Augusta honors Lee Elder with scholarships, honorary starter

Credit: Photo courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club

Credit: Photo courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta National Golf Club will honor Lee Elder, the first Black player to compete in the Masters, by establishing scholarships in his name at Paine College in Augusta, the club announced Monday. Elder, who broke the color barrier at the tournament 45 years ago in 1975, will also serve as an honorary starter for the 2021 Masters, joining Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

The announcement was made by Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley on Monday before the start of the 2020 Masters.

Ridley revealed the creation of the Lee Elder Scholarships at Paine College, a Historically Black College and University located 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 Paine College, which currently does not exist. Ridley said the club was not concerned with the expense of starting a women’s team.

“The courage and commitment of Lee Elder and other trailblazers like him inspired men and women of color to pursue their rightful opportunity to compete and follow their dreams.  But in reality, that opportunity is still elusive for many.  We have a long way to go, and we can and we must do more,” Ridley said.

Elder first competed in the Masters in 1975 and would later qualify for the tournament for five consecutive years from 1977-81. His best finish came in 1979, when he tied for 17th place.

“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 in a statement. “So 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.”

With no spectators this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ridley said the club wanted to wait until next year for Elder to participate in the honorary starter ceremony, a one-time event, on April 8.

“We thought this would be a much more appropriate and a much greater celebration if we did this in April of next year, when we hope, and I emphasize the word hope, that we will have many patrons viewing us along with our viewers around the world,” Ridley said. “We thought it was the right thing for Lee to have that moment in time that we hope will last forever.”