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Masters 2024: The original initiation fee for joining Augusta National might shock you

April 09, 2024
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Course photo: JD Cuban, Card: David Owen

If Augusta National invited you to join its club, how much would you be willing to pay?

This might seem like a fun, cheap thought exercise to us today, but back in the early 1930s, when the club was created, thousands around the country were offered that chance.

We spoke to one of the top knowledge leaders on Augusta National, David Owen, about the early history of the club, including co-founder Clifford Roberts’ nationwide sales campaign to sign up members. Owen spent significant time at Augusta National in the 1990s, combing through club archives to write his book, “The Making of the Masters.”

Editor’s note: Owen joined us for a special Masters edition of the Golf Digest Happy Hour on April 4, where he gave his insider perspective on the history of the club to Golf Digest+ members. You can watch the complete recording here.

When Roberts and Bobby Jones were creating the club in 1931 and 1932, their plans were ambitious: 1,800 members, two courses, tennis courts, riding trails, residential lots and much more.

To fund all those projects, the club needed membership dues, so Roberts launched a nationwide campaign to sign up new members. “They sent out thousands of postcards,” Owen said during our Golf Digest Happy Hour. “All you had to do was fill out the other side. The initiation fee was $350 plus tax. Send it in, and you’re a member.”

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A 1931 postcard inviting a prospective member to join the club for $350 plus tax. If you returned your postcard with payment, you were a member.

Courtesy of David Owen

Controlling for inflation, $350 in early 1930s value is worth roughly $6,500 today. After that, annual dues at Augusta National in the early days were $60 a year, which is about $1,000 today.

Not only was the price to join the club incredibly affordable, but the offer was extended to a wide variety of people. “Pretty much anybody,” Owen said about who was originally invited to join. “One of the interesting things I found was in the file cabinets where these huge folders bulging with letters from people saying, ‘No thank you. I would not like to be a member of the club.’ ”

Therein was the dilemma. In retrospect and with knowing what the club has become, it is easy to look back and see those dues as an excellent value, but at the height of the Great Depression, few people agreed. And if they did, they didn’t have the spare cash to join.

“They sent out tens of thousands of invitations. They hired salesmen to travel around the country. They bought lists of memberships from country clubs,” Owen said. If you were a golfer, that was good enough for Roberts to offer you membership in those early years.

“Roberts saw a picture in the newspaper once from a resort in Vermont or New Hampshire,” Owen said. “It was a bunch of guys with golf clubs, and he sent a letter to the person who owned the inn and said he would like to invite these people to join this golf club in Augusta, Ga.”

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Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts during the 1950s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

Augusta National

Yet after three years, Roberts and Jones had only signed up 76 members—far short of their original goal of 1,800. Most would simply not reply to the postcards. Some would write back and formally decline. With others, Roberts would lobby.

“Roberts pursued a group of retired guys who would go on a golf trip every year,” Owen said. “He tried for years to get them to join. … He suggested that instead of each of them joining, just one join, and they could divide it four ways. It would just be $100 a head to join, and they could split the dues, too. But they couldn’t [afford it]."

Not until the creation of the Augusta National Invitation Tournament (eventually renamed the Masters) in 1934 and in the following years did the club membership begin to grow. Still, given that Roberts and Jones fell so far short of their original goal of 1,800 members, they had to scratch many of the original ambitious plans.

Ninety years on and with the club and tournament what they are today, it’s amazing to think back to those original postcards. Would you have paid the $350?

Once again, Golf Digest+ members can check out the entire hour-long chat with David Owen on his experience at Augusta National and the history of the club and tournament. Not a member yet? Sign up here today.

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