Behind the Curtains at Augusta National

Five Architects Weigh in on Annual Site of The Masters
By M. James Ward, Epoch Times Contributor
April 11, 2015 Last 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.

 

First question: Founder Bobby Jones and course architect Alister MacKenzie patterned the creation of Augusta National Golf Club after many of the qualities found at The Old Course at St. Andrews which both men respected immensely. Has the movement in recent years away from the original intent sought by Jones and MacKenzie been a good or bad thing from an architectural dimension?

GEORGE: I’m not sure it’s been a bad thing for the general public because the average person has no frame of reference.  From an architecture standpoint, I would like to see more attention paid to shot length, values, difficulty, etc., than to simply making changes because they can. It would appear they have made changes due to outside influences. I do not think Jones or MacKenzie would have paid an iota of attention to members’ design ideas if their logic had been founded in “because we can afford it,” or, because “so-and-so,” thinks we should do it.

MORAN: The ideas embodied in the ancient qualities of the Old Course are important. The further we move away from those ancient ideas the less we may enjoy our present pursuits. 

KAY: It’s both. The ‘risk and reward’ is not as much as they intended it but they could have never imagined how good these players would be come both in talent and in equipment improvement — including the maintenance improvements made.

MANDELL: When I think of Augusta National, I think that MacKenzie’s course is long gone and what remains is “The Masters Course”.  It is tough to keep a golf hole relevant in terms of angles when everyone hits 300 yard drives. I have no problem extending the length of the hole to give some challenge and restoring the possibility of a long iron as an approach on a par four. But I am not in favor of narrowing holes with trees as a defense.  Why we wonder why every club in America is overgrown with trees I’ll never understand and now it will only get worse as more and more greens chairmen see the narrowing of Augusta. 

ANDREW: It was originally a course full of width and options. Competitors had the opportunity to play for positions that made certain pin locations much easier to access. For many of the holes, the addition of rough and trees have removed these options. Those holes are less compelling to watch.

Patrons watch the play on the tenth hole during the third round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Patrons watch the play on the tenth hole during the third round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Let’s assume you were called in to advise the club on future improvements. Would you recommend retention of the “second cut” – otherwise known as rough to most mortals — or return to the total fairway look used at Augusta National for many years?
 
MANDELL: I think the second cut actually goes back to what Jones and MacKenzie first envisioned back in the thirties.  As long as it is effective — maybe penalizing a half shot or so — I would keep it.  The total fairway look at ANGC wasn’t always the way. It slowly took shape sometime in the seventies.  Back in Jones’s and MacKenzie’s day, you couldn’t mow so closely.  Around greens, they definitely had an affinity for the chipping game.  I doubt they ever envisioned a putting surface everywhere.
 
ANDREW:  I would remove all the rough and allow the players to roll the dice on any shot. We will see more “miraculous shots” and just as many fall back by overplaying their hand.

KAY: I would return to all fariway cut. It would allow the balls to roll more into bad areas and as well as make the course more strategic.

GEORGE: Yes, I would stay with the “second cut” for aesthetics, the potential for strategy, and playability. The “second cut”  adds more definition to the course and could be the result of a flyer lie, which could bring about an additional half-shot of difficulty into the recovery.

MORAN: Rough introduces lines on the land which can cause an unattractive look if they are straight or create a uniform width of fairway. The natural resources unique to the property should be better used for strategic effect as opposed to an unnatural, artificial line of rough. 

Tiger Woods of the United States and Sergio Garcia of Spain walk to the tenth green with their caddies during the third round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods of the United States and Sergio Garcia of Spain walk to the tenth green with their caddies during the third round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Discuss the choke points with planted trees introduced in recent times — most notably at the par-4 7th, par-4 11th, par-5 15th and par-4 18th. Has Augusta National overdosed on tree inclusion dimension and does such usage push aside the Jones/ MacKenzie position that wider fairways encourage different angles of attack?

