Happy Hour

The true story of Augusta National's near demise, according to the club's leading expert

Golf Digest Happy Hour: Thursday, April 4 at 8:30 p.m. EST
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April 05, 2024

The fascinating history of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters is also a story of what could have been given the ambitious initial plans for the club. In fact, considering its tumultuous early struggle to survive through the Great Depression and World War II, it's a wonder the club exists at all today.

That Augusta National and the Masters survived those early years and grew into what they are today is “mainly a credit to the stubborn single-mindedness of Clifford Roberts,” writes David Owen, a longtime New Yorker and Golf Digest writer and preeminent historian on the Masters. While writing a comprehensive history of the club and Masters in his book, “The Making of the Masters,” Owen was granted exclusive access to the Augusta National Golf Club archives. He lived on the club grounds on and off, playing the course often, during this time

Owen gave his unique insight to Golf Digest+ members during our hour-long Q&A: The true story of Augusta National's near demise, according to the club's leading expert. Using early photography of the club, Owen discussed Augusta National’s formative years, including Bobby Jones’ and Clifford Roberts’ ambitious plans for two 18-hole courses (one for women), a sprawling neoclassical clubhouse and a golf Hall of Fame.

Of course, many of those plans never came to be, largely because of the club’s early financial struggles. Owen explained how out of those struggles came Roberts’ unceasing desire to build and grow the Masters tournament to help the club survive. Owen discussed the many innovations created by Roberts that helped define modern tournament golf and grow the Masters into one of the world’s model sporting events.

Below you will find our key takeaways from our Happy Hour with Owen, as well as the complete recording of the webinar.

Key Takeaways

  • Owen was granted exclusive access to the club’s property and archives in the late 1990s to write a complete history of the club and tournament. He sifted through old records and files that had not been touched, uncovering lost stories and photographs. He stayed overnight at the club many nights and played countless rounds of golf.
  • The initial plans for the club were far more ambitious than what was actually built. Early ideas included two 18-hole courses, tennis courts, sprawling residential buildings, a golf Hall of Fame and more.
  • The club faced severe financial difficulty in the early years, owing to its founding during the Great Depression, soon followed by World War II. Hardly anyone wanted to sign up to become a member. Roberts’ goal was to have 1,800 members, and he initially only signed up less than 100.
  • To help the club through the difficult early years, Roberts and Jones created the Masters (first known as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament), to attract top players and drive interest in the club.
  • The Masters had very modest beginnings and in the first few years had a dwindling field size. Yet by the late 1930s and soon after World War II, interest grew and the tournament began to grow into what it is today, in large part by Roberts’ steadfast drive to make it the pinnacle event in the sport.