Masters' History Has Racial and Discriminatory Overtones

When you log onto the Masters Tournament official website, www.masters.com/news, you will find a link titled “History”. This link will give you what Augusta National officials feel are the most significant events from its inception in the 1930’s to today.

Some of the events that one is likely to find is Tiger Woods shooting an 18 under in 1997, or General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would later become the President of the United States, becoming a member in 1948 or co-founder Cliff Roberts’ 80th birthday party in 1974.

What the page doesn’t discuss is the fact that Tiger was the first African American to win the Masters in 1997 or that Lee Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters in 1975 or that Augusta National didn’t allow black members to join their club until 1990, or, that Fuzzy Zoeller made racist comments regarding Woods in 1997.

Discriminating because of race hasn’t just been an issue at Augusta National. Discrimination based on gender as been an issue as well.

None of the things regarding race or gender discrimination are listed as historical moments in Masters History yet all are extremely important because, as Tiger Woods prepares for his comeback to competitive golf this week in the 2010 Masters Tournament, it’s important to remember history so that it is not repeated in the future.

First, we need to take a look at the origins of the Masters Tournament itself.

Masters Tournament Origins

The brilliant golfer Bobby Jones, who was born in Atlanta, Georgia, founded Augusta National Golf Club along with New York financier Clifford Roberts. Jones worked with Alister McKenzie, who had created golf courses before, to create the amazingly beautiful course at Augusta National.

Augusta National was built where Fruitland stood, a 365 acre plant nursery that had fallen on hard times because of the Great Depression. The course was completed in 1932. Jones, who held all four major championships, then the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur Open, British Open, and British Amateur Open, in 1930 had retired shortly after completing the Grand Slam at the age of 28. Upon retirement, Jones worked with Roberts to finance and build Augusta National.

Jones and Roberts approached the idea of hosting the 1932 U.S. Open at Augusta National but the U.S. Open organizers weren’t interested in the idea because it was dreadfully hot in Georgia during the summer and the U.S. Open was held during the summer. Roberts came up with the idea of hosting a national invitational tournament hosted by Bobby Jones. The first tournament, held in 1934, was a huge success.

Named the Augusta National Invitation Tournament, Jones’ and Roberts’ brain child didn’t become the Masters until the 1950’s. The significant events that made this happen was Jones and Roberts instituting the green jacket ceremony, where the champion the year before presents that year’s champion with a green jacket, in 1949, and the Masters becoming the first televised golf tournament when CBS, who has always aired the Masters Tournament in the United States, did so in 1956. Another significant event, and one that has had an impact on every golf tournament in the world, was when Cliff Roberts devised the +/- over/under par golf system.

That’s the origin of the Masters Tournament, but the beauty of the course, the amazing significance of the tournament and the interesting facts regarding its origin do not belie the fact that Augusta National took a long time to shrug off its racist image and still, to this day, doesn’t even regard race in its own history. Furthermore, Augusta National still discriminates against women.

Below you will find specific years, except for the 1960’s and 2002, and what Augusta National regards as the significant event that year. The significant event is taken from the www.masters.com/about website. Then, you will find information regarding the significant event in regards to discrimination from that year. Those events are not listed under “History” on the www.masters.com/history website.

Masters Tournament - Significant Events in Regards to Race

1960’s - The 1960’s was without a doubt the turning point for race relations in the United States. In 1962 Charlie Sifford, an African American, became the first PGA Tour member. Yet, he did not qualify for the Masters Tournament even though he qualified for the U.S. Open and finished tied for 43rd that year. Sifford didn’t qualify for the Masters in 1964 even though he no only qualified for the U.S. Open but finished tied for 27th. Sifford didn’t qualify for the Masters in 1968 even though he finished tied for 32nd in that year’s U.S. Open.

Sifford won the Greater Hartford Invitational in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969, two PGA Tour events, yet he still didn’t qualify for the Masters. In fact, even though Sifford qualified for 8 U.S. Opens from 1959 to 1974, he didn’t once qualify for the Masters Tournament. Now, a lot of this might have nothing to do with racism, but it is interesting to note that Roberts certainly didn’t make it any easier for black golfers to qualify for the Masters Tournament.

1975 – According to www.masters.com, in 1975 “Jack Nicklaus becomes the first 5 time winner”.

What else happened in 1975? Lee Elder, arguably the greatest black golfer to ever live before Tiger Woods, played in the Masters Tournament. Elder qualified for the 1975 Masters by winning the Monsanto Open in 1974. He received hate mail and death threats leading up to the 1975 Masters. Elder was so fearful for his life that he rented out two places to live in Augusta during his stay and traveled back and forth. Elder ended up shooting a 74 and 78 on Thursday and Friday, missing the cut, but his impact wasn’t about winning the tournament. It was about just playing in the tournament. In 1979, Elder garnered a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup Team.

1990 – This is what’s listed on the History link on the Masters Tournament website “Nick Faldo joins Jack Nicklaus as the only player to defend his Masters title successfully. New Press Building opens. Flood destroys No. 11 green and No. 13 members’ tee, and damages No. 13 tee.

1990 is also the year that Augusta National admitted their first black member. It took 16 years after Lee Elder played in the 1975 Masters Tournament before Augusta National allowed an African American to join their club. The name of the individual, which has never been released to the public, no doubt must be a very influential and rich man. Augusta National invites members to their club. There is no application process. So, even though Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are members, Bill Clinton is not and to this day Augusta National has failed to admit women into their exclusive around 300 member all male club.

1997 – Here’s what the Masters’ website says about Tiger’s historic victory in 1997, “Tiger Woods becomes Tournament’s youngest winner and sets record for lowest 72-total and widest victory margin. Former champions Henry Picard and Ben Hogan pass away.”

There’s no mention of the fact that Woods became the first African American and Asian American to win the Masters. Tiger’s father was of African American descent and Tiger’s mother is Thai. No mention of Tiger’s cultural background yet the Masters’ website does mention that Tiger is the youngest winner of the Masters Tournament in its history. Forget posting Fuzzy Zoeller’s comments regarding Tiger (Zoeller called Tiger a “little boy” and said that if Tiger won people should tell him not to “order fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve” for the Champions Dinner, a tradition at the Masters, the year later), it would be nice if Augusta National just acknowledged Tiger’s culture.

2002 – 2002 is the year of the latest controversy regarding Augusta National and discrimination. Although it happened eight years ago, it could be significant again in the 2010 Masters Tournament.

In 2002, Martha Burk sent a letter to 6 of the most influential Augusta National members. In her letter she asks them why they are members of a club that discriminates against women. William “Hootie” Johnson, who was Augusta National’s Chairman at the time, said that the club would not be “bullied” into making decisions “at the point of a bayonet”.

Eventually, the controversy died down but now, in 2010, Tiger Woods makes his comeback to professional golf at Augusta National and in the Masters Tournament. Tiger, for those who have forgotten, took a sabbatical from golf because of his infidelities.

So, Tiger Woods, who has proven to have absolutely no respect for his wife, mother or even his mistresses, will be teeing off at one of the most controversial golf courses in the United States. Tiger is an African and Asian American who has cheated on his white wife. He’s returning to professional golf on April 8th in a tournament that didn’t allow an African American to play until 1975, whose club didn’t allow an African American member to join until 1990 and still doesn’t allow women to join, and doesn’t acknowledge its past history regarding discrimination.

Want drama? It’s just around the corner.