Participants recall early days of Par-3 Contest
Standing outside Augusta National’s clubhouse, Tommy Aaron thought back to April 6, 1960.
As a 23-year-old amateur, Aaron was one of 71 competitors in the first Par-3 Contest – a tradition originated by Augusta National Golf Club co-founder Clifford Roberts.
With the contest marking its 55th anniversary today, Aaron will join Gary Player as the only competitors who took part in the first event.
Aaron won the contest in 1984, but he shot 33 in the inaugural event, tying for last with honorary starter Fred McLeod.
“Tying with Freddy means I was in pretty good company,” said Aaron, laughing. “I was just an amateur, so you can’t hold it against me.”
After the 1960 contest, The Augusta Chronicle praised winner Sam Snead, boasting the headline, “Slammer’s 23 wins 9-hole par 3 event.” A silver service was awarded to Snead, and like today,
prizes were given for holes-in-one and shots closest to the pin.
“What I remember most is how hard everyone played,” 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby said of the first Par-3 Contest. “We wanted that silver trophy.”
Today, caddies at the Par-3 are toddlers, wives and celebrities, and some players’ family members hit shots.
Still, it will be hard to top the frolics of Doug Sanders. Sanders, who finished runner-up in the Par-3 to Snead in 1960, was disqualified in the 1962 contest after deliberately taking six putts on the final hole.
Earlier that day, Sanders teed off with his putter on No. 1 and used it left-handed on another. However, his first-hole tee shot resulted in a birdie when he holed his shot from the sand.
Though Sanders enjoyed getting the crowd’s attention, Goalby says antics were uncommon in the early years.
“We wanted to win the thing,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great how kids caddie and everything now, but because of that, the contest isn’t as competitive as it once was.”
As for the size of the crowd at the first Par-3 Contest, Goalby chuckled.
“There weren’t many people at all,” he said. “The gung-ho fans came to watch but the crowd was nothing, I mean nothing, like it is now.”
Aaron echoed Goalby’s statements.
“It’s hard nowadays because you want to sign autographs, but it would take all afternoon to sign every one,” Aaron said. “The crowd is just so big now.”
Goalby has stopped competing in the Par-3 Contest, and Arnold Palmer will miss this year’s event.
Jack Burke Jr. (1956 Masters champion) and Doug Ford (1957 Masters winner) are the only other living champions who played in the 1960 contest.
At 78, Aaron says he isn’t sure how many more years he’ll play the Par-3 Contest, but he considers it an honor to be in the same breath as Player.
“But what I love most now about the Par-3 is it gives me a chance to play with the younger guys,” Aaron said. “It’s a treat for me to watch guys like Rickie Fowler and Padraig Harrington, who I’ve been fortunate enough to play the Par-3 with in recent years.”