Try to picture a Tuesday night during Masters Tournament week in downtown Augusta, just hours before the Champions Dinner, with the sidewalks of Broad Street packed with patrons. In between marching bands and decorated floats, Mercedes convertibles roll by with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in their green jackets, sitting together high on the seat backs waving to fans, while Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley smiles and waves from the open car up ahead.
Hard to imagine, right? Well, 64 years ago that wasn’t just a weird fever dream. That was reality. From 1957 to the mid-1960s, Masters week literally came with pageants and pomp and parades in an effort to promote a tournament that no longer needs promotion. In the 1957 inaugural Masters Parade, Augusta National founder Bobby Jones rode in the lead Cadillac convertible with Augusta mayor Hugh Hamilton. Not far behind, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson – as well as other prominent Masters competitors dispersed throughout – saluted the 25,000 fans lining the streets, with actual beauty pageant queens wearing formal gowns on floats behind them.
“Absolutely, there were throngs on Broad Street on both sides you could hardly see. … People were sitting on top of the ledges of the buildings, their legs dangling off.” – Doug Herman
Somewhere in the parade queue, The Augusta Chronicle wrote, was a float from the Fort Gordon Library that depicted Satan trying to blast out of a sand trap.
“It really was a remarkable heavily-attended parade,” said Doug Herman, an 80-year native Augustan and historian who was a teenager when the Masters Parade and Pageant era launched. “Absolutely, there were throngs on Broad Street on both sides you could hardly see. There were a number of notable golfers in the parade. People were sitting on top of the ledges of the buildings, their legs dangling off.”
“It was just a real exciting thing for our little country town,” Lillian Cullum, who died in 2015, told The Augusta Chronicle of the event her late husband – Cullum’s Clothing Store owner, Jim – helped establish as another tradition unlike any other.
While already a world-renowned golf tournament that golf giants Hogan and Sam Snead helped establish with their run of dominance, the Masters still had trouble even giving tickets away in the 1950s. Jerry Franklin, who eventually outlived all his other fellow original Augusta National Golf Club members, would go around to local businesses, including the newspaper, and plead with proprietors to buy up 10, 20 or 50 tickets. “Buy the tickets, give them to employees, clients or advertisers, but please support the tournament,” Franklin would say.
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In an effort to capitalize on the event, which was scheduled to be televised by CBS for the first time in 1957, local business leaders formed Masters Week of Augusta Inc., with the mission of creating ways to promote the event and try to draw people to town. Ideas included a horse show and a flyover by a blimp squadron from Glynco Naval Base in Brunswick, Georgia.
The Masters Week centerpiece, however, was a spring parade that newspaper editorials, city leaders and civic organizers hoped would compare to the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and grow to rival the annual Tournament of Roses Parade that precedes the Rose Bowl every new year in Pasadena, California.
In conjunction with the parade, there would be a Miss Golf beauty pageant early in the week at the Bell Auditorium, as well as a mid-week coronation gala to crown the winner.
Herman was a teenager in the newly merged Aquinas High School when the parade and beauty pageants first came to town in 1957. Pretty young women riding atop floats or convertibles down the middle of Broad Street appealed to him a lot more than a bunch of guys hitting golf balls at the private club off of Washington Road.
“I remember going to the 1958 Masters Parade,” said Herman, who was pictured in the newspaper staring up at a float filled with pageant queens. “I was down there that year because I enjoyed looking at girls. That was around the advent of short shorts, with the beauty queens and young gals in sporting attire. I’m old enough now I can’t get in trouble for saying that.”
In those days, Herman and the reported 25,000 parade goers who lined the main drag through downtown Augusta between 13th Street and 5th Street had to crane their necks to see the floats, marching bands and balloons that rolled down the parade route. That was not typically the case out at Augusta National.
“The crowd was hardly anything out there at the National then. It was mainly local and hardly any from out of town would come in – more of a social event,” Herman said, likening the Masters to what most regular tour events are in their respective communities. “All the Augusta teens would hang around 16 and drink beer. One of my buddies jumped in the pond during play. He got ushered out but it was just wonderful fun.”
The parade featured from 50 to 65 units through the years, including floats and giant balloons up to 150 feet long – which, unlike the Macy’s parade, had to be held low to the ground because of overhead telephone wires along the parade route. Dozens of military, college and high school bands would perform, and majorettes would twirl golf clubs instead of batons. The Parris Island Marine Band was an annual favorite, usually leading off the festivities with a concert in front of The Augusta Chronicle’s News Building.
In 1964, the governors of three states – Carl Sanders of Georgia, Donald S. Russell of South Carolina and Frank G. Clements of Tennessee – “welcomed the world to the Masters” as grand marshals to lead the eighth and final parade.
“Everybody who could showed up because it was something so novel here at that time,” Lilliam Cullum told the Chronicle. “Every year (the crowd) just doubled or more. Everyone was so excited.”
