History of the Masters: The Tournament and Its Traditions

By Todd Mrowice

Hideki Matsuyama walking on Augusta National

Winning the Masters is the pinnacle of achievement in men's professional golf. Those who have had the honor of slipping on the green jacket on a Sunday in April go on to live in a golf stratosphere that so many can only dream of. The hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club have produced some of the game's most amazing moments and are rich in tradition.

The Masters History

The Masters began in 1934, and Horton Smith won the first Masters by shooting 4-under par 284. Smith took home $1,500 for his efforts, but not a famous green jacket. In fact, the green jacket did not begin accompanying a Masters victory until 1949, and Sam Snead was the first Masters champion to secure the jacket.

Smith added the 1936 Masters to his resume to capture two of the first three Masters, and other notable names, including Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson also won Masters titles in the 1930s.

The 1940s saw the first interruption in the Masters' annual schedule, as World War II caused the suspension of the Masters from 1943-1945.

In 1997, Tiger Woods won one of the most notable Masters in history. It was the first major title for the young prodigy, and despite shooting 40 on the opening nine holes in Thursday, Woods won by a record 12 strokes. Twenty-two years later, Woods won his 15th major title at the 2019 Masters, securing his fifth green jacket.

In 2020, the Masters was interrupted once again, this time by the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather than scrapping the tournament altogether, the Masters was moved to November.

The Year's First Major

The Masters, along with the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, is recognized in professional golf as one of the four major tournaments for male professionals. Major championships are considered one of the top measuring sticks for a professional golfer's talent, skill and standing within the game because of the difficulty of the course and the elevated level of talent in the field.

Both Jack Nicklaus, the all-time leader in major championships, and Tiger Woods, his closest challenger, have said that winning major championships has been their top competitive goal. Since the Masters is the first of the majors on the calendar, it often sets the tone for how a golfer performs in those majors.

Augusta National Golf Club

10th hole at Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta National Golf Club consistently ranks near the top of many "best-of" lists of golf courses, including GolfLink.com, which has it rated the No. 2 course in the United States. The condition of the fairways and the greens are pristine and the course is in full bloom when the top pros gather there every year.

Augusta National is a 7,435-yard, par 72 layout that challenges the best golfers in the world with its distance and demanding shots. The course has many famous landmarks, including the trio of holes at No. 11, 12 and 13 known as Amen Corner. Many of the championships won at the Masters have been determined by how the winning golfer performed at those three holes on the final day of the tournament.

One of the other famous landmarks is the Eisenhower tree, which is located 210 yards from the tee at the 17th hole and often comes into play. The 34th president played the course often and hit that tree so regularly that he campaigned to have it removed. He was overruled and the tree remains in play.

Club Origins

Building the Augusta National Club was the dream of Hall of Fame golfer Bobby Jones following his retirement from the sport in 1930. Jones hired Dr. Alister Mackenzie of Scotland as the architect of the course. Construction on the course began in 1931 and the formal opening came in January 1933.

At the age of 28, Jones, who played as an amateur his entire career, retired from competitive golf except for playing yearly at the Masters.

The Green Jacket

Bubba Watson receiving green Masters jacket

Jack Nicklaus, whose record of 18 major titles is unrivaled, also won the most Masters crowns. Nicklaus has claimed six titles, the last of which came in 1986.

Since 1949, all Masters Champions win the famous green jacket that is only allowed to be worn on the grounds of the Augusta National Club. Champions get to take the jacket home for one year, but then must return it to the club, where it is stored and available for use when the champion visits. It does not leave the premises after the first year.

The Masters Trophy

The Masters Trophy has been awarded to the champion since 1961. The trophy does not carry a namesake, as it is simply named after the tournament itself. The trophy is modeled after the Augusta National clubhouse and is made from over 900 individual pieces of silver.

Par 3 Contest

Another famous Masters tradition is the Par 3 Contest. The competition takes place annually the day before the Masters begins, and allows many family members of tournament participants to caddie and sometimes even take a few swings on Augusta National's Par 3 course.

No player has ever won the Par 3 Contest and the Masters Tournament itself in the same year, a jinx many players aren't interested in trying to break. Many players in position to win the Par 3 Contest will disqualify themselves in order to avoid any potential bad luck.

Champions Dinner

Every year the living Masters champions gather at the annual Masters Champions Dinner. The defending champion selects the menu, which has ranged from quesadillas and fajitas to filet mignon.

The dinner is held the Tuesday evening of Masters week each year, and has been a tradition since 1952.

Opening Tee Shot and Honorary Starters

The practice of having honorary starters at the Masters began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod being the first to hold the positions.

Over time, many of golf's legends have hit the opening tee shot on Thursday morning including Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player.

Masters Controversies

No African-American ever participated in the Masters Tournament until Lee Elder broke the color barrier in 1975, a watershed moment in the history of golf in general and the tournament in particular.

Tiger Woods' initial Masters victory 1997 is also considered one of the most significant moments in tournament history.

In addition, female membership at Augusta National was not allowed until 2012. At that time, Augusta National welcomed its first two women, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore.

Historic Masters Moments

The Masters has played host to some of the most famous finishes in major championship history. The

Gene Sarazen: 1935 Masters

Gene Sarazen holed a double-eagle on the par 5 15th hole allowed him to tie Craig Wood in the final round. Sarazen went on to win a 36-hole playoff against Wood by five strokes.

Bob Goalby: 1968 Masters

In 1968 Bob Goalby was awarded the championship when Roberto De Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard on the tournament's final day that gave Goalby the title by one shot.

De Vicenzo made a birdie 3 on the 17th hole, the 71st of the tournament, but his scorecard indicated he made 4. Had the score been marked correctly, De Vicenzo and Goalby would have settled the tournament in a playoff.

Larry Mize: 1987 Masters

Augusta native Larry Mize holed a chip shot on the second playoff hole to defeat Greg Norman in a playoff in 1987. Norman, one of the great golfers of his era, never won a Masters title.

Phil Mickelson: 2004 Masters

Phil Mickelson won his first major title in 2004 when he birdied the final hole at the Masters. Mickelson became only the fourth golfer to win the Masters title with a birdie on the 18th.

Tiger Woods in the Masters

Tiger Woods is no stranger to Masters success as he owns five green jackets. In 1997, Woods became the youngest Masters champion at age 21.

In 2005 he had his infamous chip-in on No. 16 that will forever be shown in highlights.

Of course, Woods' return to major championship glory came at the Masters 2019 when he won his fifth green jacket, 15th major championship overall, and first major since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Sergio Garcia: 2017 Masters

In 2017, Sergio Garcia finally broke his major drought by becoming the third Spaniard in history to win the event.

Hideki Matsuyama: 2021 Masters

2021 was historical as well as Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese winner of the Masters. A victory of global proportions.

About the Author

Todd Mrowice is a Staff Writer for GolfLink. He has been writing about golf for over 10 years including a long tenure at GOLFChicago Magazine. Todd has covered all aspects of the game including travel, products, business, and professional tours.