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The Masters: Agronomic Summary

NLU reader/professional agronomist David Marcucilli reached out and offered up some goodies regarding the setup of ANGC this week. In the same vein as having caddies Jim “Bones” McKay and Matty Kelly on the pod, we thought it valuable to shed some light onto the course conditions from an expert in that field. Moving forward we will  try to lean on him for his expertise for big events  as the de facto in-house NLU agronomist. Enjoy! – Tron

HEIGHTS OF CUT:

Fairways – 3/8”  (0.375”)

Second Cut – 1 3/8” (1.375”)

Tees – 5/16” (0.3125”)

Collars and Corners – 1/4” (0.25”)

Greens – 1/8” (0.125”)

*figures listed are according to News Bulletin No. 1

Everything at Augusta National is secretive, even their heights of cut. The figures above are the heights of cut posted in a recent Masters News Bulletin. In my professional opinion, there is no way to get greens to run out as fast as they do at ANGC at 1/8”. Your local private club is probably running between 11’ and 12’ on the Stimp, mowing their greens at 1/10” with a single roll on a daily basis depending on environmental and growing conditions. Keep in mind anything is possible when ANGC is mowing and rolling greens at least twice a day.

MOWING PRACTICES:

Fairways are all mowed from green to tee. This promotes turf that grows against the direction of play and into the impact of a golf swing. The overseeded ryegrass does not actually create grain unless you have an uphill lie, and the upright orientation of the leafblades help to create an ideal lie for a ball sitting in the fairway. Short shots that require more finesse and feel around the greens may be a little “sticky” from this mowing practice, which is why you see stubbed and flubbed chip shots that end up back at the players feet.

Greens are mowed in a pattern referred to as the “double freakie,” which is the four-way double cut diagrammed below. One pass with a greens mower is made in one direction, then the mower is turned around and goes over the exact same line in the opposite direction. Another greens mower starts the process at a 90 degree angle.  The greens are also brushed before they are mowed. This promotes an upright leafblade orientation that ensures a uniform cut throughout the green. These practices eliminate any grain on the greens, when you hear Faldo talk about grain on the greens you can feel free to call BS.

The collars and fringes are mowed at different heights using the same machine in a single pass. The machine is called a “wacky head mower” and was invented by the maintenance team at Augusta National. Half of the mower reel sits on the collar of the green, the other half sits on the fringe cut. If you look close enough during the broadcast, you will see the distinct heights of cut running off the green into the surrounds and approaches.

GREENS CONDITIONS:

The slopes and contours on the greens at Augusta National are dramatic to say the least, some more than others. Each green at ANGC receives personalized treatment and conditioning that best reflect its slope, pin location, and shot-making values. Greens speed, firmness, and moisture ratings vary from hole to hole depending on the character of each green. During the Masters Tournament, each green receives its personalized treatment from a dedicated crew whose sole focus is to create the best playing conditions possible for their particular green. The reason ANGC does not publicize their greens speed or firmness rating is because they are inconsistent, and they have to be. A uniform speed and firmness from green to green would simply not be fair due to the dramatic slopes found at ANGC. The golf course has never been officially rated by the USGA, however an ‘unofficial rating’ was conducted during tournament practice rounds in 2010. The unofficial rating of the golf course was determined to be 78.1 with an average greens speed of 12’, peaking at 15’. The large variance in greens speed is to protect the golfers from the dramatic slopes and contours. If the 12th green was rolling north of 13’ on the Stimpmeter, the green would essentially be unplayable with its back-to-front slope pushing shots into Rae’s Creek.

3 green on Wednesday

It should also be noted that the conditioning of the greens at ANGC can be regulated through state of the art sub-surface drainage systems and heating/cooling systems. The greens through Amen Corner can sit as much as 170 feet of elevation below the Clubhouse. Due to this change in elevation and topography, temperatures and environmental conditions can be quite different depending on your location on the golf course. On cooler, brisk mornings, the climate control systems can help to regulate the greens temperature to promote turf health and growth conditions. Conversely, on warm, muggy days, the temperature and moisture levels can be controlled as well. Most golf courses in the Southeastern part of the country use warm-season turf to grass their greens, like bermuda or zoysia grasses because of their drought and heat tolerant characteristics. Augusta National grasses their greens with bentgrass, which is classified as a cool-season turfgrass. Bentgrass does not do well under hot and wet conditions; turf loss and disease are major concerns under these stressors. The bentgrass greens at ANGC are strong and healthy year after year, largely in part to the sub-surface drainage and climate-control systems, coupled with a seemingly bottomless maintenance budget and the Agronomy Team’s impeccable attention to detail.

The Agronomy Team during the Masters Tournament is not the everyday maintenance staff at ANGC. It is an all-star roster of the greatest minds and up-and-comers in the turfgrass industry. The guys and gals you see on mowers throughout the week likely run their own golf course maintenance operation somewhere else across the country, probably with superb conditions as well.

Weather permitting, Augusta National is able to create the playing environment they want to see on a daily basis with this cutting edge technology and endless agronomic resources. If they want the greens to play firm and fast, they crank up the SubAir and dry out the greens. If they want to see soft shots where players have to control spin, they can irrigate and regulate their desired firmness and moisture content to do so. At your home club, a soil moisture rating of 15% – 19% would be considered relatively dry. At ANGC, I would imagine this range would be considered ideal for the shots the committee wants to see played into their greens. Many players have said that the golf course they see on Thursday is drastically different from the golf course they played their practice rounds on. Monday through Wednesday players are attacking flags and getting the ball to stop on a dime. Then it seems as though someone flipped a switch Thursday morning and wanted to see carnage, and that is exactly what happened.

TURFGRASS CULTIVARS:

TEES: Overseeded Perennial Ryegrass

FAIRWAYS: Overseeded Perennial Ryegrass

SECOND CUT: Overseeded Perennial Ryegrass

GREENS: Penn-A1 Bentgrass

OVERSEEDING PROCESS:

Augusta National’s primary turfgrass is bermuda. During the hot and humid Georgia summer, bermudagrass covers the landscape because of its heat tolerance characteristics (amongst other reasons). In the Fall as the nights become cooler, the bermudagrass goes dormant, stops growing, and turns brown. Once the weather patterns are desirable to grow cool season grasses, the bermudagrass is scalped down from tee to green to almost nothing. The scalping process can be quite aggressive depending on the bermuda’s health. It is very labor intensive and requires an incredible amount of resource inputs. Once the bermuda has been scalped, perennial ryegrass seed is laid out from wall-to-wall using calibrated spreaders that ensure all areas receive enough ryegrass seed to promote a dense and uniform turf canopy. In my personal experience in overseeding, we have used more than a million gallons of water per day to establish germination, matched with a fertilization program that can cost up to $10,000 per application in product alone (both statistics I have a hard time advocating, rationalizing, and standing behind). From the time the ryegrass seed is spread to the time you can re-open the golf course to play may be from 4-6 weeks depending on environmental and growth conditions. We will never see it in our lifetime, but I would love to see how ANGC looks after a partial overseed – leaving the rough as dormant bermuda and growing perennial ryegrass on the tees and fairways – see TPC Scottsdale or PGA West.

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