Behind the Curtains at Augusta National (Part 2)

Five Architects Weigh in on Annual Site of The Masters
By M. James Ward, Epoch Times Contributor
April 12, 2015 Updated: April 12, 2015
This week’s Masters marks not only the first major golf championship for 2015 but also once again brings to the forefront the showcase 18-holes called Augusta National Golf Club. Founder Bobby Jones and course architect Alister MacKenzie sought to bring to into being a golf course that would revolutionize all future golf courses. The strategic nature of Augusta National was a gigantic leap away from the more penal style courses that often served as sites for major golf events.
 
Viewers have been watching numerous Masters over the years and the golf course Jones and MacKenzie envisioned has been dramatically altered over the years. Given all the changes — otherwise stated as “improvements” by the club — the evolution of the golf course has been an ongoing matter of extreme importance — and at times major controversy. For many watching the telecast this week the focus will be on the players and who ultimately dons the green jacket at the presentation ceremony in Butler Cabin.
 
Augusta National Golf Club, along with Pebble Beach in California and The Old Course at St. Andrews, are three of the most viewed and examined golf courses in the world. In fact, both Jones and MacKenzie had extreme affection for The Old Course and sought to incorporate many of those same architectural elements for Augusta National. To better understand the key elements, five architects have been enlisted to provide their expertise in shedding additional light on the major course progressions that have happened over the years. None of the men participating in the question and answer dialogue have worked on Augusta National and therefore have no direct conflict on the information they present.
 
The debate of when changes to a course are needed and how they are carried out is a matter of serious importance. Have such improvements been helpful in providing the needed balance as clubs and balls technology made startling advancements over the last 20 years? Have such architectural changes been in the spirit of what Jones and MacKenzie wanted? Or, have many of these changes simply been a hodge-podge of knee-jerk reactions in order to protect the course at all costs against the increasing skills of today’s world class players? There are no easy answers but the resulting debate makes for a lively dialogue on one of the most fascinating courses in golf.
 
The Participants …
 
rsz_rich_in_cart_at_bacon_parkRICHARD MANDELL
 
Has worked on more than sixty golf courses since 1992 in 13 states and China. Restoration of Ellis Maples’ Orangeburg Country Club recently voted Renovation of the Decade by the South Carolina Golf Raters Panel this past month. Acclaimed work at the storied Keller Golf Course in St. Paul, Minnesota named Golf Magazine Municipal Renovation of the Year 2014. In 2011, named one of the 15 Most Influential Architects by GolfInc. Magazine. www.golf-architecture.com.
 
rsz_kbm1428788494KELLY BLAKE MORAN

Has designed golf courses for over 30 years collaborating with other professionals to produce 23 new golf courses, and renovate 15 existing courses in 5 countries. Based in the United States and can be contacted at kbmgca@verizon.net.

 

 rsz_lester_headshotLESTER GEORGE

Golf course architect for 25 years – located in Richmond, VA. Member of the ASGCA since 2006, retired as U.S. Army Lt. Colonel. Notable award-winning designs and renovations include Kinloch Golf Club, The Old White, Country Club of Florida, Ballyhack Golf Club, Independence Golf Club. www.georgegolfdesign.com.

 

rsz_ian_andrew_headshot_1[1]IAN ANDREW

Has been a golf course architect since 1989, a member of the ASGCA since 2004 and lives just outside Toronto. www.Andrewgolf.com.

 

rsz_stephen_kaySTEPHEN KAY

Member ASGCA, in practice since 1983 and has done renovation work at more than250 golf courses. Has designed 20 new golf courses while providing renovation services to over 250 courses specializing in Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and Charles Banks courses. Architects GC, and restoration of Llanerch CC, are examples of his work. www.kayandsmithdesign.com.

Hole needing most improvement at Augusta National and why?

KAY: I’ve never been crazy for hole 18. It is challenging but I’ve always felt spectators should be able to see more. Needs more risk with the tee shot, the longer hitters can lay up short of the fairway bunkers and still have a mid to short iron.

MANDELL: Improvement for the Masters at this point just means more length so I guess #7 comes to mind. 

GEORGE:  17. Now that Ike’s tree is gone, the hole needs to be entirely rebuilt for strategy’s sake. There is nothing there to hold the players’ attention or command their best effort.

ANDREW: I would remove the new fairway bunker on the 5th hole and restore the green. That set of green contours that left me speechless with its brilliant complexity. Touching that green was a crime.

MORAN: Hole 16 would be more exciting with the pond on the right side of an angled green. 

A general view of the 16th hole during the second round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
A general view of the 16th hole during the second round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

If MacKenzie were alive today what do you think his comments would be concerning the nature of the course as played today for The Masters?

MORAN: He would be disappointed with the modifications of his green shapes. Many were highly unusual but his ideas for these green shapes and undulations surrounding and within the greens were the most innovative ways to design strategy into a golf course.

MANDELL: He would probably be a bit disappointed at equipment, but even he knew it was coming as it was in his time. Beyond that, he’d would be shocked at the conditioning of the course.  He would also be aghast at the bunkers. He would believe they were far from natural. And they are.  I would love to see a restoration there. Frankly, I would love to do a restoration there, but God knows what the public’s reaction would be, unfortunately.

ANDREW: To quote MacKenzie himself, “Too many cooks spoil the broth which is more applicable in the case of golf courses than anything else.” Sure most of the routing is intact and the setting has matured wonderfully, but he would find it hard to accept that holes have changed and almost every green has been rebuilt.

KAY: I think he would be blown away by the perfection of the maintenance.

