“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to tell us about life in the places they represent, from the high-profile events to the virtues only the locals know about.
There aren’t too many places where you find adult men wearing identical bright green sport coats. But that’s what is required of members of the Augusta National Golf Club during the annual Masters Tournament, held this year April 5-11. The winner of the tournament also receives a green jacket, but unlike club members, the champion gets to take his home. Clifford Roberts, a club co-founder, came up with the idea, some say, to allow everyone to easily identify who were the members of the exclusive club.
The club, located in Augusta, a two-plus-hour drive east of Atlanta, has hosted the annual tournament in early April since 1934. (Because of COVID, the tournament was held in November last year; attendance will be limited again this year.) Every other major tournament rotates to one of the best of the more than 15,000 golf courses in the country.
Golf has come a long way since its beginnings off the coast of Scotland, where players would hit pebbles over sand dunes using a bent stick or club. Many of today’s courses are beautiful, and the Augusta National Golf Course is one of the loveliest, full of meticulously tended turf and impeccably planted gardens full of azaleas and dogwoods. To complete the ambience, patrons and players enjoy freshly imported pine needles, recorded bird songs through camouflaged speakers and no brown spots on the grass—green paint solves that problem. It’s said that at one time the club even dyed the ponds blue.
The course was a favorite of President Dwight Eisenhower, the only president to have been a member. Currently the invitation-only club boasts Jack Nicklaus, Rex Tillerson, Bill Gates, Peyton Manning and Condoleezza Rice among its 300 or so members. The club has accepted women members since 2012; African American men have been welcomed since 1990.
We asked Georgia Senator Harold Jones II (D), near right, and Representative Henry “Wayne” Howard (D), who represent the districts where the club is located, what the tournament means to the community.
NCSL: What are the pros and cons of having the annual golf tournament in your district?
Howard: Jobs, jobs, jobs. The 60 days around the golf tournament have a big impact when it comes to economic development. There are really no cons that I can point a finger to except maybe all the traffic it brings into the city. But even that they have improved on in the last few years, so it’s not that bad anymore.
Jones: Having the tournament makes the city immediately recognizable around the world. It puts the city on the map and creates positive conversations about our area no matter where I go. It creates a very positive image for the city. The only con is that people inevitably ask if I play golf and if I have played the course. Unfortunately, I do not play. I keep promising myself to start playing the game, and every year I never find time to do it.
Do you know how the club managed to snag the tournament for every year while all other tournaments rotate around the country?
Howard: I know that golfer Bobby Jones helped develop the unique course. It’s very beautiful; photos don’t do it justice. They have the tournament in April when all the azaleas are in bloom. If you haven’t seen it, you can’t believe how beautiful it is. But I haven’t really looked into the history of the tournament.
Jones: I’m not exactly sure why it stays here, but of course it could never move. The best tournament can only be located in the best city. So it makes sense it could never move. If it did move, it would not be the Masters. The history of the course and just the way the city embraces the tournament could not be duplicated anywhere else.
The club didn’t accept African Americans until 1990 and women until 2012. How did that affect club-community relations? What are they like today?
Howard: Yes, it’s gradually been changing. They’ve opened it up much more. Especially during the practice rounds of the tournament, I think the tickets are more available. Their relations with the community are good, especially during the last five years. They have a foundation, I believe, that invests in the community.
Jones: The club and community relations are at an all-time high. The club has been very active in the community and there is no doubt they have become a tremendous corporate citizen. Of course, the city recognized the club was not open to African Americans and women and that did impact the community relationship. But today, the relationship is doing great and moving in a very positive direction.
Are you a golf fan? Do you go to the tournament?
Howard: I’ve been to the tournament. Like I said, the course is absolutely beautiful and unique. But the rules are strict—nothing that makes noise, not even a camera click, is allowed. I’m in a wheelchair now, so that makes it more difficult.
Jones: I do go to the tournament. I have been going regularly since 1997. My dad played the game and when he went to the course, he would rave about it and was always so excited to go. I have a great time when I go. The course is beautiful, but because I do not play I probably do not appreciate how great the course actually is. Whenever people who do play the game go for the first time, they leave in awe.
What else should we know about your district?
Howard: The district is a rich, really diverse area that has everything, including the very rich. I’m proud to represent it, it’s where I grew up, my family home is there. By the way, the golf club was just added to the district in the last round of redistricting.
Jones: Augusta is great place to live and visit. We are a very diverse community with a great sense of civic pride. We are the golf capital but also the cyber capital, as we are home to the U.S. Army Cyber Command and Georgia Cyber Center. The Medical College of Georgia is also located here. We are one community, and we look forward to seeing you whether in April (for the Masters) or throughout the year. Come discover Augusta.
Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.