A further sign of changed days at Augusta National came at the start of Masters week when it was announced Lee Elder, the first black man to play in the tournament, will take a role of honorary starter in 2021.
Elder will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the 1st tee in April, as Augusta continues to make strenuous attempts to shake off its historically grim reputation regarding race.
Elder will also have newly created scholarship programmes, including the creation of a women’s golf team, at Paine college in the city. Elder, 86, made his Masters debut in 1975.
“I think like all organisations we’ve been moved by the events of 2020,” said Fred Ridley, the Augusta National chairman. “There’s been a lot said about racial justice and opportunity and our question was not so much what can we say but what can we do.
“So I guess I would say that this announcement is in part a call to action. Lee has had a long relationship [with us], we have had a long relationship with Lee. Certainly dating back to 1975 but he’s been our guest here almost every year at the Masters.
“This is just a culmination of that great relationship and an opportunity in these times to recognise him for the pioneer that he was, the great citizen that he is and what he’s done for the game of golf … lots of lessons to be learned from that.”
Elder was at Augusta as Ridley made his announcement. When Tiger Woods became the first black man to win the Masters, in 1997, he paid tribute to Elder during his victory speech.
“The opportunity to earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that tee was my dream,” Elder said. “To have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life. So to be invited back to the 1st tee one more time to join Jack and Gary for next year’s Masters means the world to me.”
Pressed on why Elder’s involvement will only begin next year, Ridley pointed to the absence of spectators this week. “We thought this would be a much more appropriate and a much greater celebration if we did this in April of next year, when we hope – and I emphasise the word hope – that we will have many patrons viewing us along with our viewers around the world,” he said.
“We thought it was the right thing for Lee to have that moment in time that we hope will last for ever.”