Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Masters for Thursday

Published 4:57 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

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


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


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.