Masters 2011 marks 75th anniversary of golf's first major

Masters 2011 golf tournament is the 75th edition of what started out as the Augusta National invitation Tournament back in 1934.

Chris O'Meara/AP
Billy Payne, right, chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, poses with Jack Nicklaus, left, and Arnold Palmer before the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 7, in Augusta, Ga.

As a field of 99 professional and amateur golfers tees off Thursday in the first round of the Masters, they might take a moment to consider the milestone this exclusive invitation-only event has reached.

2011 marks the 75th anniversary of the Masters, which shut down for three years during World War II. It was the brainchild of an American original, US and British Open and Amateur golf champion Bobby Jones, and his close friend Clifford Roberts.

The Masters is the first of the four majors, the most prestigious tournaments (if not the most lucrative) played each year by golf professionals. The other majors are the US Open Championship (June), the British Open Championship (July), and the PGA Championship (August). Winning a major gives a player immediate recognition, corporate endorsements, and a degree of economic stability in a profession that requires players to qualify for the tour every year. The PGA Tour now gives a five-year exemption to all major winners.

The Masters is the only one of the majors that is played on the same golf course every year, and has the smallest field, usually under 100 players. Former champions have a lifetime invitation to compete.

A former nursery in Augusta, Georgia, about three hours away from Atlanta, was purchased in 1931. One year later, Augusta National Golf Club, with 18 holes designed by Scottish course architect Alister Mackenzie and Jones, opened for play. In March of 1934, the inaugural Augusta National Invitation Tournament was contested.

Part of the grandeur of the Masters is the natural beauty of the Augusta National course. Indeed, the course is as much a star as the players. According to the Masters website, the azaleas and dogwood trees that always seem to be in bloom this time of year were already on the grounds of the former nursery and incorporated into the course design.

Some of the greatest names in golf have won the Masters and earned the right to wear the green jacket, including Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.

More recent multiple Masters champions include Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson.

Jack Nicklaus has the most Masters wins (6). Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer are tied for second with four wins each.

Come Augusta's back nine on Sunday, which golfer will add his name to the history of this legendary tournament?

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