Not so long ago, Augusta’s civic spirit was the engine that helped power the Masters Tournament. And it needed the help.
In its infancy, tournament galleries were small and tickets were hard to give away, let alone sell.
“People didn’t really know much about golf tournaments. The city was much smaller than it is now,” said Lowery Stulb, an Augusta native and the architect who designed Eisenhower Cabin at Augusta National Golf Club.
In the 1930s and ’40s, the Great Depression and the second World War hampered tournament attendance. Even after the war, tickets were distributed at downtown banks and shops for free or a few dollars. Stulb, then a member of the Augusta Golf Association, couldn’t find buyers for the dozen tickets he was asked to sell at $5 each.
The tide turned in the second half of the 20th century, in part because Augusta businessmen and civic leaders pulled together community support that nurtured today’s international event.
“Augusta saw it as an opportunity to make the city foremost in presentation,” said Jim Davis, a former anchor and news director for local television stations.
For one week, parties, fashion, gambling, celebrities and Southern hospitality were forefront in Augusta minds.
Eager businessmen, likely recognizing the economic promise of the Masters, formed a steering committee for events to be held during the tournament.
The Masters Week Committee, aided by mayoral support, organized a Broad Street parade, a beauty pageant, a black-tie dance called the “Golf Ball” and a horse show beginning in 1957.
“There was a strong sense of community at the time. The whole community was in favor of the Masters Tournament and did their best to promote it,” Davis said.
Lillian Cullum said her husband Jim, who later owned Cullum’s department store on Broad Street, made the first calls to organize the parade. She remembers tournament officials giving her husband large rolls of several hundred paper tickets to give away at the downtown store.
Barbara Anne Harris Sorkin, the winner of the 1966 “Miss Golf” beauty pageant, hasn’t forgotten the city’s hospitality during her first visit to the Garden City. She stayed with a local family for the week.
“It was an outpouring of community support to welcome the girls to Augusta,” she said.
The host family invited Sorkin to visit their St. Simons Island beach house, an offer she regrets not being able to follow through with.
Augusta gained more fame when President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, visited the golf course. Then, the tournament aired on TV for the first time in 1956 and golfer Arnold Palmer, a crowd-favorite, helped draw more attention to the tournament.
By 1960, the number of Masters Week visitors overwhelmed Augusta’s few restaurants. At the request of the Chamber of Commerce, an Old South Barbecue was held at Julian Smith Casino.
“Everybody was just so jazzed up and so happy to be here,” said Ann Boardman, a volunteer for the barbecue. “It was really fun to show off our city.”