Is The Masters offensive?
By Grayson Kirkham
Tee Times Contributor
Recognition of history is necessary in igniting positive change within a society. No one can deny that things are indeed changing in our world, on multiple levels it seems. Questions and ideas previously ignored for so long are now getting the attention they should’ve had from the beginning. One such idea was presented this week in the sports world by Deadspin contributor Rob Parker. Parker had this to say about The Masters:
“The name ‘The Masters” must go. And before we hear from the choir about tradition and history, save it. When that history is rooted in slavery, it shouldn’t be preserved and honored.”
Racism is woven into the history of The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club. There’s no question about that. Through most of the club’s existence, all caddies were black and co-founder of Augusta, Clifford Roberts, said it would always be that way. Black men didn’t play the event until 1975, when Lee Elder qualified by winning the Monsanto Open. There were no black members of the exclusively white club until 1990. These facts are disappointing, but they are true. Augusta National Golf Club is in part, a product of the region, the times, and the traditions of a very old game. Therefore, I can respect what Rob Parker has to say about the name of an event which obviously has a flawed past.
I can never claim to know the struggle of living as a black person in America, nor can I begin to understand the true extent of the pain and negativity associated with terms deemed offensive by the African American community. What I do know about is golf history. There is no evidence to support the tournament name of “The Masters” being rooted in slavery. With that being said, that doesn’t mean Augusta National shouldn’t have to address sins from the past. If enough people agree the current name of the tournament is associated with a painful history, then perhaps it should change. But let’s look at the facts first.
As Mr. Parker points out, the original event was known as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament. Founded in 1934, the event was the brainchild of Bobby Jones, the golf legend who dreamed of bringing the greatest golfers in the world together to compete on a championship golf course like no other. Tournament co-founder Clifford Roberts did suggest using the name The Masters to promote the event, but Jones objected, saying the name was presumptuous. Considering Jones was a humble man, it’s easy to understand why he wouldn’t be on board with a boastful sounding tournament name. However, as the years went by, the press got wind of the original name and began using it. They must’ve thought The Masters had a nice ring to it. The newspapers began referring to the tournament as such and by 1939 the new name had stuck.
As the years went by, The Masters tournament began to carry more clout, especially when they began presenting tailored green jackets to eventual winners in 1949. By 1960, it was considered one of professional golf’s four major championships, partly thanks to Arnold Palmer’s pursuit of a “grand slam” that year. The Masters name just made sense by now. It was a gathering of the game’s greatest players, at perhaps the greatest golf course, doing their best to “master” a game that in reality could never be mastered.
In fact, a black golfer has arguably become not only the greatest player of all, but maybe the most loved Masters champion of all. One of Golf Digest’s recent covers even promotes Tiger Woods as “The Master” of Augusta National, given his great success at the venue. His five victories in the tournament are second only to Jack Nicklaus. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Woods in person to ask him about it, but I’d bet if he had any problem with The Masters, he wouldn’t return to Augusta year after year.
The heart of the matter is golf itself has roots in discrimination and racism. The game has been used as a tool for exclusion, degradation, and many other unfavorable reasons over its 500-plus-year history. It must also be said that the golf is ever-changing. Today’s game promotes values of respect, integrity, honesty, and inclusion. Many great strides have been made to make golf more accessible to more people. That kind of history should be “preserved and honored.” However, Augusta National can’t simply ignore its heritage. With present societal changes we’re experiencing regarding race, sports, equal rights, and health, now is the perfect time for The Masters tournament committee to re-evaluate the event and make it even better than before. Uncomfortable topics may need to be addressed for that to happen.
Opening day at the Masters 1934
Bobby Jones, 3 time Open Champion,