April 08–EDITOR'S NOTE — Even before the Masters, Augusta attracted visitors. Vintage postcards shared the sites they saw.
The Bon Air, once Augusta's premier hotel, was long a symbol of tourism, hospitality and golf.
The original hotel, with its hilltop view of downtown, opened in 1889 and was soon the place to stay for wealthy Northerners seeking moderate temperatures and golfing recreation. The hotel's golf course would eventually become the Augusta Country Club.
"It was the unofficial home of the Masters in the early years," said Stan Byrdy, author of Augusta and Aiken in Golf's Golden Age. "Everyone who came into town stayed at that hotel."
In a March 22, 1934, Augusta Chronicle story, hotel managers reported few room vacancies with guests arriving from across the nation and Canada for the Augusta National's first big tournament. When Jones invited potential members to Augusta for the grand opening of the course in 1933, the wealthy guests stayed at the Bon Air, Byrdy said.
Guests were entertained nightly by well-known singers and musicians. A glamorous dance called the Golf Ball was held at the Bon Air beginning in 1936.
Leading golfers, including Jones, attended the dance that was the official kickoff for social events during the Masters. By 1938, more than 1,000 tickets were sold, according to The Chronicle archives.
The tournament's Calcutta betting party was held at the Bon Air even after the United States Golf Association formally disapproved of the gambling auctions in 1948.
The Bon Air changed ownership several times and was often criticized for its deterioration after the Vanderbilts relinquished management.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed at the Bon Air during his many trips to Augusta during the 1940s and 1950s, and the White House press corps would set up in its ballroom.
Fifty years ago, the Bon Air quit being a hotel and became a retirement center. Today it houses elderly and disabled residents in federally subsidized apartments.