A Crack In The Code

Oh the 2006 Masters just got even more interesting.

In the coming days this will be analyzed a bunch more, but for now, here's Ron Whitten in the April, 2006 Golf Digest. Thanks Taylor for the heads up:

Past champions are on shaky ground when they privately gripe about the new length of Augusta National. No one is forcing them to play the course with persimmon woods and balata balls. If their games can't take advantage of modern technology, and Augusta is just too long for them these days, then their beef is with Father Time, not the Masters chairman.

With the exception of a couple of holes, the yardage added to Augusta National makes perfect sense, given how far many competitive players hit the ball these days. Whether the proper holes have been lengthened is another matter.

But sheer yardage is not what has gotten Jack, Arnie and others of the Old Guard riled up. They're mostly upset about the tightening of many holes, through the use of expanded bunkering, transplanted trees and the introduction of rough, what Augusta National calls, in delusional parlance, "a second cut of fairway."

This is where Jack and Arnie are absolutely right. Far from maintaining the integrity of the design that Jones and Mackenzie envisioned, the changes undertaken since 1998 have abandoned their philosophy of multiple options and different lines of attack.

"They've totally eliminated what Bobby Jones tried to do in the game of golf," Nicklaus says. "Bobby Jones believed golf was primarily a second-shot game. He believed that you should have enough room to drive the ball onto the fairway, but if you put it on the correct side of the fairway, you had an advantage to put the ball toward the hole. He wanted to give you a chance to do that shot."

Gone are Augusta's wide corridors that allowed every competitor to play his own game off the tee, to pick the spot he thought provided the best angle of approach for his trajectory and shot shape. Squeezed-in fairways now dictate the manner of play on every hole. It's as if the Masters Committee thinks it's now running the U.S. Open.


The best course designs challenge different golfers on different holes. Augusta National used to do that. It no longer does.

Last summer, the club also eliminated the old backstop slope on the right side of the seventh green, the one players could rely upon to spin a shot back down toward front-right pin positions. Shots hit to that area will bounce over, into the bunker. The seventh was never that easy. Statistically, it played around par during every Masters. That could go up a half stroke this year.

Palmer found the new trees an irritation when he recently played the 11th.

 The older pines at Augusta traditionally had a bed of pine needles beneath them, which allowed players to attempt all sorts of recovery shots. The newer pines have rough underneath, deeper than the "second cut," and are planted so close together that the only recovery available is usually a pitch out. It's one more example of how Augusta has stifled some playing options.

What's worse, members and their guests can't try their skills at that old classic length. There are just the 7,445-yard championship tees, overwhelming for average player, and the member tees, at 6,365 yards.