(In case you missed Part I of our Masters preview)
Before you roll your eyes at the headline, or think Augusta is an “untouchable masterpiece,” please spend five minutes on this site to see just how much Augusta National has changed over the years. The course is actually one of the most tinkered and adjusted courses in the world (likely just behind Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village erector set – not sure he’ll ever be satisfied with that track). With an unlimited budget and a reputation to uphold, the membership looks to continually improve ANGC, largely in an effort to protect the course from the technological onslaught of the last two decades. So is this revolution a positive development?
Today’s Augusta is tough. Jim Furyk (hardly the voice of NLU) offered his thoughts a few years ago in a way that put the course changes into perspective:
“It’s not the same golf course or the same style of game from when I first started playing Augusta. The golf course then was fun. It was much shorter and the greens were much firmer and faster, and that was the protection of the golf course.”
The key part of that quote is “the protection of the golf course.” Everything that has been done in the last 15+ years has been about protecting against what Tiger did in 1997. In doing so, the golf course was stripped of the characteristics that made it so damn special. Today’s course is nothing like what Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones envisioned. The choice to grow rough (a foreign concept here until fifteen years ago) and tighten driving areas (the number of full-grown trees inserted is astounding) was greeted with a lot of criticism, as many feel these types of changes don’t enhance great golf courses. Rather, it dumbs them down, stifling creativity and standardizing strategy. The Masters is no longer the bomb-and-gouge spectacular tournament of yesteryear: a creative petri dish that offered a cornucopia of possibilities, rewarding those who pulled off the ballsy shot, and punishing those who bordered on arrogant. Until Tiger came along, this course exposed anyone who refused to accept that you could bomb away all you wanted, but the greens didn’t allow for gouging. Now? Now it’s a stern test featuring a slate of specific shots that every player must prove he can hit, creativity and style be damned (cue up the smart-ass in the back of the class: “But Bubba won two years ago. He’s the most creative dude on tour!” Well, he’s also the longest.).
Don’t mistake this as a wholesale protest of the changes. Many (mainly the lengthening, up to a point) were necessitated by the lack of adults in the room with regards to equipment. Seriously, where were the parents? The USGA, R&A, PGA Tour, and Augusta were asleep at the wheel. Instead of taking a step back and realizing that it would be a hell of a lot easier to limit the heat of a clubface or roll back the ball, everyone decided it would be a better idea to lengthen courses, render classic designs obsolete, and marginalize the ability to work the ball (but seriously, hell of a job on banning the belly putter – score one for protecting the integrity of the game!). Augusta really didn’t have a choice, otherwise we’d be seeing more red on the leaderboards than the Red Wedding.
As such, experience at Augusta simply doesn’t mean as much as it used to. A resume on this course still means more here than anywhere else, but much of that has to do with learning how to deal with the experience and mystique of Masters week. A Masters rookie used to show up and focus on finding a creative way to golf their ball around AGNC, finding the angles and lines that suited his eye. This process often took years. These days first-timers show up trying to learn more about specific places you can’t miss, the spots that will eliminate you from contention.
Jones and MacKenzie didn’t encourage creativity and thoughtful shotmaking, they required it. Tough decisions about what angles to take, which corners to cut, when to take risks and when to (gasp!) lay up is what defined this tournament. Isn’t that a lot more fun than seeing who can drive it the straightest? Does a higher score mean that it’s a better tournament? Raymond Floyd won at -17 in 1976. Isn’t that more fun than seeing Zach Johnson at all win at +1?
Here’s a few ways I would change Augusta to make it a little more fair for the players (*ducks*), and a lot more exciting for the patrons:
The worst holes on the golf course, in order, are number 4, 7, 3, 9, and 18. We threw in #11 as a bonus.
#4 – Flowering Crab Apple
Zero fun: Flowering Crab Apple is more crabby than flowery. This 240-yard par 3 is almost entirely guarded by a bunker. Go long, and you have an impossible downhill shot. If you’re going to make a par 3 this long, you have to have a deep green built to hold 4 irons and hybrids. This hole has just never made sense to me. All of the other par 3’s on the course play at 180 yards or less, and they’re all infinitely better holes. The PGA Tour is littered with 230+ yard par 3’s that reek of a lack of creative design. This hole should play around 190 yards so there’s a hope of holding the green. Or, if you’re going to keep it at this length, shrink the front bunker and widen the opening of the front of the green so that a soft fade would be encouraged to reach the pin position tucked behind the trap. I’m fine with toughening the hole if you’re going to shorten it, just please make it fair. (Ironically, this hole has had very little changes throughout the years. It’s just always been awful.)
#7 – Pampas
The modifications made to #7 don’t fit the design of the hole as it was originally intended. I’m all for adjusting courses to fit today’s equipment, but the changes to 7 have gone too far. The hole is too long for the shape and size of the fairway, and it’s difficult to hold the elevated green from the downhill lies the players are forced to play from as they often aren’t able to hit drivers off the tee. It’s also a perfectly straight hole that requires a right to left shot to hold the fairway that slopes severely from left to right, yet the tall pines make that very difficult. Shorten the hole about 40 yards, shrink the green, and increase the slope in the process – the somewhat blind nature of the approach is enough defense in and of itself.
#3 – Flowering Peach
It’s so close to being an adorable par 4, but isn’t quite there because its a straight tweener right now. Not driveable, and just awkwardly short. Also, it plays uphill, and doesn’t offer sufficient reward to try to drive it as close to the hole as possible. For starters, I’d lower the green. As it plays now, players are pitching from the fairway and trying to land the ball on a table top. You can still make the approach demanding by lowering the valley to the bottom left of the green even further. Next, I’d move the tees up for two days of play and make it drivable. As it plays now, it’s not much of a talent/skill separator. While there’s very little than can be done about the length, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.
#9 – Carolina Cherry
Similar to #7, the terrain of #9 does not set up the players for a very fair shot at the green. The terrain slopes to the right for a shot that requires a right to left shape to a green that might be the craziest of all the greens on the course (similar to Olympic Club). The new trees on that hole make it a pretty demanding tee shot on top of that, and the further you lay back, the more severe the angle to the green. There is exactly one way to play the hole. See above for why we think that’s not how this course was designed.
#18 – Holly
Based on the landscape, there isn’t much you can do to “Holly” to make her sexier. However, it still makes the list. Mostly, I just hate that the final shot of the tournament comes down to a blind shot. The terrain necessitates the climb back to the clubhouse, but there is nothing particularly interesting about the hole, except for the Sunday pin position, which can at least lead to some shots funneling to the pin.I actually don’t have an specific changes I would make, but this hole should be highlighted for being what it is: extremely overrated.
#11 – White Dogwood
This hole has been one of the better holes on the course over the years, but it’s been neutered in recent years. Watching guys bail out to the right down the stretch is exhausting, and the carnage is live broadcasted on Masters.com via the Amen Corner cam (the only hole on this list that’s part of the featured telecast). Nobody even considers challenging this green, which is a shame. Not that I blame them: I sure as hell wouldn’t be salivating at the thought of coming in hot to a shallow green protected by water with a long iron. I’d either shorten the hole by 20 yards OR bring the pond farther to the right and pump up those mounds – to the point where guys bailing out have to worry about banging it too hard off the hillside into the water. The trees to right of the fairway can go as well.
All of these proposed changes sprinkle a bit more character into an otherwise magnificent gem. It’s nothing that’s going to allow players to challenge the scoring record, and it surely doesn’t make the course easy. A bit more fair and a lot more fun. What do you think? Any other changes you would like to see?