Why Golf Tournaments Last Four Days

Seventy-two-hole golf tournaments at the time of the first Masters, in 1934, were invariably scheduled for three days, with a thirty-six-hole final on Saturday—an accommodation to the nation’s blue laws. It was Bobby Jones who thought of expanding the schedule. “My idea in stringing out the medal play over four days,” he wrote in a letter to Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder, not long before the tournament, “was to give time for special events to be sandwiched in between.” These events included an optional alternate-shot match, an approach-and-putt contest (to be held on the practice putting green), an iron contest (to be held in the old practice area, which can still be seen between the ninth and eighteenth fairways), and a driving contest.

Roberts liked the four-round idea—one of many golf innovations introduced at the Masters—in part because it eliminated what he believed to be a disadvantage for players who were “unable to do their best scoring if forced to play thirty-six holes in one day.” He also liked the fact that the schedule would enable the club to sell four days’ worth of tournament-round tickets instead of just three. (Tournament-round tickets sold for $2.20, including tax; practice round tickets were $1.10; series tickets, good for all week, were $5.50.) Roberts had initially wanted the driving contest and other special events to be scheduled alongside the practice rounds—on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday—partly because he hoped they would increase practice-round ticket sales, and partly because he thought a long schedule of activities might make the tournament seem more substantial to local hoteliers and merchants, whose support would be needed both that year and in the future.

Incidentally, Roberts loved the special events, and he helped to create many of them. One year, he arranged an exhibition for local children, who were given free practice-round tickets; he scheduled the exhibition late in the afternoon so that it wouldn’t conflict with school. Another year, he devised a competition in which the pros took turns trying to repeat Sarazen’s double-eagle shot from the fifteenth fairway. (None succeeded.) For the 1942 Masters, he wanted to hold a complex “ringer score contest” in which the seven tournament champions would compete against the rest of the field during the four practice rounds. The contest was never held, but not for lack of support from the chairman. (Among other things, he wrote, the competition would “give the newspaper boys something to write about” during the first half of the week.) According to one spectator from that era, “The contests were fun, because the pros were always so relaxed and having such a good time.”

Those early special events were the precursors of the Par 3 Contest—another Roberts innovation. The first was held in 1960 (and won by Sam Snead) after enthusiastic lobbying by Roberts. “I am really rather bullish on the idea of making use of the Par-3 course as a distinctive pre-tournament event,” he had written the year before. “If so, it can be quite a feather in the cap of the Masters Tournament.  I say this because no other club holding a tournament could duplicate what I am proposing we do at Augusta. So far as I know, no other club has a Par-3 layout and, even if they do, I am sure they don’t have anything to compare with ours.” The event has always drawn a huge and enthusiastic crowd. It is also popular with the players and their children—even though no winner of the Par 3 Contest has ever gone on to win the Masters. Yesterday’s event was shortened by rain and lightning. Padraig Harrington and Jonathan Byrd were leading, at 5 under, when it was called.

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