Palmer’s membership deepened connection to Augusta National

All Masters Tournament champions automatically become honorary members of Augusta National Golf Club.

But only Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have gone on to become full-fledged members of the private club started by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.

Palmer, the tournament’s first four-time champion, was the first champion to join the club. He was invited to join before the opening of the club’s season in 1999.

“I was pleasantly pleased with being asked to become a member,” Palmer said in 2000.

His longtime administrative assistant, Doc Giffin, told The Augusta Chronicle that the invitation was a “thrill” for Palmer.

“Augusta means so much to him, and it always has,” Giffin said. “It was kind of a crowning honor.”

Thanks to his four wins, Palmer was allowed to play Augusta National when accompanied by a member. After joining, Palmer could bring guests and take part in club functions. Not that he abused his privileges or spoiled his family.

He only took his grandson, Sam Saunders, to play Augusta National a couple of times.

“My grandfather was like his father,” Saunders said. “He never wanted us to feel privileged in any way.”

In his first Masters after joining Augusta National, Palmer joked that he “wrote a note to the powers at Augusta and said that since now I’m a member, I’d like to play the member’s tees (in the tournament).”

The membership was just one of many special connections Palmer enjoyed with Augusta. He was recognized in 1955 with a plaque affixed to the drinking fountain behind the 16th tee. He became an honorary starter in 2007, a role he embraced each spring through 2015.

In 2016, in poor health, Palmer still made an appearance on the first tee beside fellow champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

When he died in September, tributes poured in from all over. A display case inside the Champions Locker Room includes memorabilia from Palmer’s six-decade association with the tournament and club.

“Arnold’s bold and daring approach to the game, combined with his citizenship, warmth, humor, humility and grace, were truly the signature of the man that we came to know, and will fondly remember, as The King,” Augusta National and Masters Chairman Billy Payne said in a statement. “His presence at Augusta National will be sorely missed, but his impact on the Masters remains immeasurable – and it will never wane.”

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1937: Byron Nelson made a birdie at No. 12 and an eagle at No. 13 to make up six strokes on Ralph Guldahl and win his first Masters.

1938: Henry Picard shot 32 on the front nine to help secure a two-shot win over Harry Cooper and Ralph Guldahl.

1940: Lloyd Mangrum shot an Augusta National course-record 64 in the opening round. The mark stood for 25 years.

1995: A plaque commemorating Arnold Palmer’s four Masters victories was dedicated. It is affixed to the drinking fountain behind the 16th tee.

To help bring the action to the masses, the Masters was the first golf tournament with national radio coverage. Now, listeners can find traffic updates throughout the day at WGAC (580 AM/95.1 FM). On tournament days, coverage begins at 2 p.m. on and satellite radio (XM channel 92 and Sirius channel 208).