My Usual GameApril 6, 2016

Masters Countdown: Great moments in the history of slow play

Not all that long ago, Masters competitors, playing in twosomes, were expected to finish 18 holes in about three hours, even during the tournament's final round. After the 1956 Masters, a competitor wrote to Clifford Roberts, the club's co-founder and chairman, to complain that, after playing the first nine in an hour and a half, he had been told by an official to hurry up. Roberts, in response, agreed that the warning had been unfair. He continued:

“I might explain additionally that, to my way of thinking, the field at Augusta, playing in two-somes, should move along at about a three hour rate when the weather is good and at not more than a three and a half hour rate in bad weather. So long as they keep within that range or close to it, I don’t think we have any excuse to speak to any Player about the speed of his play."

Still, Roberts had no patience for dawdlers:

"When the field gets as far behind the three to three and a half hour schedule as they did in ’56 there is something very radically wrong and we are determined that it be corrected. Taking four hours to play a golf course in as good condition as the Augusta National (especially when they are playing two-somes) is inexcusable. If this becomes a regular practice at Augusta I am quite certain that we will lose a lot of our patronage and this means, of course, smaller prizes for the Players."

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Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts

The 1956 Masters was the first to be televised, and one of Roberts's worries was that, if large gaps opened between groups, the cameras, which were in fixed locations and covered little more than the last couple of holes, might have nothing to show. He also worried that a boring broadcast would scare away potential advertisers -- of which the program had none until 1958, when American Express signed on. A few months before the 1957 tournament, Roberts explained his concerns in a letter to William Kerr, the chairman of the club's television committee:

“The whole television undertaking was the biggest single headache during the ’56 Masters but it is also the most important current Tournament development. I say this because I believe we will sooner or later get a sponsor for the program and, by reason of this $40,000 of added revenue, we will be able to do several things to enhance the importance of the Tournament -- notably an increase in the Prize Fund."

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Ed Furgol

In 1957, Ed Furgol (who had won the U.S. Open three years before) and Stan Leonard took 3:43 to play their final round -- a time that Roberts viewed as scandalous, since they were more than 30 minutes behind the pair ahead of them (Henry Ransom and Dow Finsterwald). As things turned out, though, Furgol and Leonard's slow play was helpful. What happened was that Doug Ford, the eventual winner, had finished his round by the time CBS came on the air. (The Sunday broadcast in those days lasted just an hour.) From Kerr's post-tournament report:

“[Harvie] Ward and Ford started at 12:58 and finished exactly at 4:00, carrying a large gallery. Had the remainder of the field accomplished the round in the same elapsed time, [Arnold] Palmer and [Jimmy] Demaret, who started at 2:10 and were the last pairing of contenders, would have finished at 5:12 which would have left 48 minutes of our 60 minute broadcast to be devoted to no important action other than the presentation ceremony. Most fortunately, Leonard and Furgol, who started at 1:22, were in trouble repeatedly, so that while they started only 24 minutes in back of Ward and Ford they finished 65 minutes in back. This delay, entirely unpredictable, really saved our Sunday broadcast. As it turned out, we were able to present nine of the thirteen leading 54 hole scorers and most of these on two to four holes. We might have had only four players for one hole if we hadn’t been lucky. The Lord takes care of the Kind of Heart!”

Augusta National/Getty Images

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts.

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