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Course design follows Augusta National's lead

Friday, April 02, 2010

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No American golf course has been as inspiring to golfers, architects and fans than Augusta National Golf Club.

The par-4 No. 7, as it was drawn by Alister Mackenzie, featured no bunkers around the green. (Special)

The course has been in the spotlight in the past decade with significant changes to more than half of the holes -- mostly additions of length and, in some cases, planting of trees. The alterations were mainly to provide a defense against advances in club and golf ball technology, but they still set off cries of protests from critics.

"It's a tougher golf course than when we played it," said Errie Ball, who played in the first Masters in 1934. "Even though equipment has improved, it's still tough. I don't know if Bobby Jones, if he was living, would like it."

Change at Augusta National has been a constant. The reversing of the nines was the first significant change, and in the next two decades plenty more were made.

Alister Mackenzie and Jones, who co-designed Augusta National, shared similar philosophies on how a course should play: It should require strategy, be fair for golfers of all abilities, and be receptive to scoring.

"We are quite willing to have low scores made during the tournament," Jones once wrote. "It is our feeling that there is something wrong with a golf course which will not yield a score in the sixties to a player who has played well enough to deserve it."

Mackenzie, in describing his shared beliefs with Jones, wrote: "A really great course must be a constant source of pleasure to the greatest possible number of players."

The 1935 Masters champion, Gene Sarazen, is credited for prompting an early change in course design. His tinkering with wedges led to the creation of the sand wedge, which made bunker play far easier. "I think my father used to believe water was the ultimate hazard. When Gene Sarazen invented the sand wedge, bunkers became less penal," architect Rees Jones said. "Augusta National has shaped architecture from a penal style to a more strategic style with bunkers in meaningful places and water in meaningful places. American architecture followed that trend for years .... Augusta National was the model for years."

A lack of television exposure kept one hole from being more of an influence, author and architect Geoff Shackelford wrote.

"I suppose the 8th and its mound protected green might have spawned replicas around the world because fans would have clamored to play similar shots off of the tightly-cut hillocks like the Masters winner did," he wrote. "But since we don't see much of it on television, it hasn't had the influence you would hope that such an interesting green would have on everyday golf architecture."

Historically, the 10th, 11th and 12th holes rank as the three most difficult in Masters play. Starting with such a gantlet would be difficult, and the decision to reverse the nines also shaped Augusta National.

"The tenth and eleventh holes were much different when the course opened, and not nearly as hard as they are today," architect Tom Doak wrote. "It's unimaginable that the tenth would be as difficult as it is now if it had remained the opener. And it's likely that players would have approached No. 13 and No. 15 more conservatively if they came earlier."

ORIGINAL INTENT

"The second shot is normally a steep pitch, often with a wedge, and precise judgment of range is required."

-- Bobby Jones, on how No. 7 ought to be played

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