Augusta National Looks Set for Course Changes
Augusta National looks set to undergo major changes for the first time in a decade, with preliminary site plans filed with local authorities noting a possible lengthening of the fifth hole at the iconic home of the Masters Tournament.
Since it was created by Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie in the 1930s, the Georgia layout has constantly evolved with time, for better or worse. Its treacherous greens were converted from bermudagrass to bentgrass ahead of the 1981 Masters, while continued tree growth has narrowed the once cavernous property that is displayed through photographs taken during the early years.
However, the yardage of the course didn’t notably change until the beginning of this century. In 2001, Augusta National measured just under 7,000 yards. When Tiger Woods returned to defend the title 12 months later, it was 7,270 on the scorecard, following measures instigated by then chairman Hootie Johnson. Nine holes were altered, leading to a further extension at 7,445 yards for 2006, which has remained consistent in the decade since. Only storm damage – including removing the famous Eisenhower Tree – has seen the Club touch the course significantly, albeit major improvements have been made to the tournament infrastructure in that time – the range and practice area among them.
But attention now seems to have been redirected towards the course, the Augusta Chronicle has reported. Measuring 455 yards, ‘Magnolia’ is among the stoutest holes on the front nine at Augusta, and it could now be extended by 20-30 yards should plans to create a new tee across Old Berckmans Road be undertaken. Filing the plans with the Augusta Planning and Development Department, the Club is evaluating its options under new chairman Fred Ridley, a former U.S Amateur winner who has overseen the tournament setup at the Masters for several years under previous head Billy Payne.
The approximate start date for the work has been noted as May 1, several weeks after this year’s Tournament, with that process estimated to conclude on November 1. Making it likely that the fifth hole will be longer for the 2019 Masters, bringing formerly challenging bunkers back into play.
Last year, Augusta National bought land from the adjacent Augusta Country Club, with the intention being to lengthen the revered par five 13th hole, part of Amen Corner. Measuring just 510 yards, the power of the modern game has dramatically compromised the brilliant ‘risk and reward’ strategy that made this among the most thrilling and pivotal holes to be tackled on the back-nine of the Masters. Work is set to begin later this year.
With the R&A and USGA set to evaluate and react to increasing distance within the game, the example of Augusta National Golf Club is a reminder of what the debate impacts. To remain challenging and relevant, historic courses are having to lengthen and sharpen their hazards, costing millions and leading to potential logistical nightmares. Augusta is a unique case – hosting a major each year and with deep pockets – but it points to a trend that the governing bodies are looking to address.
We are familiar with Augusta National – seeing it on TV each year – but changes look inevitable ahead of the Masters of 2019. Questions will certainly be asked of the Chairman this April, as this historic venue looks set to expand its boundaries once more.
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