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If there’s one golf tournament that the weekend hackers dream about seeing (let alone playing), it’s this one. From the course and its spectacular setting to the myriad traditions, the select field and the prestige of pulling on the green jacket as champion, the Masters represents the pinnacle for all golfers and golf fans. But be warned – no phones or cameras are allowed on the course and running between holes to gain a better vantage point is grounds for eviction!
Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia opened in January 1933 with the first Masters played the following year. The club was established by golf legend Bobby Jones and businessman Clifford Roberts, the long-time chairman of the tournament who infamously committed suicide on the course in 1977. The course is par 72, 7435 yards in length and has undergone significant changes since it opened.
Designed by Jones and Alister Mackenzie, who died before the course was finished, Augusta National was built on the site of an old nursery and It’s been evolving ever since and to such an extent recently that the original designers would barely recognise the place. The Bermuda greens were changed to bent grass and the fairways were tightened at the end of the last century before a major overhaul was orchestrated by Tom Fazio in 2002. More than half the holes were lengthened and tightened and at almost 7500 yards now, it’s a very long course.
Augusta National has approximately 300 members, with the list including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Membership is by invitation only.
The course is also dotted with numerous natural and architectural features including ponds, bridges, fountains and cabins. There is also a nine-hole par-3 course, which is used for a lead-up event on the Wednesday before the Masters. On average, first time winners have played the event six times. It’s not just course experience that’s needed. Every winner, apart from Tiger Woods in 1996, stretching all the way back to Fuzzy Zoeller’s debut win in 1979, made the cut here in the year before they won.
Distance off the tee is a big advantage (five of the past 11 winners have ranked inside the top-four for driving distance although last year’s winner Jordan Spieth, pictured above, ranked just 52nd) but finding the greens with regularity appears more important than anything else, with eight of the last ten winners ranking no worse than tied fourth for greens in regulation. Players who miss the green need a terrific short game – five of the past six winners have ranked inside the top-six for scrambling and although the last two winners ranked in the 30s for putting, most years you need to be ranking in and around the top-10.
Jack Nicklaus is the undoubted king of Augusta, having won the event six times (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1986). Arnold Palmer won the event four times in seven years (1958 to 1964), while Tiger Woods’ four titles are spread over just eight years (1997 to 2005). South African Gary Player and Englishman Nick Faldo hold the record for most wins by non-Americans (three each). Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the tournament in 2013.
• It’s easy to forget the wretched luck of Greg Norman at Augusta. The 1996 Masters is not likely to be remembered as a tournament that Nick Faldo won, but rather the Masters that Greg Norman. The Great White Shark had a six-shot lead heading into the last day, only to lose his nerve and allow his partner Faldo to snatch victory.
• Norman was also at the heart of the action in 1987 when he joined Seve Ballesteros and Augusta local Larry Mize in a three-man play-off. The Spaniard was eliminated at the first extra hole and it looked like the Aussie would win when Mize missed the green on the second hole, only for the outsider to shock everyone by holing from around 140 feet with his sand wedge.
• Despite having won five Masters titles, Jack Nicklaus wasn’t given much hope in 1986, as he had failed to finish higher than 39th in his previous seven tournaments. On the final day Nicklaus was trailing Greg Norman, but rolled back the years with a brilliant final nine to become to oldest Masters champion, aged 46. While the birdie on 17 is the shot that receives the most television play, his near holing of a five-iron on 16 is arguably the number one moment in Masters history.
• Tiger Woods’ victory in 1997 was not just his first Major title, but also a statement of intent. Not only did he become the Masters’ youngest ever champion at 21 years and 104 days, but he also broke the records for the lowest ever aggregate score with 270 and the biggest margin of victory, beating the second-placed Tom Kite by 12 strokes.