Saturday, March 23rd, 2002
A lot has been made over the changes at Augusta National for the 2002 Masters
next month. Golf course architect Tom Fazio added 285 yards to the hallowed
links under the direction of Augusta National Chairman, Hootie Johnson. According
to Johnson, the alterations should keep the course challenging enough to
combat improvements in technology and player fitness. In other words, Johnson
doesn't want to see the TPC at Deere Run become a tougher test than
Let me be clear. I have no problem with a top-notch architect like Fazio
tinkering with the layout. Keep the player's challenged, I say.
But why the length? Haven't we learned that length alone is not what makes
scoring difficult? Is anyone else tired of architectural projects centering
on length? And worse yet, the "improvements" to Augusta only further isolate
big-hitting superstars like (surprise!) Tiger, Duval, Mickelson, and Singh.
Indeed, some minor modifications took place that created tougher tee angles
and larger bunkers. But why couldn't these have been the only changes? Or
why couldn't there have been more changes like these? On three of the holes,
including 18, 300 yard carries are now necessary off the tee in order to
have a wedge into the green. That may sound enticing, but this only helps
the few long hitters in the field who may be able to hit it that far.
Bottom line: lengthening a golf course only makes length even more of an
Sure, the course will play a little tougher with the added yardage. The 18th
hole is now a daunting 460 yards, while eight other holes gained at least
20 yards in length.
But length is not the best way to toughen a course. Narrow the fairways.
Grow out the rough. Make short game more of a factor. Make the player's think
about how to play the hole instead of whining that the hole is too long to
be played. These are the best ways to increase the difficulty of a golf course
without both punishing shorter hitters and necessitating purchases of more
Why was Tiger Woods the only player to shoot better than 3 over par at the
2000 U.S. Open? Because of length? Hardly. Pebble Beach played only 47 yards
longer at the Open than it does every year at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
And every year, the field routinely blisters the course with rounds in the
60's including the 2002 champion, Matt Gogel. At the 2000 Open, Gogel missed
the cut, barely breaking 80 in the second round. All because of 47 extra
yards? Pebble's teeth came from its thick rough, especially around the greens.
It placed a greater premium on accuracy and short game, which made
Look at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst #2. Only the late Payne Stewart broke
par at one of the toughest Open venues in the tournament's history. The
"turtle-backed" greens deserve all the credit, as players struggled to hit
the greens not only from the rough, but also from the fairway and in the
worst of cases, from greenside locations. "You could make every hole out
here 335 [yards] and players would still have trouble breaking par," remarked
Johnny Miller during the telecast.
Why does the 135 yard 17th at Sawgrass give players fits? Why does the 12th
at Augusta have a storied history of crucial mistakes by players in contention
when a short iron is all it takes to hit the green? The reason is that the
best holes and best courses demand and reward excellent decision-making.
This can be done without lengthening the course.
You want a guarantee? A long hitter will win The Masters this year. Half
of the field doesn't stand a chance.
Augusta's new look is a reflection of modern golf course architecture which
insists bigger is better. It ignores true architectural genius that exists
at Merion, Valderrama, and Royal Troon's Postage Stamp hole. These classic
masterpieces don't rely on length. We know better.
I only thought Augusta did, too.