The honorary starters ceremony at the Masters Tournament will have a third golfer this year when Lee Elder joins six-time champion Jack Nicklaus and three-time winner Gary Player on the first tee.
Fred Ridley, Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament chairman, announced at last year’s tournament in November that Elder had accepted a special invitation to take part in the ceremony on Thursday, April 8 to open the 85th Masters.
Elder became the first Black man to compete in the Masters 46 years ago. He later qualified for the tournament for five consecutive years, 1977 through 1981. His best finish came in 1979, when he tied for 17th place.
“Mr. Elder’s participation in the honorary starters ceremony 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.”
Elder is looking forward to his chance to participate in the ceremony.
“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,” he said last November. “So, to be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary . . . means the world to me.”
They seemed equally pleased to have Elder join them.
“I thought that was great, that Lee was invited to play, and to honor him now is, I think, very appropriate. I’m delighted. I look forward to teeing it up with him,” Nicklaus said.
“I think it’s just the most wonderful thing – one of the most wonderful things I’ve seen,” said Player.
Player also said he admired the golfer’s fortitude, recalling the time in 1969 when he invited Elder to visit his home country of South Africa.
“He came down there, and must have been very nervous, and he had the courage to accept the invitation and come down there knowing what a great deed he would be doing,” Player said. “It was very influential because at that stage no Black visitors or people of any color were visiting South Africa.”
Ridley also announced the creation of the Lee Elder Scholarships at Paine College, a Historically Black College and University in Augusta. Two scholarships will be awarded annually, one each to a student-athlete who competes on the men’s and women’s golf team. As part of this effort, Augusta National also will fund the creation of a women’s golf program at the school.
“It also gives me great pride to know that my first Masters appearance continues to make a positive impact on others. Throughout my career, helping young men and women achieve their dreams through education has been a cause close to my heart,” Elder said. “I am deeply honored to share a connection with Paine College and these scholarships, which will provide life-changing opportunities for the deserving recipients.”
By Betsy Gilliland