It’s fitting that the initial discussion took place during the 1966 Masters. That week, two couples from Jack’s inner circle – Bob and Linda Barton, and James and Jeretta Long – were scheduled to fly a twin-engine private plane from Columbus to Georgia to watch him play. But the plane crashed in Tennessee. There were no survivors.
Nicklaus was heartbroken when he got the news the day before the first round. Bob Barton was one of his closest friends; they not only played golf together but hunted and fished. Nicklaus thought about withdrawing from the tournament, but Barton’s sister, Margie, talked him out of it. So he dedicated that week to his friend.
It just so happened that another good friend was with him that week, a former high school classmate named Ivor Young. Nicklaus, still mourning the deaths of his friends, brought up the idea of hosting an event of similar quality in his hometown. He asked Young to help him find a piece of property.
The Masters would also be the inspiration for Jack’s tournament. He wanted the event to emulate what the founding fathers at Augusta National — Clifford Roberts and Jack’s childhood hero, Bobby Jones — sought when they created the Masters.
To honor the game of golf.
“They really are not a championship. They're a tournament,” Jack says. “And their whole philosophy was they wanted to be a service to the game of golf. Now whether that's still the same thing today, I'm not sure, but that was then with Cliff Roberts and Bob Jones. But that's what we said — we just want to put on the best golf tournament we can put on.”
When Roberts was notified of Nicklaus’ intention to host a tournament, he invited Nicklaus and his team to Augusta, providing them with guidance and help. “He opened up everything to us that we would want,” Nicklaus would recall. “… We saw how a well-organized tournament is run.”
One way that the Memorial honors the game is to celebrate and recognize people who have made a significant contribution to golf. Thus, each year the Captains Club — a group of people acting independently of the tournament organization — selects an Honoree.
No surprise that Clifford Roberts was one of the original members of the Captains Club. And no surprise that the inaugural Honoree in 1976 was Bobby Jones.