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Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Road to Augusta 50 Years Later

The weather in most of the United States is cold and the courses are closed except for us lucky folks that live, well, far enough south where they aren't. I was raised in Michigan so I know how dark these days can be for snowbound golfers. With the holidays over and the new year underway, I still start to dream of the azaleas and green fairways of the Masters.  The PGA Tour may say that their season began in October, but stubborn folks like myself still see January as the true turning of the page for the tour. The countdown to Augusta has begun!

Changes in the Road

Which got me to thinking; How has the road to Augusta National changed over the years? With the help of Wikipedia, I decided to compare the 1968 PGA Tour to the 2018 PGA Tour schedule. How much different is the road to Augusta today than 50 years ago? Let's see:

1968 vs 2018 PGA Road to Augusta

That's a Lot More Money

The first thing that jumps out is the money of course. Even when you factor in the rate of inflation the change is huge. Depending on the site I chose, a basic 7x factor appears to be good enough to estimate what a 1968 dollar was worth compared to a 2018 dollar. So, for example, the $20,000 first prize for the 1968 Phoenix Open is about $140,000 in 2018 dollars. Good money to be sure but it isn't the $1.2 million this year's winner will go home with.

A Bit Closer Together

Travel is another big change. Back in 1968, the tournaments were clustered a bit closer together. California to Arizona to Florida before a quick Augusta tune-up by playing the Greater Greensboro Open in North Carolina. No Hawaii. No Mexico. No Texas. If you were struggling on tour or breaking in as a rookie, the more regional schedule back in 1968 had to really help. This is way before the top players were flying private. Probably before most were flying at all. I'm sure the caddies appreciated the shorter runs between tournaments. They still had the big shift from Arizona to Florida, but back in 1968, once they made the move they stayed in the southeast. No jumps to Mexico, back to Florida, and then back over to Texas before Georgia in April.

More Similar than Different

Fundamentally, the road to Augusta is very similar. The names of the tournaments may have changed, and the game has certainly evolved, but the road to Augusta is still about players competing to qualify for the year's first major. Sure, the purses are unimaginable to those competing in 1968. Television and social media have turned every player on tour into a media and marketing brand. But, ultimately, the tour players will go out every weekend between now and April trying to do what they can to get that invitation to Augusta. For those elite players, with their invitation already in the mail, they'll be working hard to find something special in their game that might let them put on the Green Jacket in 2018. I can't wait to watch.

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