Elder to join Nicklaus and Player as 2021 Masters starters

(Reuters) - Lee Elder, the first Black man to play the Masters, will next year join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters for the golf major, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said on Monday.

Golf - The Masters - Augusta National Golf Club - Augusta, Georgia, U.S. - November 9, 2020 Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the Masters sits during the practice rounds REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Elder made his historic Master appearance in 1975 but it would be more than a decade later in 1990 before Augusta National, one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, would welcome Ron Townsend as its first black member.

The 86-year-old Elder would qualify for the tournament five consecutive years from 1977 through 1981. His best finish was a tie for 17th place in 1979.

“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.

“It also gives me great pride to know that my first Masters appearance continues to make a positive impact on others.”

In making the announcement ahead of the COVID-19 delayed Masters which begins on Thursday, Ridley would not say whether Elder’s appearance at the first tee next year was a one off.

“We certainly think that this opportunity for Lee and for us is one that is going to be remembered in perpetuity,” said Ridley. “This is a special moment in time.”

Augusta National said it would also establish scholarships in Elder’s name at Paine College, a 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 well as being one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, Augusta National is also among the most private and does not provide details of its membership.

Elder, now 86, won four PGA Tour events during his career including the 1974 Monsanto Open, which qualified him for the Masters.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Pritha Sarkar