Rally the Town

When a parade helped keep the Masters afloat
Rally the Town Augusta National Masters parade

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Sixty-five years ago, the folks running the Masters had a problem: Nobody would come watch their tournament. Thanks to the popularity of Bobby Jones and the golf course he and Dr. Alister MacKenzie had built, they had no trouble drawing golf’s biggest names. But in the 1950s, according to The Augusta Chronicle, club members like Jerry Franklin had to beg local businesses to buy handfuls of tickets and give them out to employees, friends and anyone else who would go.

Everything changed in 1957. CBS would be televising the tournament for the first time, and local leaders had a plan to energize Augusta residents: a parade.

They went all out. Area businesses poured money into floats with beauty queens and massive balloons on par with the Macy’s holiday parades up in New York. They rallied the military band and a blimp from nearby Fort Gordon. A former Miss America came to town. Jones rode down Broad Street in a white convertible Cadillac; Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson came down in another.

Rally the Town Augusta National Masters parade

Held Tuesday of tournament week, the parade was a hit. By 1959, 25,000 people lined the streets and every local high school band came to play. One Augusta business introduced Big Train, a 150-foot-long balloon with 20 different heads attached. A float from the Fort Gordon Library featured Satan trying to get out of a sand trap.

“It was just a real exciting thing for our little old country town,” Lillian Cullum, whose husband, Jim, was a local clothing-store owner and parade organizer, told the Chronicle.

Despite the parade’s success and the nation falling in love with Arnold Palmer after he won the 1958 Masters, galleries barely ticked up at the tournament.

“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,” Doug Herman, a native Augustan and historian who was a teenager when the parade launched, told Global Golf Post. “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.”

As the 1960s rolled around, television coverage expanded, out-of-towners wanted to come see Arnie and Jack in person and locals finally realized what they had in their backyard. The final parade was in 1964.

“My theory is the golf tournament got into the 1960s with so much enthusiasm that people said to heck with the parade,” Herman said.

That enthusiasm only increased, and in 1972 Masters officials were forced to institute their first waiting list for badges.

Rally the Town Augusta National Masters parade
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Rally the Town Augusta National Masters parade