Loran Smith: Masters Thursday

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Loran Smith: Masters Thursday

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

AUGUSTA – With sunny days forecast for the Masters except for the nasty expectations for Thursday morning, there was an electric feel about this golfing garden spot on the eve of the tournament.

Tuesday night, there was the champions dinner as members hosted player wives who were joined later by their husbands which allowed for a relaxed social atmosphere.  The contestants, as founder Bobby Jones, liked to say, had an opportunity to get in a practice round on Tuesday and will have a final tune up opportunity today.





The advent of the champions dinner caused a flashback to another day when the faces were different, but the atmosphere was the same.  The idea of the dinner came from Ben Hogan who suggested it to Chairman Cliff Roberts who agreed and made it happen.

  What has endured has been a Masters tradition that gets plenty of coverage although no sportswriter or broadcaster has ever been included —just the former winners and club chairmen.   

It was Roberts and Bob Jones, President in Perpetuity, who hosted the first dinners, an all-male gathering when Sam Snead regaled everybody with his classic and ribald humor.





It was Snead who once said that no tournament was run as well as the Masters.  The club treated the contestants with the highest of respect and tried to make everything first class.  The payout on Sunday was the best in golf.  It has grown from that into something spectacular.

Dating back, there were innovative features such as red numbers on the scoreboards to denote subpar scores.  Gallery ropes came about when attendance swelled with advent of television and golf’s upswing in popularity.

It was at Augusta where the past champions were revered.  In the early eighties Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson were the honorary starters, and they played, initially, played 18 holes.  (They followed the ole timers Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod.)  Then it was nine holes and finally, only tee shots on the first tee which is the routine that takes place today.

Augusta is still a place where decorum and reverence still reign supreme.  The life expectancy of a spent cigarette butt is no more than five minutes.

Bob Jones authored the following in his book, “Golf is my game.”

“Our overall aim at the Augusta National has been to provide a golf course of considerable natural beauty, relatively easy for the average golfer to play, and at the same time testing for the expert player striving to better par figures.  We hope to make bogies easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play and birdies, except on the par fives, dearly bought.  Obviously, with a course as wide open as needed to accommodate the average golfer, we can only tighten it up by increasing the difficulty of play around the hole.  This we attempt to do during the tournament by placing the flags in more difficult and exacting positions and by increasing the speed of the greens.  Additionally, we try to maintain our greens of such firmness that they will only hold a well-played shot.”  Nothing has really changed at Augusta since Jones made that assessment decades ago.  

An interesting factoid about Jones is that his father played baseball at the University of Georgia.

When Dan Magill, Georgia legend, was writing sports for the Atlanta Journal following World War II, Magill asked Jones why he did not follow in his father’s footsteps and enroll in Athens.

Jones explained that he loved “East Lake Golf Course,” so much that he could not take himself away from the course that nurtured him and his golf game.   Although Magill did not insult the great golf champion, he, nonetheless, did not understand why a man born into a Bulldog family did not follow in the footsteps of the patriarch.  

Now that the great championship, the first major of the year, is underway, there is rejoicing that the golf course is in peak condition.  The best players in the world are here, and it is easy to forecast that great excitement will follow.  The pre-event atmosphere certainly makes one come to that conclusion.  





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