Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25, 1934: Horton Smith Wins The Inaugural Masters

     On March 25, 1934, Horton Smith won the inaugural Masters Tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Smith, a native of Joplin, Missouri, shot a 284 during the four day tournament that covered 36 holes, which led to a one stroke victory over Craig Wood to take home what would become one of golf's most coveted prizes.

     Since Smith hailed from Joplin, Missouri, the press dubbed him the "Joplin Ghost." He turned pro in 1926 when he was an 18-year-old kid and joined a golf club out of Chicago. In 1929, the PGA tour was born, and Smith with a variety of others were the pioneers who helped lay the groundwork for what it is today. Smith won eight of the first twenty-two events that were held in that first year of the tour. It was by far his most dominant year of play in his career, however, the first ever win at the Masters tournament earned him a spot in sports history that can not be surpassed by no other.

     Even though Smith took home the top prize, Bobby Jones was in large part the center of attention. Jones had come out of retirement to play in this tournament. At that point in his life he was already a legend in the world of golf. He had won 13 Major Championships before retiring in 1930. Following his retirement, Jones began to look for ground around his hometown of Atlanta to build a course where he could spend the latter years of his life. This is how Augusta National was born. The 345 acres where the course would come to be was purchased for $70,000 in 1931 by Jones and his partner Clifford Roberts. By today's standards that would be more the $1 million.

     Long before golf would be played at Augusta an indigo plantation had occupied the grounds before it was converted into a nursery in 1857. When Jones and company came across the land they believed it to be the perfect spot for what they were envisioning. Jones, along with an architect by the name of Alister MacKenzie designed the course, and by 1933 golf began to be played at Augusta. Unfortunately, the architect did not see the day that the first Masters were played, as he passed away just two months before it happened. However, MacKenzie's contributions to golf earned him a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was very accomplished and had his hand in designing courses on four different continents. While he did not see the day they first Masters tournament was held, he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for what it has become

     Jones did not fare well in the tournament. He finished 13th with a 294. With that said, his brainchild had come to be and it has developed into one of the premier courses in the World of Golf. Jones played in every Masters tournament until 1948, although, he only played as a competitor in the inaugural event. Health issues forced him off the golf course, however, what he did in his glory days, along with bringing Augusta to the forefront also led him to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

     While Jones stole some of the spotlight from Smith in 1934, the same could not be said two years later when he took home the top prize at the Masters once again. He was not just the first time winner of the Masters, he was the first two-time winner also. Once again he found victory by holding onto a one stroke lead. In both of Smith's wins at Augusta the top prize was $1,500, today that would be right around $25,000 today. The top prize today is more than $1 million. The green jacket that Smith was awarded after that 1934 victory sold for nearly $700,000 in September of 2013.Smith is also a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Each of the men mentioned in the piece were instrumental in helping the sport develop into what it is today. They were pioneers. If you tune into the upcoming Masters be sure to remember that there is a rich history that goes along with the course and it all began On This Day in 1934.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the Masters check this out: http://www.augusta.com/masters/history

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