Barbara Anne Harris of Greenville, South Carolina, was a 20-year-old student at Columbia College when she won the Miss Columbia pageant and earned a chance to compete for Miss Golf before the 1966 Masters. The enamored newspaper reporter who loaned her a pen to sign autographs described her as “a stunning blonde with emerald green eyes” who won the swimsuit competition en route to being crowned Miss Golf 1966.
Now Barbara Harris Sorkin lives in Hilton Head Island. She recalls her pageant days, which included competing in Miss America representing South Carolina, fondly. “There was an outpouring of community support to welcome all the girls to Augusta,” she said. “Absolutely, the pageant scene was huge back then. They did their research and studied trends and realized it was a great promotion for the early days of the Masters to bring people in. The entourage who came with the golfers and the contestants were added to the quantity of people available for the parades.”
The local paper was as smitten with the beauty pageant as it was with the golf tournament. An editorial in the Chronicle gushed that “it’s capacity to add beauty and excitement to an already beautiful occasion has made the Miss Golf Pageant a highlight of each year’s Masters week. Both the Pageant and its winner add luster to the Week and fully sustain their right to be regarded as the principal side attraction to the Masters Tournament itself.”
The theme of the 1966 pageant was “Cinderella” and included a 10-foot-tall pumpkin on stage with the 12 finalists. The co-emcee was Nancy Moore of Aiken, the reigning Miss South Carolina who the year before lost her own bid to become Miss Golf. Moore would go on to become Mrs. Strom Thurmond and the mother of four of the long-time U.S. Senator’s children.
As her talent, Harris sang “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” a song from Flower Drum Song, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that started on Broadway and was adapted into a movie in 1961. The campy song was popularized by the likes of Doris Day, Peggy Lee and Florence Henderson.
“I’m a girl, and by me that’s only great!
I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,
That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait
With my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.”
“I was an entertainer; I wanted the experience to grow my presentation,” Sorkin said.
Sorkin – who traveled to Vietnam with Miss America and four other pageant queens to entertain the troops and later performed for live audiences attending the Miss America Pageant – laughs at how much has changed in 55 years since.
“The times were different back then,” she said. “It was such a big deal and such a big draw to have events like this to bring people in when they were starting and trying to build up the participation and awareness. What I was aware of and found interesting even then was that they didn’t allow women as members (at Augusta National). When Condoleezza Rice was admitted I thought, ‘Oh my god, they finally did it.’”
Along with a cash prize, FootJoy golf shoes and other paraphernalia, Miss Golf usually had her picture adorn the cover of Golf Digest magazine. She also got to attend the Masters and pose with the new champion during the post-round presentations. Jack Nicklaus became the first player to repeat as champion in 1966 when Harris greeted him wearing her Miss Golf sash.
“Even if they don’t remember me, I’ll always remember them,” she told the newspaper then after meeting many of the golfers.
“I know everyone was abuzz about Arnold Palmer, but I thought Jack Nicklaus was a lot cuter,” Sorkin says now. “I was getting autographs from all the golfers because I was quite impressed by all of them – Player, Palmer, Sam Snead. Years later I found whatever I had them sign and it was covered in mold and I had to throw it away.”
By 1966, attendance at the golf tournament was no longer the issue it was in the 50s. The young Miss Harris could plainly see that.
“I remember gangs of people that would follow Arnold Palmer – just herds of them,” Sorkin said of Arnie’s Army that favored the four-time champion. “I’d never seen anything like it.”
The last Masters parade rolled down Broad Street in 1964. The Miss Golf Pageant lasted only a few years longer before petering out.
“Why did it end?” Herman asks. “My theory is the golf tournament got into the 1960s with so much enthusiasm that people said to heck with the parade and pageant.”
The tournament’s popularity had grown immensely in its first decade on television with bankable superstars like Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. Augusta National created its own Par 3 Contest in 1960 to entertain the growing ranks of patrons on the Wednesday before the tournament.
At that point, the number of Masters Week visitors had overwhelmed Augusta’s limited array of restaurants to the degree that the Chamber of Commerce created an Old South Barbecue held at the Julian Smith Casino a short distance from the National to try to accommodate the throngs.
By 1972, Masters tickets had become so popular that the club started a waiting list to acquire patron badges. The list became so long that they closed it in 1978 and only briefly reopened it once in 2000 before closing it again. Now millions of golf fans across the world enter a lottery to come see practice rounds.
Sadly, the tournament’s modern popularity and significance – along with the changing tastes of succeeding generations – means we’ll never see the likes of a Masters parade and pageant again.
“Some people want us to bring them back and they’re hounding me because I ran the Augusta Parade for a few years,” said Sean Frantom, an Augusta Commission representative and former Mayor Pro Tempore. “The interest would not be like it was back in its heyday with those beautiful floats that they used to have.”
Photos: Augusta National via Getty Images
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