The Masters Golf Tournament – A Startup Unlike Any Other 0

I made my way from Chicago down to Augusta, Georgia to check out a practice round of this year’s golf Masters, “A Tradition Unlike Any Other”.  This April tradition, despite it’s old school rules it is the most innovative sporting event in the world.  I figure as long as I’m hanging out down here at Amen Corner, I may as well tell ya about The Masters…

50 years ago in 1963 Jack Nicklaus won the first of his 6 Green Jackets at The Masters Tournament held annually in Augusta since 1934. 50 years from now someone else will be slippin on the Green jacket, I assure you.  This here blog will explain why:

The Masters is a tradition unlike any other, but it is also the most innovative sporting event in the world.  It all started with the great startup entrepreneur Bobby Jones and the Wall Street venture capitalist Clifford Roberts.

Robert Tyre Jones Jr., the Atlanta native, is perhaps the greatest golfer who ever lived, and is easily the greatest amateur player to swing a club.  He won the Impregnable Quadrilateral (now known as the Grand Slam) in 1930 by winning the US & British Opens, and the US & British Amateur tournaments all in the same calendar year, culminating with a ticker tape parade down the streets of New York upon his return.

After this incredible feat, Jones retired from golf to practice law in Atlanta (he passed the bar after just 1 year at Georgia Tech) and sought out to design his own golf course where he could relax and invite his friends to play.  He was already a member of the exclusive & historic East Lake Golf Club (now the permanent home of the PGA Tour Championship) just outside the city, but he needed a getaway.

{I actually went and visited Jones’ East Lake GC a few years ago and saw replicas of all 4 major championship trophys on display.  The course was closed because it had snowed the day before (a rarity in Atlanta) so I took advantage of it and walked the entire 18. I even messed around on the greens.  Feel free to watch me tour the private ELGC clubhouse and course in this YouTube.}

Before I go any further, you must check out this video I took this week of 3-time Masters Champion seventy-seven year old Gary Player on the most famous Par 3 in all of golf … the 12th hole at Augusta National. Remember, he’s 77 years old…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwOah6uh1BI&w=560&h=315]

(I wish they allowed phones on the course b/c I coulda taken so many cool Vine videos)

Just like any startup entrepreneur, Bobby Jones needed to raise capital to make this dream a reality.  If you think times are tough now, remember, this is in the heart of the Great Depression, and this money was to be raised to support a game of leisure.  Enter Clifford Roberts, the New York City financier.

Jones & Roberts teamed up in 1931 to form the Augusta National Golf Club, now known as the greatest inland course in the world.  In 1934 the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament was held … let’s call 1934 the “Minimum Viable Product”.

Roberts, the marketer, wanted to call the tournament ‘The Masters’ but Jones thought this too presumptuous (until 1939 when he finally gave in to the tournaments namesake).

In just the 2nd playing of this tournament in 1935, Gene Sarazen hit what may be the most famous shot in golf history, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, a double-eagle on hole 15 (a 2 on a par 5).  Bobby Jones himself was one of the few who actually witnessed this unbelievable shot, and Sarazen went on to win the tournament in a playoff the next day.  That double eagle kick-started the legend and the lore of the tournament we now know as ‘The Masters’.

President Eisenhower considered Augusta National his home away from home.  Only problem is, his golf swing produced a fade (left-to-right ball flight) and Augusta often demands a draw (right-to-left). On hole #17 there is a tree on the left side of the fairway which blocks any drive attempted with a fade trajectory. Dwight hated this tree.  In fact, during one Members-Only meeting in 1956 our great President proposed cutting the tree down. Clifford Roberts promptly ruled President Eisenhower out of order and adjourned the meeting.  Know your role, Dwight. (it’s now called the Eisenhower Tree)

If you like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Freddie Couples, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Vijay Singh, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer, you’re gonna wanna watch the following video I patched together from some random golf shots I filmed:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phVRDj5uhME]
The most famous part of Augusta National Golf Club is at the far end of the real estate – a little spot called “Amen Corner”, where patrons can see the green at hole 11, the entire par 3 12th, and the tee shot at #13.  As soon as the gates opened in the morning, I made my way down to Amen Corner and got a front row look at all the action.  Watch this video to see what I mean

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWpDu5jMDlU]
In the modern era there are 4 golf majors (The Masters, US Open, Open Championship (British Open), and the PGA Championship) however only The Masters plays the same course each and every year. And with this annual trek to Augusta, GA comes too many age-old traditions to list, but I’ll mention a few:

  • Green Jacket – in 1949 this stylish sport coat was given to the champion to wear over the next year until he returned to Augusta the next April.  (Gary Player won his first green jacket in 1961, took it home to South Africa, and never returned it.  He’s the only one to not return the jacket, that rascal).
  • Champions Dinner – in 1952 Ben Hogan (who won in ’51) held a special dinner with invitations sent only to previous Masters winners.  The reigning champion gets to choose the menu, usually representing their native country’s traditional food. (In 1989 when Scotland’s Sandy Lyle served the Scottish dish Haggis, barely anyone ate it.  I don’t necessarily blame them).
  • Skipping across the pond on #16 – The par 3 16th hole has a pond which separates the green from the tee, and it has become tradition in the practice rounds for competitors to attempt hitting a low shot which ‘skips’ across the water and onto the green, much to the delight of the patrons.
  • Par 3 Contest – Just off the championship course sits a 9 hole par 3 course, maintained just like the big course is, with super fast greens and everything.  Each year at high noon on Wednesday before the tournament begins, a Par 3 contest is held.
  • We are Patrons, not fans or spectatorsWatch the broadcast this weekend, let me know if you hear the gallery referred to anything but patrons.
  • Holes 10-18 are “the second nine” not “the back nine” - Jones thought it sound too similar to “back side”.  You win 4 majors in a row then retire, you make the rules, Bobby.
  • Prize money will never be mentioned – Bobby Jones was an amateur after all.  He played for the love of the great game.
  • Limited Commercial Breaks - The Masters doesn’t care about making money… they care about growing the game of golf.  There are only 3 corporate sponsors and there probably always will be: AT&T, IBM, and Exxon Mobil.  These giant USA corporations chip in for just 4 minutes of commercials per hour, so we can enjoy the other 56 minutes of pure golf joy.

