double eagle on the par five 15th hole in the final round to force a play-off with Craig Wood.  Sarazen defeated Wood the next day for the victory.

Through the diligence of Roberts, increased membership and the income from the tournament, Augusta National’s finances stabilized in the coming years.  The Club would become the viable and sustainable organization that it is known as today.

Roberts unofficially called the tournament the Masters in the early years but that moniker did not become official until 1939.  The tournament became a success because of the work of Roberts and Jones.  Early April became the ideal time of year for the event.  The beauty of the trees and flowers that lent their names to the 18 holes was magnificent that time of year.  Moreover, recognition from the national baseball writers could be garnered in early April as they made their way North after spring training in Florida.  Many of them stopped in Augusta for a brief respite, the Masters tournament, and the hospitality of Roberts and Jones.  Additionally, no other major golf event occupied the calendar during that time of year.  All of these factors helped establish Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters as the golf venue and event known universally as golf’s finest!

 

 

The Masters Tournament at Augusta National

For a golf fan, the Masters tournament at Augusta National is the ultimate venue for golf. Legendary Atlanta golfer Bobby Jones designed the course and Horton Smith of Missouri won the first tournament in 1934. Americans won the tournament from 1934 through 1960 (no tournament 1943-45) before Gary Player of South Africa won the first of his three titles in 1961.

Interestingly, very few golfers with Georgia ties have won the Masters. Savannah-born Claude Harmon won in 1948 while Tommy Aaron from Gainesville put on the green jacket in 1973. Larry Mize from Augusta and Georgia Tech took home the title in 1987. St. Simons resident Zach Johnson won in 2007 before UGA golfer Bubba Watson earned his green jacket in 2012.

Jack Nicklaus has won the most titles with six while Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have won four apiece.

For those of us who won’t be at Augusta National this weekend, grab a pimento-cheese sandwich and some sweet tea, plop yourself in front of the tellie, and enjoy a bit of heaven as the world’s best golfers vie for the title of Masters champion!
800px-AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowers
Photo by Pocketwiley