Masters pays tribute to Black pioneer Elder

Lee Elder (Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for PGD Global)
Lee Elder (Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for PGD Global)

Lee Elder, the first Black player in the Masters, will serve as a 2021 Masters honorary starter as part of a tribute by Augusta National that includes two college golf scholarships.

Elder broke the Masters racial barrier in 1975 at an event that never invited Black pioneer Charlie Sifford despite two PGA wins in the 1960s that typically would have brought an Augusta opportunity.

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced Monday that Elder would have a "special moment in time" by joining Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters in 2021, when he hopes to have spectators back in attendance after a 2020 ban due to Covid-19.

"The opportunity to earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life," Elder said.

"To be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary for next year's Masters means the world to me. It also gives me great pride to know that my first Masters appearance continues to make a positive impact on others."

Augusta National will create a men's and women's player scholarship at nearby Paine College, a Historically Black College and University, in Elder's name, which includes the creation of an entire women's golf program at the school.

Elder, whose best Masters finish was a share of 17th in 1979, was not made an honorary starter beyond next year.

"Mr. Elder's participation in the Honorary Starters Ceremony next April will recognize his courageous life and commemorate all he has done in his career to help eliminate barriers and inspire Black men and women in the game of golf and beyond," Ridley said.

"We hope that by having him serve as an honorary starter for the 2021 Masters that he can be joined at the first tee by family, friends and patrons for a moment that will be treasured worldwide."

The move comes in a year when racial inequality, social injustice and systemic racism have become major global issues following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in Minnesota.

Augusta National's social and racial history has been a troubled one. Co-founder Clifford Roberts vowed all players would be white and all caddies would be Black.

It took 15 years after Elder shattered the racial barrier for players before the club welcomed its first Black member in 1990 and it was not until 2012 that Augusta National admitted its first female members.

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