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Practice made perfect

Augusta National unveils range facility that puts golfers front and center

Friday, April 02, 2010

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The Masters Tournament is famous for offering players and patrons the best of everything. Now it offers a world-class practice facility that duplicates the conditions found on the course.

The horizon line is 350 yards in the distance on the new driving range at Augusta National Golf Club. The range features two fairways and four target areas to which players can shape their shots. (John Curry/Staff)

This week Augusta National Golf Club unveils its Tournament Practice Range. The project was announced by former Chairman Hootie Johnson in 2004, and it ties together a plan that moved almost all parking outside of the club's gated areas.

The creation of a patron corridor, which stretches from the entrance at Gate 6 down to the practice tee, enables golf fans to see their favorite players like never before.

The former practice area will not be used Masters Week, but members will use it throughout the club season. The new facility will be used only by tournament players for the Masters and by members at the club's opening and closing parties.

There was nothing wrong with the old range, but technology advances necessitated a 105-foot-tall net to keep golf balls off Washington Road. The chipping area and a putting green were around the clubhouse.

The new facility pulls those elements together. The range stretches some 400 yards from center tee to the end -- the old one was 260 yards long -- and needs no net.

"It just seems as though they've thought of everything, and that's pretty typical for them," said U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, who visited in early February. "I can't say enough. They've left no stone unturned."

The right and left fairways at the new practice area split at the center tree. (John Curry/Staff)

Geoff Ogilvy, who saw the new facility in March, agreed via a post on Twitter.

"I have to say the new range and practice area is one of the coolest things I have seen," Ogilvy wrote.

DRIVING RANGE

The heart of the 18-acre facility is an arced practice tee that can accommodate about three dozen players.

A V-shaped formation of pine trees about 235 yards out splits the fairways.

Players can work on drawing or fading shots from any point on the main tee.

Distance to greens from hitting area. (John Curry/Staff)

The players are hitting into the prevailing wind that comes from the southwest.

Four target greens are similar to the ones found on the course. The greens are built so that players can see how the ball reacts when it hits the green.

A smaller version of the big course's No. 2 green is replicated on the range. It was selected because it gives multiple pin locations and because of the distance between the bunkers. It is the target green closest to the main tee -- 80 yards away from the players.

Through player interviews and research, the club learned that the pros prefer to practice by picking a target, then trying to shape the shot as they would on the course.

PUTTING GREEN

Similar in size to the one located behind the No. 1 tee, this green will be used for players who want to hone short putts. It is maintained at the same speed as the greens on the main course. It will be ideal for those who want to practice 4- and 5-foot putts that are on the "fall" line: the natural descent of a slope.

New practice facility at Augusta National showing the new golf services building. (John Curry/Staff)

This green is intended for more intense practice sessions; the one near the No. 1 tee is for last-minute warmups, and its size was reduced by 20 percent to improve patron flow.

SHORT GAME AREA

Two greens and five bunkers allow players to practice shots that they find around the greens.

The chipping greens can replicate certain shots that require finesse, such as the ones in front of No. 6 or the back of No. 13.

The bunkers aren't too deep to allow players to see how the ball spins when it hits the ground.

Players can use auxiliary tees in this area to practice iron shots to a variety of flags that are down range.

New practice facility at Augusta National. (John Curry/Staff)

Patrons will be allowed to come down to the rope line near these greens and get fairly close to the players as they practice.

Along this rope line and in the area behind the putting green will be the best places for fans to seek autographs.

PRIME SPOTS FOR PATRONS

Three sets of bleachers will be directly behind the main tee, and plenty of standing room will be available along the rope line leading from the badge screening area off Gate 6 down to the bleachers.

From the short game area and putting green, patrons can see the golfers practice their putting, sand play and chipping at close range.

70: Players the range can hold. About 37-37 players could use the main tee, another 10-12 on the auxiliary tee, and about 10-12 each on the two tees at the far end.

Putting green at the new practice facility at Augusta National. (John Curry/Staff)

500: Maximum number of spectator seats available behind the practice tee.

2,000: Plants installed at the new facility, including several mature trees.

Chip shot: An underground heating system allows players to use the practice area even if frost causes a delay in tournament play.

AROUND THE RANGE

Golf Services Building

With its live oak trees and collonade, this building on the far side of the facility has the look and feel of Augusta National's clubhouse. Beyond it, near Washington Road, is room for club repair and fitness trailers.

Right fairway at the new practice facility at Augusta National. (John Curry/Staff)

The building serves all of the caddie functions, including club storage. Tournament caddies will have their own lockers, an expanded grill and seating area. A caddie lounge will be used for tournament officials during the Masters.

Tee Management Building

The white building is where the range balls are stored. But don't look for beat-up balls with thick red stripes. Players can request their preferred brand of ball for practice.

Television Studios

The green building has three separate television studios and will be used this year by the BBC and ESPN. From the players' perspective on the practice tee, the building looks like it has windows. They are actually garage doors.

Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or john.boyette@augustachronicle.com.

Putting green at the new practice facility at Augusta National. (John Curry/Staff)
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