MORAN: Jones would approve of the narrow fairway at hole 7 which he recognized as adding challenge to the hole. The narrowing of hole 11 has taken away the distinctions between different angles of approach to the green. The large grouping of trees at 15 is excessive and has diminished the exciting play there. Having just one tree on the left side within a fairway corridor restored back to what existed many years ago. The tee shot on hole 18 is a freak show. Watching it is like reliving dreams every golfer has where unnatural conditions conspire against you while trying to make a tee shot.

MANDELL:  Yes. Absolutely.  Don’t like any of it. It is to combat a power game and for the Masters Course, how can you blame them.  Remember, the Jones / MacKenzie Augusta is no longer.

GEORGE: Overall, the course has been reduced to marching down the center and hitting the same old shots.  With the old width, occasionally we would see some interesting and downright crazy recovery shots being attempted.  Ruins the original MacKenzie intent. 

ANDREW: It was a massive over-reaction to scoring. Not only were the plantations out of character with the design, but they also fail to respect the original intentions for the course. Where they impinge upon play, the trees should be removed and the corridor widths returned.

KAY: I’m split both ways on this question. I like the wider design but with the forgiveness of the golf clubs and golf balls today maybe it makes sense.  the holes are still fairely wide.

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)

Jones and MacKenzie both believed “ground game” options– where players can use the bounce of the ball on the ground –should be available when favored by a player. Can the concept of a “ground game” really have relevancy for the world’s best players who generally prefer to fly their ball from point A to point B?

GEORGE: Not much at all. The ground game at Augusta has been largely reduced to recovery shots because of the way professionals play. The members are the only ones who may take advantage of the ground, and that would most likely be attributed to the course conditions or their lack of length off the tee. 
 
ANDREW: Have we already forgotten Larry Mize’s chip in? Options and opportunity favor the creative player. They may choose the air from good position, but often they must use the ground from poor position. The fact the option exists will have players try a riskier shot because it’s possible.
 
KAY: The ground game was much more a part of the game when fairways were not irrigated, and on the very windy courses in Scotland.  It is always an option at Augusta – not many of the greens are totally protected by front bunkers, so the players can always bounce it in if they want but as Jack Nicklaus proved back in the 1960’s flying the ball in high takes out random bounces that can otherwise occur.
 
MORAN:  Yes, but do the following: 1) restore the original greens that had narrow wings; 2) restore or enhance the undulations in front of and through these narrow plots of putting surfaces; and, 3) maintain a tight cut surrounding the greens. 
 
MANDELL: Only on a very long course. So keep buying up houses and adding back tees.
 
 Mikko Ilonen of Finland hits his second shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Mikko Ilonen of Finland hits his second shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

 

Best hole at Augusta National and why? 

MORAN: Hole 13 depends upon playing the proper draw which most every great player knows from experience can turn into an ugly hook or a maddening block out to the right. It reinforces MacKenzie’s belief that “good three-shot holes should also be excellent two-shotters for very long hitters.” This one hole requires more discipline, creativity and skill than possessed in total by most 18 hole golf courses.
 
KAY: I like the heroic par-5 13th hole especially if the golfers have no less than a 3 iron. It’s always a very exciting hole where the golfer can gain two strokes on an opponent.
 
GEORGE: Easily the 13th. Provides so many options to play and rewards a heroic second appropriately.
 
ANDREW: 13 is the game’s best par-5. It sets up for a draw off the tee followed by a fade off a draw lie on the approach. The player knows even a foot off will not only remove the potential of three but open up the possibility of seven. The hole is manageable by playing conservative, but few players can resist the opportunity to reach the green in two and that’s where all the bad numbers begin.
 
MANDELL: I like #13 at ANGC because of Rae’s Creek challenging you heroically off the tee and then in a different way on your second and third shots. Any time a creek determines strategy, there are great possibilities.
 
(To be continued)

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.