Time Marches On
    Time Marches On

    We knew the day would come, but it doesn’t make it any easier. In mid-March, four-time Masters Champion Arnold Palmer informed Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne that he would not be able to hit the ceremonial tee-shot to officially open play at the 2016 Masters. Palmer, suffering from a bad shoulder, simply said, “Time marches on.” Palmer has joined fellow living legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in kicking-off the tournament early Thursday morning for the past four years.

    The Masters, as all of us know, is steeped in tradition. The Masters doesn’t have “fans”, it has “patrons.” The Masters doesn’t have “rough”, it has the “second cut”. The Masters has the Champions Dinner on Tuesday evening of tournament week. The Masters also is famous for its huge, white hand-operated scoreboard. In short, despite the physical changes to the golf course, Augusta National in many ways feels almost exactly like it did 25 or even 50 years ago.

    Another big part of Masters’ tradition is the honorary starter or starters. Former champions Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson hit tee shots to “officially” open the 1981 Masters tournament. The patrons loved seeing these past champions, players literally from another era, teeing it up on the first hole of the year’s first major. Nelson and Sarazen kept up this tradition every year until 1999 when they were joined on the first tee by Sam Snead.

    In 2000 and 2001, it was just Nelson and Snead as Sarazen passed away in 1999. In 2002 it was Snead all alone in the role. After Snead passed away in 2002 the Masters put this tradition on hold for four years until Palmer agreed to renew it in 2007. In 2010, six-time Masters Champion Jack Nicklaus joined Palmer and two-time Masters Champion Gary Player made it a threesome beginning in 2012.
    What many golf fans may not know is the use of honorary starters didn’t begin with Sarazen and Nelson, it actually began in the mid-1960’s and featured winners of the Senior PGA Championship. This was several years before the Senior Tour, now known as the Champions Tour, began play and the gentlemen teeing off were not household names. It was another way this great tournament paid attention to amateur golf. Every year, the low amateur for the Masters Tournament is welcomed into the Butler Cabin and honored alongside the new champion. Amateurs are allowed to stay on the course. Bobby Jones had an attic built in the Augusta National Clubhouse that was dubbed “the Crow’s Nest” and it has provided housing Masters week for a number of players who would later go on to capture the title including Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

    Palmer has been a fixture at Augusta National since playing in his first Masters in 1955. The legend from Latrobe, Pennsylvania is generally credited with bring golf to the masses. Palmer represented the working class with his humble background and plain spoken manner. 2015 may prove to be Palmer’s last appearance at the Masters in an official capacity. Golf has had a number of incredible ambassadors over the years, Palmer being arguably the finest.