The much-loved Bobby Jones stands out when one considers the origins of Augusta National and the Masters tournament. The great amateur was the public face of both from their inception. But, another man was equally responsible for turning 365 acres of an old indigo plantation into America’s most famous golf course and administering the early invitational tournaments at the club.
Clifford Roberts was a mysterious character. Intimidating and opinionated, Arnold Palmer admitted to being, “almost instantly scared to death of him”. Roberts was Augusta chairman from 1931 to 1976 and of the Masters from 1934 to 1976. A Wall Street banker, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to create and protect the image of the club and the annual tournament it hosted. In the planning of Augusta National, Roberts wanted to include a short course in addition to the main track, though the club’s fragile, post-depression finances dictated that the plan was shelved.
The project was only ‘shelved’ though and, in 1958, Roberts hired course architect George Cobb to build nine par-3 holes around two ponds close to the clubhouse. For Roberts, this short course was an essential component of the club and would now complement the original Augusta National.
In 1960, Roberts announced a par-3 contest around the short course on the Wednesday afternoon prior to the Masters. The fact the chairman stipulated the main course would be closed for practice at 2.30pm was a clear indication of his intentions. The tournament was won by Sam Snead in just 23 strokes – the course record is 20, shared by Art Wall and Gay Brewer. The tournament is now a tradition, a celebration of golf where Masters patrons have a chance to see tournament participants, non-competing past champions, and honorary invitees in relaxed mood with their peers, families and the people who come to support them.
The setting of the par-3 layout is fantastic. Surrounded by towering pines, azaleas and dogwoods, the holes play across DeSoto Springs pond and Ike’s pond – named after President Dwight Eisenhower, an Augusta member and close friend of Clifford Roberts, who regularly fished there. It’s a peaceful and hidden oasis, but it becomes a bustling amphitheatre with cheers ringing out as wedge shots pepper the flags. In fact, there have been 67 holes-in-one in the 50 par-3 contests to date and at least one on each of the nine holes. Following Tom Fazio’s addition of two new holes over Ike’s pond in 1987, the course measures 1,060 yards with the longest hole just 140 yards.