What many people don’t know about The Masters, is their innovation in the sport of golf, and the world of sports in general.  The Masters invented:

  • Leaderboards on the course – Nowadays we take it for granted that we can see all the scores of all the players, but no golf tournament did this until The Masters erected their famous human-operated green & white gigantic leaderboards that can be seen from miles away.
  • Rope along the fairways and greens to organize the patrons - believe it or not, golf tournaments back in the day were a free-for-all.  You could literally stand 5 feet from a player hitting a shot with no resistance.  As The Masters grew in popularity they lined the course with green rope to keep the chaos in order.  Now all tournaments all around the world do this.
  • Red numbers for under par, Black numbers for over par – The familiar site of red numbers on a leaderboard was invented right here in Augusta as a way to help the patrons determine what score a player had at the time.  All golf tournaments now use the red/black scoring system, with a green 0 as the level par symbol.

Let’s talk technological innovation.  In 1956 The Masters was one of the first televised golf tournaments, recorded by CBS with 4 cameras on the course.  CBS has broadcast The Masters ever since, but only on 1-year contracts, just to keep them on their toes.

Have you downloaded The Masters 2013 iPad/iPhone app yet? YOU MUST.  It is simply put: the greatest app I have ever seen.  This is the future of watching golf, the future of watching sports, the future of mobile apps, period.

The Masters app not only lets you watch the exact same coverage that is on TV, but you can constantly watch live feeds of the driving range, holes #15 & #16, as well as the featured group of the day.  You can also find your favorite player within the app, and watch any highlights that was recorded of that player during the tournament.

You can jump on a virtual airplane and get a flyover of every hole on the course, which really gives a great perspective of how the different holes are shaped and played.  There’s a news center which has video of all the interviews of the day and week. There is so much to view in The Masters app, you don’t even need cable TV.  Cut the cord now – this is the TV of the future.

How about Technology to manage this great golf course…  Would you believe me if I told you Augusta National has four sensors on every green to monitor moisture, temperature and salinity? Yup, all controlled by an in-house iPad app.

My favorite part about golf is it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, how big or small you are, doesn’t matter what race or religion, man or woman, or what language you speak.  EVERYONE CAN PLAY GOLF.

Just watch 63 year old legend Tom Watson play with Chinese 14 year old Guan Tianlang both hit amazing shots on this great course, including skipping the ball over the pond on #16. I could barely believe my eyes:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6gLULJH_TU&w=560&h=315]
There’s so so so much more I could tell you about the Masters, such as 1986 when Jack captured our hearts with his 6th jacket at age 46, or 1997 when Tiger at age 20 changed golf (and my outlook on life) forever.

But it’s a lot more fun if you grab a friend, family member, or someone important to you and learn together by watching the 56 minutes per hour of golf coverage this weekend.  In fact, I gotta call my dad right now and make sure he watches that Gary Player video

But before I go, there’s one more thing (Steve Jobs voice)…

I’m walking down Washington Road back to my hotel after the practice round, when I pass by a Hooters restaurant…

Who is sitting in the parking lot, sunburned as hell, wolfing down a cigarette and diet coke wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks shirt? None other than two-time major champion, legend, and folk hero JOHN DALY himself.

With the golfing gods shining down upon me, I roll on up to JD and say “Hey Long John, how about a photo for my pops back home? He put down his smoke and obliged. Man do I love Masters Week.

I can’t wait to take my future kids here, the grandkids, maybe the great-grandkids in the year 2063. Yes, The Masters will be around fifty years from now, and it will look and feel as traditional as ever, but it’s innovation is something that has become a tradition.

Just like Jack won 50 years ago in 1963, 50 years from now in 2063 if we are so lucky to be in Augusta the first week in April, Tiger & Phil will probably be playing the Par 3 tournament on Wednesday, hitting the ceremonial tee shot on Thursday.  There will be new superstars to watch, and we’ll still cherish the older former champions walking around in their green sport coat.

I most likely will be there with my future grand-children, telling them all about my trip to the 2013 Masters. I’ll tell them about the 80* sunny day, about Gary Player’s story and stiff iron shot on #12.  About Tiger, Phil, and Freddie. About the 14-year-old chinese kid, Guan Tianlang (who will then be 64). About the legends Watson, Faldo, and the King, Arnold Palmer.

The faces of our heros will come and sadly go.  But no matter who wins the Green Jacket this week, no matter what happens during the tournament, whether it be 1963, 2013, or 2063, for one week in April the players are the supporting cast, for the Augusta National Golf Course is always the main act on center stage for this wonderful, innovative Tradition Unlike Any Other … The Masters.

(Watch me drill the only perfect score on Golf Channel’s Masters Trivia show “Beat Brandel”)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKWlYtg7idw&w=420&h=315]

About the Author Zack Price (me) is a full blown Startup Nerd, Golf Geek, & Stock Picker. Never had a Job. Never will. Never Serious. Loves Taco Bell. Yes, I know it's not 100% real beef, just worry about yourself, dude. Tweet me @Zackonomics and let's be besties, k? Follow Zack on Google+ Read more »

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