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25 February 2016

The Masters 2016

The advent of spring brings with it the first major golf competition of the year. The 80th edition of The Masters takes place from April 7-10 at Augusta National Golf Club in the South-eastern State of Georgia.

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Background

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Founded in 1735, Augusta is the state’s third largest city behind Atlanta and Columbus. It was also briefly state capital for 10 years during the American Revolution. The state, named after King George II, was originally a British Colony and the town founded on the site was named after Princess Augusta, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother to King George III. The settlement was established as a trading post due to its convenient location on the banks of the Savannah River.

Despite a rich cultural past and place in American history, it’s not unfair to say that modern day Augusta is best known for the golfing spectacle that takes place on the second weekend of April every year and sees fans from across the globe descend on the city for the event.

However, if you happen to be dragged to Augusta by a golf-mad partner, relative or friend, fret not because the city has a number of other landmarks and places of interest to visit.

Things To See

The Augusta canal, completed in 1847, sparked something of an industrial revolution in the area, housing a number of textile mills and Ironworks. During the Civil War, the Confederate Powder Works factory sat on the canal’s banks, manufacturing and supplying gunpowder ammunition for the other Southern states. These days, the factory’s prominent chimney still stands as memorial for the war dead and boat tours offer an insight into that bygone era.

Augusta also has links to the White House. The boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson is another historical site located in the City. Now serving as a museum, the house depicts the life of the man who would go on to become the 28th President of the United States.

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As part of The South’s ‘Bible Belt’, Augusta is home to many historically significant churches and places of worship, including the Springfield Baptist Church which claims to be the oldest African-American congregation in the country.

One of Augusta’s most famous residents was the late James Brown. Following his death in 2006, the city’s main entertainment complex was renamed the ‘James Brown Arena’ to honour the erstwhile ‘Godfather of Soul’.

The Augusta Museum of History explores the city’s history and places significant emphasis on the local golfing legacy. The ‘Celebrating a Grand tradition’ exhibition highlights not just Augusta National Golf Club, but also the several other clubs dotted around the city, as well as paying tribute to the stars of the sport who have had a major impact at the tournament.

The Masters

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The Masters has the distinct honour of being the only one of the four annual Golf Majors that is hosted at the same venue each year. The tournament also sets itself aside from the other three Majors through the unique prize awarded to the winner. Whereas most sporting triumphs are celebrated with medals, trophies and other shiny trinkets, the winner of the Masters each year is instead awarded a distinctive Green Blazer.

The course is embedded in Augusta’s history. Having opened in 1933, the very first Masters tournament was held the following year. The original course was built on the site of Fruitland Nurseries – the first large-scale horticultural garden in the South-eastern United States. The historical significance of this is acknowledged by the fact that each of the 18 holes is named after a flower, plant or tree; teeing off at hole 1’s ‘Tea Olive’ and finishing with hole 18’s ‘Holly’.

There are also a number of specific features across the green named after legendary figures to have played the course over time in recognition of their achievements. Jack Nicklaus for example (proud owner of a record six green jackets!) has a plaque named in his honour between holes 16 and 17. There was also the famous ‘Eisenhower Tree’ – a 65-foot loblolly pine named after the former US President who unsuccessfully lobbied to have it removed in 1956. The President would eventually get his wish when the tree was irreparably damaged following an ice storm in 2014.

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The club isn’t solely reserved for The Masters. However, if you and your pals happen to have your clubs to hand, don’t expect to stroll onto the course and play a quick round. Membership is costly, and exclusively only available via nomination from existing members. No applications are accepted and even the recipe for the Club’s famed Pimento Cheese Sandwich is a closely guarded secret.

To give you a flavour of what you’d be up against if you ever wanted in, current members include billionaires Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Rice herself was among the first female members when she was inducted as recently as 2012. Despite a high African-American population in the city, the club only accepted its first black member in 1990. Even the participants at The Masters are officially referred to as ‘Invitees’ and have to meet certain conditions in order to compete.

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The exclusivity doesn’t end there. Tickets to the tournament are available strictly by application and only available through the organisers. So if you show up empty handed and happen to run into a charming man with a friendly smile and a twinkle in his eye offering you ‘spares’, chances are they are probably fake.

The influence of the competition in the area has even spilled over into other sports. The local Minor League Baseball side Augusta Greenjackets are named after the tournament’s unique, distinctive prize. They play just three miles east of the course at Lake Olmstead Stadium if you are all golfed out after four days and fancy a different sporting experience.

Whether you are in Augusta for the golf or not, it would be difficult to ignore the impact on the city and its widespread renown as home to one of the world’s great sporting venues.

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