With the season's first Major, the US Masters, now on our doorstep, Bill Elliott looks back on the history and how European golfers once dominated at Augusta
The genius behind Jones and the eventual growth of the Masters was his co-founder, a businessman called Clifford Roberts and a man who became obsessed with the growth of the Masters and who was chairman until his death in 1977. Peter Dobereiner, famed golf correspondent for The Observer, knew Roberts well and once wrote that Roberts was determined that “everything about Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters had to be the best and if it was not the best then it would have to be improved every year until it was”. It is an ambition that prevails to this day.
This determination to be better than anyone or anywhere else is two-sided of course. On the one hand it means that each year of the 34 that I have attended a Masters there has been some improvement to the place, to the course or to both. Sometimes these advances are subtle, sometimes they are obvious, but they never stop taking place. There is, frankly, nowhere like it in golf or indeed in the general world of sport. The downside is that this ‘better-than-you’ philosophy can sometimes encourage an arrogance that can irritate those on the receiving end.
Always, however, the way the game of golf is delivered to a watching world during Masters week overcomes most, if not all, of anyone’s misgivings about the place. The great duels over the years, the battles between Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the European surge, the arrival with trumpets and rockets of a young Tiger Woods, all these and more flare in the imagination.
Golf at Augusta National is the game as it would always be portrayed if we only could arrange such a thing. But we can’t and so this most gorgeous of killing fields has become the template for something close to perfection. Jones’ big plan was to build a club that celebrated everything that he saw as terrific about golf. Roberts’ drive and attention to detail pretty much delivered this dream.
Much, if not all, of this back-story will be lost on many of the young professionals who stride onto those immaculately prepared fairways for this year’s Masters. Oh, they will have a vague notion of why and how the Masters has managed to weave its way into a curious global consciousness, but not much. Until they grow older and begin to appreciate the relevance of history to our appreciation of the now, this is how it should be. Jones and Roberts, I suspect, would not have minded this ignorance.
Instead, they would concentrate on the happy thought that while there are more demanding, more dynamic sports than daft, old golf, the Masters sensationally confirms the thought that, actually, none are quite as beautiful. When this 2015 version concludes, the serious-faced men of Augusta will sit down once more to try to work out how to make it even better for next year.
Shortly before they do this, they will have the gates shut to anyone not a member or their guest and invite the rest of us to go to hell for another 51 weeks. As ever, they will do this firmly and politely. We won’t mind. They know and we know that it is all part of the game. At least the game as played at Augusta.