An idyllic oasis of green in the southern U.S state of Georgia, with springtime flowers in full bloom as the players make their way around the course, the argument that the Masters tournament in Augusta has the most beautiful setting is a strong one.
But it’s not just about the joys of spring. The contest has consistently produced some of the best tournaments of all time, with golfing legends battling it out for the right to wear that iconic green blazer.
Read on to find out why so many people consider it the best golfing competition on the planet.
A roll call of great tournaments
The Golden Bear comeback of 1986
As well as it’s luscious green fairways and sparkling streams, Augusta National also boasts some of the best golfing moments in history.
It’s seen arguably the best golfer of all time win six green jackets, and the last one in 1986 was the most memorable. Few people gave 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus a chance of winning ahead of the likes of Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros; and even less so when he trailed them heading into the final round.
What followed was jaw-dropping. Nicklaus delivered one of the greatest charges in history and put on a 6-under final nine to blow the competition out of the water. It was the last major Championship of his career and his record 18th major title – something that even Tiger Woods has still been unable to match.
An awe-inspiring finish in 1987
The following year, with Augusta still basking in the glory of Nicklaus’s comeback, there was little hope of a tournament that could come close to emulating the previous one.
However, a tight tournament saw Greg Norman, Ballesteros, and little-known local player, Larry Mize, end up in a play-off to decide the winner. The dramatic finale saw them arrive at the 11th green in a direct shoot-out for the championship.
It looked as if Norman was going to wrap it up: giving himself two putts to get par, which he assumed would give him the win. But he hadn’t accounted for the magic of Mize. He pulled the perfect chip shot out of the bag, finding the hole from 140 feet away to hit an incredible birdie. Norman was shocked and couldn’t recover, meaning Mize became the only Augusta native ever to win the trophy.
The birth of a Tiger in 1997
Speaking of Tiger Woods, the Masters was the competition that put him, and the rest of golf, onto newspaper headlines across the globe. An incredible 44 million people watched the talented young Californian hit a 69-shot final round to post a record 18-under par and beat second place by 12 shots – a phenomenal feat for a debutant.
As a 21-year-old rookie, what he did that weekend ranks as one of the finest sporting achievements of all time and paved the way for future greatness.
Tiger’s return in 2019
And so, it came to the 83rd edition of the tournament and all eyes were on the now-veteran Tiger. It had been a long recovery process for him, after being hit by a succession of scandals in the preceding years.
The pre-tournament favorites included Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, with Tiger, understandably, nowhere near the top of the order. So, eyebrows were raised when a punter staked $85,000 on Tiger Woods winning the tournament at 14-1 odds.
Incredibly, the legendary golfer pulled it off, netting the bettor 1.19 million in the process.
It was one of the most extraordinary performances of all time, considering the mental turmoil Woods had gone through. In his 22nd Masters, he used every last drop of mental strength to power through the final nine holes, holding off challenges from Dustin Johnson and Francesco Molinari along the way.
It was his sweetest victory yet, and once again Augusta National was the setting. The normally-stern Woods punched the air with joy with his children looking on.’
It was an improbable win for both Woods and the punter, but, as wonderful as it was, maybe you should consider a responsible gambling guide if you’re thinking of betting a big amount of money on something similar happening in the future.
The perfect setting
As well as the sporting drama that the course has seen over the years, it can also claim to be the most picturesque in the world. Photos of the course barely do the stunning scenery justice with its reported 80,000 flowers of 350 different varieties dotted around the course.
Looming over them are scores of pine trees, some of them over 75 feet tall, which not only add grandeur to the course but are also a menacing obstacle for some golfers. The lakes, rumoured to be artificially enhanced, are another scenic hazard.
It makes for easy TV viewing, as the audience are treated to panoramas of the course between shots. But the true experience is, of course, to be there in person. Arnold Palmer described it as ‘like walking on a cloud’ when he arrived there for his first tournament and Justin Spieth called it ‘heaven on earth’.
So, the here and now sees Augusta in fine form, but what lies in store for the future of the tournament? Will it continue to shine?
A glimpse into the future
Despite its exalted status within sport, the tournament isn’t immune to controversy. Its organizers have been accused of being old-fashioned and resistant to change, particularly when Chairman Fred Ridley ruled out the possibility of staging a Women’s Masters on the course recently.
That said, the organisers are attempting to keep up with the times in other areas. The construction of a state-of-the-art Global Broadcast Village is expected to enhance the viewing experience further. Its legendary 13th hole is also expected to be lengthened and fans expect this to produce some dramatic scenes.
Rival tournaments have a lot of work to do if they want to match The Masters for iconic moments and amazing surrounds – and it looks as if Augusta National is set to wear the crown for some time to come.