Flashback: 2001 Course Changes Preview

masterslogo2.gifThanks to reader Sean for this enlightening flashback to 2001, in advance of the first wave of significant course changes.

Augusta National Golf Club will undergo a major facelift to make the Masters a tougher test next year, club chairman William "Hootie" Johnson said on Wednesday.

Johnson said four or five of the par-fours on the course would be lengthened and strengthened to respond to improvements in golf ball and club-making technology that have helped players hit longer than ever.

"We do plan to make extensive changes," Johnson said on the eve of the 65th Masters.

"It's just that we think that several of our par-fours are a little weak, and we are going to try to strengthen them."

Bunkers may also be altered or moved and some teeing areas could be shifted to require a more difficult shot off the tee, he said.

Johnson, who would not specify which holes would be changed under the direction of architect Tom Fazio, said the club needed to keep up with technological advancements.

"This equipment is making a huge difference, and we are going to make an attempt, as we always have, to try to keep the golf course current with the times," he said.

A new ball being used extensively on the tour this season has made long hitters out of players regarded as short hitters, noted Johnson, who was worried the trend could render classic courses such as Augusta National obsolete for the professionals.

"I hope that the equipment can be addressed," he said.
No, this is not a late April Fool's post. Why do I have the bad feeling he'll be saying that again in 2008? Sorry...continue:

"We can't go on like we are going. Another decade or two, I don't know where we might be and I don't know the answer to how that is going to be approached."

Johnson said toughening-up Augusta was not in response to scoring, even though Tiger Woods set new standards for low score (18 under par) and margin of victory (12 strokes) with his Masters triumph in 1997.

"It is not in response to scores," the club chairman said. "It's just that we, and I think any of us, probably hate to see people hitting sand wedges to 425-yard par-fours."

Ah, and the comments from players:


Six times Masters champion Jack Nicklaus and 1976 winner Raymond Floyd said changes were necessary.

"You need to make changes if people are hitting nine-irons and wedges into the par-fours," said Floyd.

"They've always made changes and have tried to stay ahead of the curve. But this time I think the curve got ahead of them."

Nicklaus said tournament officials have to do something because the new balls being used are changing the face of the game.

But Nicklaus said he wished restrictions would be placed on the balls instead so that classic courses like Augusta National would not have to alter their design.

"It's absurd," said Nicklaus. "It's so simple to just restrict the golf ball. If they don't change it soon, they'll have us teeing off from downtown somewhere and hitting up to here.

"There is nothing wrong with Augusta National. It shouldn't be diminished by a golf ball."

Short hitters have benefited from the technological advances by drawing closer to the big hitters in terms of distance, but stretching Augusta National further could put them at a distinct disadvantage.

"I think it will only benefit the longer hitters," said Loren Roberts.

Gee, where would he get an idea like that!?

Hal Sutton agreed. "Bobby Jones intended players to hit five-irons into some greens," he said.

Sutton also said that moving back tees, rearranging bunkers and the like would take away one of the charms of the Masters, which has been staged at Augusta National since its inception in 1934.

"If you keep changing the golf course, I'm not sure how you can compare results over time. The course is truly set up for the big hitters."

Rocco Mediate also believed the long hitters would benefit. "It takes a lot of people out of the running because it's just too long. On number one, if you can carry the bunker, 285 yards, you've got a seven-iron in. But guys who can't, have to hit a three-iron. You try going into number one with a three or four-iron and you have no chance."