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How Augusta National Is Adjusting to Players’ Concentrate on Distance

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Relating to major championships, the pedigree of the golf course matters. Courses hold the history of the players who’ve won there.

Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills. Ben Hogan at Merion. Tom Watson at Turnberry.

Tiger Woods at, well, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Valhalla and Augusta National when he won all 4 majors consecutively for the so-called “Tiger Slam” in 2000-1.

But Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters, is different from the remaining. It was originally designed by two greats: Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones, the nice amateur. It’s the one major played on the identical course yr after yr. And its champions return like members for that week. Cue the song birds and blooming azaleas.

There’s only one problem: modern skilled golfers are hitting the ball up to now that classic golf courses are being overpowered and a few are struggling to seek out ways to stay relevant and difficult.

Just two years ago, Bryson DeChambeau dominated Winged Foot, considered among the many hardest championship venues, to win america Open. He hit it so far as he possibly could after which wedged it onto the green. The formidable, high rough of a U.S. Open had little effect on him (though he was the one player to complete under par).

Now, the times of players like Gene Sarazen, who won the Masters in 1935, hitting a wood into the par-5 fifteenth green are behind us. However the fear is that as a substitute of somebody like Woods hitting a 7-iron into that very same green it is going to be a wedge, a much easier club to hit with.

Augusta National is aware that the Masters transcends golf. Keeping the course from being a victim of clubs and balls that help players increase their distance is paramount. Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, one other classic course, had its future as a serious site called into query earlier this yr when, on the Genesis Invitational, players hit drives down adjoining fairways to have a neater approach to the green.

So how has Augusta National continued to challenge players and get up to golf balls that fly farther and spin to a fast stop, and drivers that launch those balls 330 yards and beyond? It’s a mixture of technology and psychology.

“Augusta National continues so as to add length judiciously where they will,” said Ben Crenshaw, the 1984 and 1995 champion and an acclaimed golf architect. “Subtle changes have been well thought out.”

For such a historic course, Augusta National makes changes just about every yr. This yr it lengthened the eleventh and fifteenth holes, which have grow to be less strategic with players hitting farther, and the 18th, with its gigantic bunker waiting to swallow any straight shots.

The added distance is around a complete of fifty yards for the three holes, if the tees are pushed back. The goal is to vary how players approach those holes. It’s not a latest issue.

“The length debate has been occurring at Augusta National since Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed the course,” said Joe Bowden, an area doctor, longtime volunteer and member of the adjoining Augusta Country Club. “The primary yr the Masters was played in 1934 the course length was 6,700 yards. This yr the course will officially measure 7,510 yards for the 2022 tournament.”

Yet there’s a limit to the length. As magnificent as Augusta National is to look at on television and experience in person, it’s not exactly situated on a prairie. Hedged in by Washington Road, a industrial thoroughfare as average as Magnolia Lane is spectacular; established neighborhoods; and the Augusta Country Club, the National, as its neighbors call it, only has a lot space to grow within the state’s second-largest city.

A couple of years ago, the club went up to now as to purchase a whole hole from Augusta Country Club so it might have space to elongate its own thirteenth hole. In a letter to its members, the then-president of Augusta Country Club noted that Augusta National would rebuild a part of its eighth and ninth holes as a part of the deal.

Yet the club may change the speeds of the fairways and greens at will, through how they water them but additionally which direction they cut them. “People don’t realize how much this could speed up or decelerate a course,” said a former assistant golf skilled at Augusta who requested anonymity because employees aren’t allowed to discuss club matters. “But it surely’s much larger than you’re thinking that.”

For a club that repeatedly adjusts its angles and lengths of holes, there are more striking things it could do and still be in line with the unique intent of the course. Michael Hurdzan, who designed Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, pointed to several things the club could do to mute the impact of distance and still be consistent with MacKenzie’s design. One could be to proceed to bring trees into play. They might be used to dam shortcuts that players can take. “There are only two hazards that make a difference to the nice player, ” he said, “trees and water.”

One other is to think in a different way concerning the bunkers. There are twice as many bunkers, 44, today as when the course was built, but there are only 12 fairway bunkers. Of those, only three are on the back nine where the championship is commonly decided, and two of those are on 18.

“The fairways are principally bunkerless,” said Hurdzan, who advocates bunkers jutting into the fairways, generally known as cross bunkers. “Mackenzie wasn’t afraid of cross bunkers. If someone desired to stiffen it up, they might use cross bunkers or more bunkering in the golf green. You might attempt to hit the large drive and risk it or hit a shorter club and hit an extended iron in.”

After all, what all classic courses are battling is technology: a ball that flies farther than ever when hit with a driver that springs it like a trampoline. That is a difficulty golf’s two governing bodies are addressing, with an update issued in March. Observers think that is the time for changes to the equipment.

“With all due respect to the players, it’s not them understanding that’s making the ball go farther,” said Geoff Shackelford, a golf course architect and commentator. “You place technology of their hands that’s 10 years old, and so they’re going to go backwards. Technology that’s 30 years old — they’ll really go backwards.”

“There are such a lot of things Augusta can do to make it tough,” Shackelford added. “It’s not going to grow to be irrelevant, however it does lose a few of the charm whenever you’re taking away a few of the things we’ve come to know.”

Shackleford noted that previous attempts to roll back distance were met with resistance, but not so the March announcements from america Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. The technology, he said, is making it harder to face out as a player. “It probably mutes a few of the super elite players’ exceptional skills.”

Length, though, might be misleading at Augusta. Greg Norman was among the many longest players of his era. When he found himself in a playoff in 1987 with Seve Ballesteros, whose short game made up for wild tee shots, and Larry Mize, a relatively short hitter, it looked like Norman had the advantage.

But that’s not the way it ended. On the second playoff hole, Mize chipped in for a birdie to win the playoff.

“Along with his length, Greg had a bonus,” Mize said. “Thank God golf is greater than length. The longest hitters aren’t all the time winning the Masters.”

Still, Mize said he, too, could be in favor of the united statesG.A. addressing what technology has done to distance.

“I understand it’s hard to bring it back,” Mize said. “But I’m hopeful that 20 years from now golfers won’t be hitting it any further. I’m optimistic that Augusta will still be relevant. It’s a special place and a special event.”

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