Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Getting with the Program: A Golf Latecomer's Take on the First Masters

July 8, 2009
Posted by John Dale

I’ve enjoyed watching sports all my life, though my attempts to actually play said sports outside intramural competition ended in sixth grade, when I acquired costochondritis on the cross-country course and compiled an 0-6 record in wrestling. Unsurprisingly for an Indiana kid, basketball excited me most, but I also enjoyed watching football, baseball, and the occasional potluck pick from "sports rarely seen outside the gymnasium or the Olympics." Golf was more take-it-or-leave-it; compared to the constant motion and energy of basketball, the comparatively staid golf broadcasts rarely held my 7-year-old or even 10-year-old interest.

That changed for me on April 13, 1997, a date golf fans know well for the final round of the 1997 Masters; after a decent first round on Thursday and two utterly brilliant rounds on Friday and Saturday, a 21-year-old Tiger Woods had all but put on his first green jacket. There was an excitement around golf and Tiger, an energy I hadn’t seen before in the galleries. The announcers were talking about “the future of golf,” and looking back on the past dozen years from the perspective of 2009, that future has come true in ways few could have dreamed of.

Certainly, the phenomenon of Tiger Woods could not have approached the mind of Bobby Jones on the eve of the “First Augusta National Invitation” Tournament, an event now universally recognized as the first instance of The Masters. Horton Smith won that first event, as well as the third in 1936. Many traditions have sprung up around The Masters, but one that has not survived is the official program; it was produced in 1934 and 1935 but then discontinued. Examples of the 1934 program, like this recent discovery in our upcoming September Signature Sports Memorabilia Auction, number only about a dozen, and whenever they come up for auction, the passion golf fans have for their sport—a passion that often confines itself to light clapping on the course—can come alive.

To be sure, the condition of this program isn’t perfect; like all pieces of paper ephemera, this program was meant to be used and then kept as a souvenir or disposed of as the owner pleased. The cataloger notes “moderate cover wear, including splitting at the spine,” but elsewhere, there is nothing but praise for the program; the staples are firmly attached to the pages, and the interior quality is remarkable; comparing the white inside pages with the back cover is quite the revelation. (Speaking of which…how about that advertisement on the back cover? It’s the “Monroe Adding-Calculator,” complete with 1930s office girl and potshots at FDR’s New Deal labor reforms. It definitely hits my threshold for retro-cool.)

Beyond rarity or condition, though, it’s simply awesome to imagine where this program might have been, what shots it might have seen as it was held by an unknown spectator in the gallery as the crack of persimmon-wood drivers sent balls sailing through the air.

-John Dale Beety

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