Gary Player Speaks Out on Augusta National: ‘I helped make this tournament what it is’

Gary Player is one of the greatest golfers of all time, with nine major championships and three Masters titles to his name. He is also an honorary member of Augusta National Golf Club, the exclusive venue that hosts the Masters every year. But despite his achievements and status, Player feels unwelcome and unappreciated by the club that he helped make famous. In a recent interview with The Times, Player revealed that he has to “beg” for a round at Augusta National, even when he wants to play with his grandchildren. He said that he can’t just call the pro shop and book a tee time, but he has to find a full-fledged member who can host him and his guests. He said that this is “terribly, terribly sad” and that he feels like he has not been treated fairly by the club. Player said that he has contributed a lot to the Masters and Augusta National, not only by winning the tournament three times, but also by being an ambassador for the event and the sport. He said that he has played in the Masters 53 times, made 23 consecutive cuts (a record), and finished in the top 10 15 times. He also said that he has spent an entire year of his life at Augusta National, participating in various ceremonies and traditions, such as the Par-3 Contest, the Champions Dinner, and the honorary starter role. Player said that without the players, Augusta National would be “just another golf course in Georgia”. He said that every time he and other legends like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson wear their green jackets, they are giving “the greatest PR in the world” to the club. He said that he loves the Masters and respects its history and prestige, but he wishes that he had more access and recognition from Augusta National. Player is not the only past champion who has expressed dissatisfaction with the club’s policies. In 2019, Angel Cabrera said that he felt “discriminated against” by Augusta National because he was not allowed to play a practice round with his son. Cabrera said that he was told that only members can bring guests to play at the club. Cabrera said that this was unfair and disrespectful to him as a two-time major winner and a Masters champion. Augusta National Golf Club is known for its exclusivity and secrecy. It has about 300 members, most of whom are wealthy and influential businessmen and politicians. The club does not disclose its membership list or its admission criteria. It also does not allow women to join until 2012, when it invited Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as its first female members. The club has also faced criticism for its lack of diversity and social responsibility. In 2003, it was pressured by activists to admit more women and minorities as members. The club’s chairman at the time, Hootie Johnson, famously said that he would not be “bullied” by anyone and that Augusta National might one day have a woman member “but not at the point of a bayonet”. In 2020, the club announced a $10 million donation to help revitalize nearby neighborhoods that are predominantly African American. The club has also been accused of altering its course layout and lengthening its holes to make it more difficult for certain players to win. This practice has been dubbed as “Tiger-proofing”, as it was seen as a response to Tiger Woods’ dominance in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Woods won his first Masters in 1997 by a record 12 strokes, setting several records along the way. After that, Augusta National added more trees, bunkers, rough, and distance to its course, making it harder for players to hit fairways and greens. The club has defended its changes as necessary to keep up with modern technology and equipment, and to maintain its challenge and character. It has also said that it respects and honors its past champions and their contributions to the game. It has invited them to various events and ceremonies, such as the Champions Dinner, where they can share stories and memories with each other. It has also given them lifetime invitations to play in the Masters, as long as they are competitive. However, some past champions have decided to stop playing in the Masters due to age or health reasons. They have also expressed their concerns about tarnishing their legacy or taking away spots from younger players who deserve them more. Some of them have also said that they feel out of place or unwelcome at Augusta National, where they have to follow strict rules and etiquette. Final Words: Gary Player and the Struggle for Recognition at Augusta National It is disheartening to hear that Gary Player, one of golf’s greatest champions and ambassadors, feels unwelcome and unappreciated by Augusta National Golf Club, a place where he has spent countless hours and contributed so much to its history and prestige. His comments about having to “beg” for a tee time and find a member to host him and his guests underscore the exclusivity and secrecy of the club, which has long been criticized for its lack of diversity and social responsibility. Player’s situation is not unique, as other past champions have also expressed frustration with the club’s policies and practices, such as its alterations to the course layout and lengthening of holes to make it more difficult for certain players to win. These changes have been seen as a response to Tiger Woods’ dominance and a way to maintain the club’s challenge and character, but they have also raised concerns about fairness and equity in the sport. The club has defended its actions as necessary and respectful of its past champions, but it needs to do more to address their concerns and recognize their contributions. It should not be difficult for someone like Gary Player, who has won three Masters titles and been an honorary member for decades, to play a round of golf with his grandchildren or receive the recognition and access he deserves. The club should also be more transparent and inclusive in its membership and admission criteria, and take concrete steps to promote diversity and social responsibility. It cannot rely solely on its tradition and prestige to justify its practices and policies, especially in a changing world that values openness, fairness, and inclusion. In short, the struggle for recognition at Augusta National is not just a personal issue for Gary Player or other past champions, but a larger issue of equity, diversity, and responsibility in golf and society. The club should listen to their voices and take action to address their concerns, not just for their sake, but for the sake of the sport and its future.