GEORGE: I think he would be shocked at its perfection; however, he would likely be disappointed his client allowed the course to be watered down with years of architectural tinkering, the cumulative effect of which has diluted the strategy to the lowest common denominator. MacKenzie would not recognize his beautiful child after 80 years of reconstructive group-think surgery.

David Lynn of England hits his second shot from a bunker on the 12th hole during the third round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Lynn of England hits his second shot from a bunker on the 12th hole during the third round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Over the years there have been many changes made to the course — single out one you believe really helped make the course play even better.

MANDELL: I have to go back to what RTJ did at #16 all those years ago. Not that it wouldn’t have maybe evolved into a great hole in its original incarnation.  But for The Masters Course, it is great drama and that is what the Masters is all about.

GEORGE:  Generally, the fairway bunker deepening on 1, 2, 5, and 8 as a collective improvement. Reversing the nines has to be the best change ever made, though.

ANDREW: Perry Maxwell’s greens are some of the very best on the course. His work is better than the doctors at Augusta National. But that should not be a surprise since MacKenzie respected and worked with Maxwell.

KAY: The tree plants Augusta did in the early 2000’s was a reaction to the long ball. Trees planted on hole 15 stopped the players from hitting the “speed slot” leaving themselves with a short iron to a par-5. Augusta really never entered tree planting programs — they kept the golf course wide.

MORAN: Settling on the current front nine and back nine designations is the best change ever made. 

The group of Jordan Spieth of the United States, Billy Horschel of the United States and Henrik Stenson of Sweden play the 15th green during the second round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The group of Jordan Spieth of the United States, Billy Horschel of the United States and Henrik Stenson of Sweden play the 15th green during the second round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Green speeds are often ramped up to considerable levels during The Masters — how much of the Augusta syndrome is then pushed by golfers at clubs throughout the globe to replicate what is seen on television? What would be your recommendation be in this area? How fast is fast enough?

ANDREW:  Augusta syndrome is about color and that has not changed. In an era of environmental awareness and water conservation they will eventually become the outlier instead of the standard. Augusta National was once known for fast greens, but have not been for quite some time. The US Open has been the new benchmark for more than a decade.

KAY: Greens have gotten way, way too fast.  Many great greens at McKenzie, Ross and Tillinghast designs have lost pin positions. I would not just blame it on Augusta; the USGA is also guilty with too fast greens. I would say the perfect day in day out speeds on public courses should be 9′ on the stimpmeter, 10′ for private clubs and 11 for tournaments.
 
MANDELL: One of the big questions I challenge my clients with is, “Would you rather have fast greens or interesting greens.” I would also remind them that green speeds in excess of 13 for one week is not sustainable for a whole season. I would follow that up with, “Not only are you guys not that good, you can’t afford it!”

MORAN:  Apparently, a few important clubs are influenced by Augusta National. Observe the average foursome who possess suitable skills for playing the game. You will know by observing them on the greens when fast enough has been reached. In general, undulating greens at modest speeds are the most interesting to play.

GEORGE: Anything over 10 to 10.5 on a Stimpmeter is too fast for most club and public play. This contributes negatively to pace-of-play, enjoyment and sustainability. These three important factors are some of the reasons golf is losing popularity. The constant, repetitive referencing of the greens speeds on television have poisoned the minds of golfers, causing them to want to replicate.  If announcers and producers would balance these comments with references to the affects these greens speeds REALLY have, the problem could be solved.

Grounds crew members tend to the greens during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Grounds crew members tend to the greens during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Was “Tiger-proofing” Augusta National in recent years an overreaction by the club or was it something needed given advancements in club and ball technology? Related to that –does preserving the “original intent” of an architect’s vision still matter or must change — even substantial changes when deemed as warranted be implemented? 

KAY: ‘Tiger-proofing’ did seem to be too fast of a reaction.  I would have thought instead of in 2 years maybe changes should have been over five years.  Golf courses have to constantly improve by adjusting to the game.  Whether it is improved equipment or the need to make the course easier for a faster round of golf, each golf club needs to adapt to survive financially.

MORAN:  Changes to Augusta National when Tiger dominated golf had adverse impacts. Many were dull for reasons directly related to these changes. MacKenzie weighed in on this matter and it is fitting he should have the last word: “My experience is that golf courses altered by green committees are almost always a failure. There are occasions when success has been achieved by a benevolent autocrat who has dominated a committee, but there must be no compromise-it must be a one-man show.”

MANDELL: Preserving the original intent of an architect’s vision is impossible without more length.  So more tee boxes could help to preserve the architect’s original vision.  Other than that, narrower targets, more sand and water, and faster putting speeds are the only other ways to combat technology and those elements will most likely be in contrast to the original architect’s vision. At Augusta, preserving the architect’s original intent is out the window but for most clubs with decent bones and an architectural pedigree, it should be a goal. Provided they don’t all have Augusta on the brain.

GEORGE: “Tiger-proofing” was/is a mistake. Change is inevitable, and it should be anticipative of things to come, but where is the end?  Club and ball advancements have not been monitored and set to allow for the golf course to protect itself.  If you only change one part of the equation (course length, etc.) without looking at the ball and the club, you will not be able to maintain the architect’s vision or intent.  The 7th at Augusta is a good example; it did not need to be lengthened, it needed to be “defended” from the long hitter to pay homage to Jones and Mackenzie’s original design intent.

ANDREW: It was all an overreaction to technology. They got carried away and for a short while dampened my enthusiasm for The Masters by removing the roar of excitement. The designer’s original intent is why the course creates such an exciting tournament. A little more emphasis on these principals and a lot less on additional modernization would be the biggest improvement they could make to the course.

M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.