I have to tell you right off I am not a fan of the Masters. I don’t see it as a major championship. It’s a good tournament played on a beautiful course. But it is surviving on hype and history right now.
My preview this year is a reprint of a post I put up last year after the tournament was over. Because of that timing, what I had to say might not have gotten the attention it deserved. So here it is again: Augusta National is obsolete.
Augusta National is a Depression-era course built when 250 yards was a respectable professional distance off the tee. Steel shafts were just being introduced and golf ball technology was still rudimentary. For decades, Augusta was a strategic test that matched the capabilities of the day’s best golfers.
Cracks started appearing when Jack Nicklaus arrived. He played 420-yard holes with a driver and a pitching wedge, not a driver and a 6-iron.
When Tiger Woods came along thirty years later, the course had to be “Tiger-proofed,” because his length overpowered the cozy design. Now, everyone hits the ball as far as he did fifteen years ago.
The latest insult was Bubba Watson, whose length mocks August’s most difficult holes. He plays the 485-yard 13th (pictured above) with a driver and a wedge. In ten years, there will be fistfuls of players who hit the ball as long as he does. What then?
The Augusta membership is proud of its course. It’s unique in the world and one of the world’s most challenging. The Masters has always been played there; it was meant to be played there. The Masters and August National are one and the same.
This puts the membership in a bind. There is no other place where their Masters can be held.
The USGA is rotating its championship to newer courses built to challenge today’s golfers, Merion East in 2013 notwithstanding. That course was tricked up beyond belief in order to stand up.
The R&A is doing its best to keep its legendary courses in the Open rotation, but cracks are showing up in that strategy, too. The Old Course at St. Andrews is nearing the same fate as Augusta — too short, and running out of room to add length for the sake for length, not for the sake of strategy.
The table has been turned on these ancient courses. Instead of challenging golfers, they are now being challenged by the golfers. Professional golfers will soon be dominating them no matter what is done.
It could easily be the case that in fifteen years Augusta National will have no more slack to give. Its only defenses would be the pin locations on its forbidding greens. The tournament could be won the by the golfer who has the fewest three-putt greens over the four days of competition. Tee to green strategy would be irrelevant. A sad fate.
At this point in the essay, I am supposed to present my proposal for a way out of this jam: how to salvage a seemingly lost situation. I don’t think there is a fix. The hard fact is that Augusta National was designed to play at about 6,800 – 7,000 yards. It has been stretched beyond that about as far as it will go. When its current 7,400 yards is no longer enough, the course might have to be retired.
Retirement happens to everyone and everything. We have our heyday, we have our glory. The time comes when we are overtaken, and we must take a seat on the sideline for the next generation. The question is, will the Augusta membership be able to retire their course with dignity when the time comes, which it surely will?
Tiger Woods announced he will play in this year’s Masters. I don’t expect him to be a factor, but I hope he doesn’t fall on his face. There are easier courses on which to start a comeback than August National.