Welcome to Augusta: Home to Racism, Classism, Sexism…….and Golf.
By Michael Margulis
Early April, the trees are in full bloom and the grass is in its most pristine spring condition. Magnolia Lane, the road to the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf Club displays the yellow pansies resting beautifully in the shape of the United States at Founders’ Circle. The course is a green wonderland groomed to perfection. The stage has been set after a year of preparation. Hundreds of thousands will descend upon Augusta’s majestic presence, appreciating the beauty, anticipating the drama, craving the excitement, and for the chance to be apart of history.
It’s time for the Masters, the most prestigious golf tournament that our country has to offer. This tournament is full of beautiful tradition, but it is also home to one of the most discriminatory sporting events our country has ever seen.
According to an article written by John Boyette, it all started in 1930 when legendary golfer Bobby Jones won golf’s Grand Slam. This is golf’s most honored achievement and consists of winning the 4 major tournaments golf has to offer. At the time, for Jones, this was the U.S. Open and British Open, and the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur. After winning all four of these tournaments in a single season, Jones retired at the young age of 28. His next move was one that would never be forgotten.
Less than a year after his retirement, Jones and architect Alister Mackenzie bought a patch of land called Fruitland Nurseries in Augusta, Ga, and the now 29-year old set out to build his dream golf course.
The pair of Jones and Mackenzie started construction on the course in 1931, and by January, 1933, the Augusta National Golf Club was finally born. Jones decided to have a tournament the following year. He would called it the Augusta National Invitational Tournament. The tournament would adopt its current name, The Masters, in 1939.
The first change to the course was made in 1935, when the holes were reversed. This change turned holes 1–9 into holes 10–18. The change was ultimately made due to the fact that play could start earlier after frost because the first new front nine was located on higher ground. Since the change was made so early, not many golfers knew about it. Even the great Jack Nicklaus was quoted saying “I did not know that. You just told me something I’ve never heard.” Even though the decision was not very well known, it has been appreciated to this day. Nicklaus also said in an interview, “I like it better this way. I think the whole back nine is a lot more exciting than the front nine. I think we all feel that way.” As we can see Bobby Jones genius has worked again, adding to the excitement at Augusta National Golf Club.
The Masters continued to grow into the 1940's, but then the tournament was forced to 1943, 1944, and 1945 off due to the dangers of World War II. Once the war period concluded it was back to golf and more milestones were being achieved at Augusta. The first under-par rounds were shot by Jimmy Demaret in 1947, and Augusta admitted its first presidential member, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1948. Eisenhower would have a cabin built in his honor on Augusta’s premisis just 5 years later.
The next Masters staple implemented was the infamous “green jacket.” Unlike other tournaments in sport that offer trophies to the winners of their events, the Masters and Augusta National offer the victor of the tournament a green suit jacket. According to an article written by Brendan Mohler, “Members of the club wore green jackets to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Members reportedly thought it would help fans easily identify them as “reliable sources of information,” and to let waiters know who got the check at dinner.” Augusta National then started the tradition of giving these green jackets in 1949, 15 years after the first ever tournament. The first jacket was given to legendary golfer Sam Snead who shot a total score of 6-under par through the four days. After the first jacket was handed out, past winners were given jackets as well, and the tradition still stands today, 60 years later.
Only 7 years after the green jacket was introduced as the winning prize, it made its debut on the big stage. In 1956 the Masters produced its first television broadcast with the help of CBS. The broadcast covered the last two days of the tournament, Saturday and Sunday, and also offered extra cameras to feature holes 15 through 18 throughout the coverage.
From 1956 to present day, numerous legends have come to The Masters and have written their name in history and been apart of, but almost all of these legends have been white. It is a very rare sight to see an African American competing at Augusta National.
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player are all legends of Augusta National and the Masters. These three gentlemen played at some of the most racist periods in Masters history, but have influenced the game in great ways to make golf what it is today.
There are a couple key elements that play into this discrimination against African Americans at Augusta National, and the first has to deal with location. Augusta, GA is located in the Southeast United States, which throughout the 20th century was known for overt racism, even during and after the Civil Rights Movement. Given that the course was located in this area, Augusta National and its members carries out the racist and sexist tendencies developed through our countries history.
