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Masters – Changes at Augusta

I started this article about 1 o’clock because I wanted it finished before air time. During editing, copying, pasting, and critiquing there was some unfortunate deleting, definitely pilot error. Maybe the Augusta committee was looking over my shoulder and hit the delete button; my comments were not complimentary. I’ve got to blame my miscue on something else, isn’t that what every golfer does after a misplaced shot?

Augusta started their changes after some guy named Tiger stormed through their hallowed sanctuary at the turn of the century. I’m going to tone down my criticisms, and I’m not going to insinuate these changes were made by those southern gentlemen to keep a man of color from dominating the Masters. We all heard the cruel jokes about Tiger returning to the front gate a few months after his first win.

Pulling up in his new Buick Tiger said, “I’m here to play Augusta.”

 “Sorry, your entrance is about a driver and a five iron that way,” the guard said, pointing down Washington Road.

“But, I’m Tiger Woods. I just won the Masters,” Tiger retorted.

“In that case,” the guard said, “It’s about a three wood and an eight iron. Have a nice day.”

Change comes slow to this area of the country, especially at Augusta. For years Mr. Clifford ran Augusta National with an iron fist, hardly ever giving into change without a fight. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Stephens have been a bit more open to change, but they went overboard the last couple years. I’m not sure if they were Tiger-proofing the course or what; they went about it all wrong. Lengthening any track only plays into the bombers hands and takes away from the shot-makers game. Tiger religiously avoids courses like Westchester, Colonial, and Hilton Head because of their narrow fairways and lack of length.

When I was working for Raymond I had the honor of a Sunday round before the Masters with Pat Summerall and William “Hootie” Johnson, the Augusta National chairman. During the round “Hootie” was pulling Raymond off to the side. They were discussing proposed changes to the Augusta’s layout, not the normal subtle tweaks the Augusta committee implements every year; but a mass overhaul that would add quite a bit of length. I wasn’t privy to all the conversations but did get close enough on the eighteenth tee.

Hootie was proposing a new tee box adding 20-30 yards to the fabled finishing hole; Raymond wanted to maintain the integrity of the course and proposed shifting the tee a few yards to the golfer’s right, creating a subtle dogleg. This would allow all players, no matter their length, an equal opportunity with a well placed tee shot. There was quite a discussion, I’m not sure who won the argument, but the changes have taken away the roars the last few years.

The Masters, after a ten month wait from the last major, was always known for its risk reward nature. The committee of Green Jackets added rough, a few trees, tweaked the slopes, mowed the fairways toward the tee boxes, and everything they could to battle the amazing talents and new technology. They neutered the back nine and took the excitement away. The Masters was the only golf tournament I would watch outside the ropes on Saturday and Sunday after missing the cut. The last few years I wouldn’t have returned to watch the winner lay up on every par five.

A golf hole is exciting if the numbers three and seven come into play. A hole is rather boring if you are only playing for four and five; that type of golf is found at the U.S. Open. The patrons could identify the roars on the back nine, and after a quick look at the scoreboard or program, would be able to identify who was producing the excitement. Nobody was roaring when Zach Johnson laid up on every par five and Trevor Immelman fired at the middle of every green.

Augusta was designed for a six shot comeback on Sunday. It was built for the excitement of an eagle or a double on the same hole. The patrons love to see the aggressive play and second guess the Chip Beck layup. The new design took all those decisions away; it was hit it high and hard, two putt and go on. That is not Augusta on a Sunday afternoon; that is not what we want to see from behind the gallery ropes or sitting in front of the tube. Let them gamble a bit and roll a three or a seven.

Eleven is stretched to over five hundred yards and grove of trees has been planted down the right side. Seventeen has been lengthened and a mid iron is fired into a green designed for a wedge. A few caddies, who have been coming here since the mid 80’s, don’t enjoy Augusta like the old days. “We’re treating this like a PGA or U.S. Open, safety first. They’ve taken all the options away.”

As I was writing the article I was also paying attention to the leader board. Apparently the committee listened to the constructive criticism from the players. They can’t be too vocal, the Masters is still an invitational, and no one wants the wrath of the Green Jackets, but the participants have expressed their displeasure. Then I saw Larry Mize sneaking up the leader board. Ahh, Augusta has returned. You still have to golf your ball, but at least Augusta is giving everyone a chance again, not just the long knockers.

A veteran Augusta patron enjoys a properly shaped shot to a back pin much more than a towering drive from a distant tee box. They like to watch a youngster contemplate his second shot to thirteen or fifteen with the chance for three and six or seven lurking in their mind. They don’t like to see the collapse on the back nine; they love the competition, the decision making, the drama, the eagles and the doubles. The recent design changes took away all those aspects. Golf entails many things besides hitting it long and high. It looks like the Green Jackets are bringing back the roars; thank you so much. I would have been watching any way on Sunday, but not with the same intensity. At the moment, I can’t wait; last year I wasn’t sure

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