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History Lesson

Sunday, April 06, 2008



Arnold Palmer served as an honorary starter in 2007, reviving a Masters tradition that began in 1963. (Michael Holahan/Staff)

Bobby Jones, one of the most prominent athletes of the 1920s, decided to retire from competitive golf in 1930 after winning all four major championships in the same season for his Grand Slam.

Jones, an Atlanta native, set out to build his dream course, and it didn't take him and investment banker Clifford Roberts long to settle on Augusta as a site. When the pair was told a property called Fruitland Nurseries, a former indigo plantation, was available, a deal was struck.

Jones enlisted the help of Alister Mackenzie, a prominent Scottish course architect, to design Augusta National Golf Club. Construction began in 1931, and the course opened in December 1932.

Jones and Roberts decided to hold an annual event, and the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament was held in 1934. Jones relented to change the name to the Masters in 1939.


The Masters Tournament renewed its honorary starter tradition in 2007. Billy Payne, Augusta National Golf Club and Masters chairman, asked four-time winner Arnold Palmer to assume the role.

Before the start of the first round, Palmer stepped onto the first tee and was introduced by Payne. Then, with his familiar swing and abbreviated follow-through, Palmer smacked his drive down the left side of the fairway and into the rough.

"I didn't want to top it," Palmer said. "I hit it pretty good."

The tradition began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod, the winners of the PGA Seniors' Championship held at Augusta National in 1937-38, starting the tournament together on Thursday morning.

By the 1980s, the rite of spring had evolved, with the trio of Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson all hitting opening tee shots. Former CBS analyst Ken Venturi also filled in one year.

Sarazen died in 1999, and Nelson retired from the role after 2001. Snead continued alone in 2002, but died the next month. Nelson died in 2006.


Jock Hutchison 1963-73

Fred McLeod 1963-76

Byron Nelson 1981-2001*

Gene Sarazen 1981-99

Ken Venturi 1983

Sam Snead 1984-2002

Arnold Palmer 2007


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