Stunning, Spectacular

masterslogo.jpegI know it's the hometown paper and the publisher is an Augusta National member, but is this really necessary:

Given one word to describe the most recent changes to the host course of the Masters - stunning.

Stunning in magnitude of its scope. Stunning in magnificence of the execution. Stunning in impact for players and patrons alike.

That's Scott Michaux in the Augusta Chronicle, writing about the latest "distance augmentation" at Augusta National. He rolls out the dreaded "Bobby Jones would approve" lines even as he points out this interesting stat: from 1934 to 1998 the course had been lengthened 230 yards, 520 yards in the last 7 years. (There wasn't roll until '99!)

All of the alterations emphasizing accuracy and retroactive shot values - whether greeted warmly by Masters participants or not - fit into the original philosophy of course founder Bobby Jones.

If there is one change that has players scratching their heads more than any other, it's the par-3 4th. Stretched to 240 yards to its rear limit, what was already one of the toughest par 3s in golf could be brutal. But it jibes with Jones' original intent, as he stated in a 1959 Sports Illustrated story, for the hole to be played "with a strong iron or even a four- or three-wood."

I guess they didn't take into account that iron lofts have changed (vanished) since then, or that when Jones wrote about what clubs were used, he almost assuredly was not hoping to dictate what players should use even after a major technology fueled distance explosion.  

No. 11 - the toughest scoring hole two of the past three years - underwent its third significant alteration since 2002 in its quest to restore the relevance of the greenside pond. In addition to stretching the length to 505 yards, more trees were added to the young grove that hugs the right side to force the golfers to play left and deal with the pond using longer clubs on their approach. Attacking a rear left pin will not be for the faint of heart.

Was force in the Jones golfing dictionary? Everything he preached had to do with the spirit of St. Andrews. Democratic golf. Options. Choose your own path. No coercion from outside sources.

That translated to width and architecture that did not force players to a certain spot, as they are doing at No. 11 (and everywhere it seems...oh to be a pine nursery owner in eastern Georgia!).

Now No. 7 grabs your attention and demands even finer accuracy with a few more pines added to both sides. The green - which should be attacked with fewer sand wedges and more 7- and 8-irons - was tweaked as well, to allow new hole locations on both the back right and left to bring the two rear bunkers more in play.

It is curious that in the case of No. 7, the club is ignoring Jones' writings where he says "length is not a premium here." And they've added more trees there too? Oh Lord.

While the 17th tee was pushed back 15 yards. within close proximity to the back right bunker of the 16th green, the impact on the hole is mostly aesthetic. Clearing some towering pines and trimming another on the left side has accentuated the beauty and impact of the 65-foot tall Eisenhower tree, which stands out more prominently 210 yards from the tee. While the famous loblolly pine can still be carried, additional pines on the left and a narrower fairway await in the landing area.

17 narrower? Is that possible?

How the supersized 7,445-yard course will treat participants in the season's first major remains to be seen. Dire predictions in recent years have proven unfounded, and the massive driving stats at this week's Tour Championship for Tiger Woods make you wonder if Augusta National hasn't gone far enough.

Final judgment will require depth of experience. But on the surface, the initial reviews are nothing but spectacular.

Okay take a deep breath Scott, your credential is safe. No worries mate.

The new tee on 15 is a long overdue improvement, unfortunately it did not come with the removal of trees down the right side.