Second, the game of golf and the socioeconomic status that it entails has also effected how minorities were treated at this tournament. Golf has typically been considered a gentleman’s game, and played in a large majority by white men. It is not likely to see an African American in the golf game in general, due to the fact that it is a very costly sport, but the ones that are apart of the game and the PGA Tour have historically been treated differently at Augusta.
There are clear examples of this overt discrimination against African-Americans throughout the history of The Masters. First and foremost, for much of its history, African-American men were only used as caddies for the white men playing in the golf tournament.
For those, who aren’t familiar with golf, a caddie carries the bag full of clubs around the course so that the golfer does not have to strain and carry them himself. This wasn’t just a preference for the golfers at Augusta either, the use of black caddies was a rule within the club until 1983, when golfers could hire a personal caddie of their choice. This rule was so enforced that co-founder and long time Master chairman Clifford Roberts was once quoted saying, “As long as I’m alive, the golfers will be white and the caddies will be black.”
Also, the first African-American player was not allowed to compete in the masters until 1975. This is 11 years after the United States passed the Civil Rights act of 1645.
Thankfully, Lee Elder was the man to break the barrier for African-Americans at the Masters in 75', and pave the way for many more African-American golfers in the years to come.
To make matters even worse, it took Augusta National Golf Club almost 60 years before it admitted its first African-American member. It was the year 1991, and since it is club policy not to disclose member names, a “black gentleman” was admitted amongst a class of seven or eight other white men and became members of Augusta that year. It took almost 60 years, but now the home of the Masters was finally desegregated.
As the public began to move away from the overt discrimination and racism practiced by the masters, it was still clear that African-American golfers were just a fraction of the overall golf population. We moved into the late 1990's and the African-American population gave us a star by the name of Eldrick Woods, but most of America knows him as “Tiger.” The young man burst on to the scene as a three-time Amateur Champion and in 1997, he became the youngest player to ever win the Masters. However, even all this buzz and African-American success in the golf community helped gain black golfers to the game.
This graphic shows just how little the African American population plays golf. Based on a news release done by the National Golf Foundation in October of 2010, out of a total of 27.1 million golfers nationwide, only 5.2 million are minority, and only 1.4 million of those golfers are African American. So even close to 13 years after one of the greatest golfers of our time inspired millions of minorities to move to golf, we still see a very low participation rate by minorities.
However, even with low representation and the odds stacked against them in the golf community and at the Masters, African Americans have still made strides and achieved great things. This success and breakthrough has continued to come on the shoulders Tiger Woods for almost two decades, and he has given us some amazing moments, especially at Augusta National.
His first Masters win, came as a young 21-year old and he went on to win by a massive margin of 12 strokes finishing the four days at 18-under par. His second win came in a much more exciting fashion just four years later, where he edged out Phil Mickelson by just one stroke and finishing with a total score of 12-under par. Tiger then went on to carry himself and the African American golf community to a third green jacket the following year, defeating Retief Goosen by 3 strokes and finishing with a total score of 12-under par yet again. And then on the way to the fourth title in 2005, this happened:
This particular shot was on the 16th hole in which he chipped in from off the back of the green on his way to his victory at Augusta. This win put him in elite company, third on the all-time list only behind Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
After all of Tiger’s success at the Masters, other influential African Americans who were golf advocates continued to break the barriers constantly set and reinforced by Augusta National.
In 2012, Condoleezza Rice, who is not only an African American but a woman, was admitted as a member of the Augusta National. An article written by USA Today covered the historic day and also spoke to Augusta chairman Billy Payne about the admission. Payne went on to say in a statement, “This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club. These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.”
Overall, it is clear to see that the Masters, as well as Augusta National are changing their racist ways, but they must not forget dismiss their extremist past. During every Masters broadcast CBS commentator Jim Nantz will always say, “The Masters, a tradition unlike any other.”
It’s almost as if they believe that the public just forgot about the beliefs that the Masters was founded on. It is going to take continued influence similar to that of Woods and Rice, from not only influential African Americans, but golf advocates all over the country to rid the game of golf, as well as the Masters of racism, classism and sexism and change the game as we know it today. Time will only tell if the Masters will every truly be “A tradition unlike any other,” but for now it remains one of the most racist events in all of American sports.