Still More Changes in the Works for Augusta National

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For more than 40 years, the yardage on the scorecard at Augusta National Golf Club stayed about 6,925 yards for the Masters, which fooled no one.
 
``I think '51 was the first year I played, and the 11th tee was almost behind the 10th green,'' Dow Finsterwald said Tuesday morning. ``Then one year, they moved it way back in the woods to the left, and the yardage never changed. And on No. 15, the tee used to be in front of the service road. They moved it behind the road, and it was still 6,925. But it was such a great tournament, nobody ever really raised the question.
 
``What difference does it make, anyway? Everyone plays from the same tees.''

Some of the tees won't be the same at the 70th Masters this April, and players won't need a scorecard to notice. The official yardage is 7,445 yards, courtesy of changes to six holes that added about 155 yards.
 
It's the third time in the last six years that Augusta National has strengthened its golf course -- 520 yards since 1999 -- each an attempt to restore the rhythm and shot value the way Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed it.
 
As usual, the new tees look as if they had been there all along.
 
Players will know better, especially when they leave the practice green for the first tee, which is now a short walk. The tee box has been moved back about 20 yards to make the hole play 455 yards, although change at Augusta National is not all about length.
 
The eye-opener is that cavernous bunker down the right side, where a finger of turf now dips into the sand and creates the appearance of a double bunker. Balls rarely will be in the middle of the sand, allowing for a routine escape; now there will be steep lips in the way.
 
Players might get lost on the way to the fourth tee.
 
It used to be positioned directly behind the third green. Now, take a hard right and go some 40 yards into the woods. Or what used to be woods. Already the meanest par 3 on the course, it now plays up to 240 yards.
 
Jones gave Sports Illustrated a hole-by-hole description in 1959 and said of the par-3 fourth, ``The shot is usually a strong iron, or even a 4- or 3-wood.''
 
``It's usually a 6-iron, depending on the wind,'' Retief Goosen said when asked last week how he played No. 4. ``Sometimes, it can be a 5-iron, or even a 4-iron, when the pin is to the right.''
 
Maybe the Goose should talk to Ben Crane, who played five rounds in four days a few weeks ago. Crane, no short hitter at 61st in driving distance on the PGA Tour this year, hit 3-wood to the green, except the one time the tees were slightly forward. Then he hit 2-iron.
 
The seventh hole is about a football field longer than when Jose Maria Olazabal won in 1999, thanks to a tee that has been moved back 40 yards so that it now plays 450 yards. Just look down a chute of towering pines and search for five white specks (bunkers) to find the green.
 
Finsterwald will be glad to know that No. 11 is now 505 yards, with a tee pushed even farther back into the woods. Again, it's not strictly about length. The club has added 17 additional pines down the right side, bringing the small forest to 43 trees and making the right side -- a bailout area when the pin was back left -- no longer a safe alternative.
 
The other two changes simply put an extra club in the players' hands, if that.
 
The par-5 15th is back about 30 yards and over to the left, so anyone hitting a power draw can still get plenty of roll and reach the green.
 
``This is a three-shot hole to most players ... but also a magnificent two-shot hole, as a skillful and courageous player will ... be able to pull his second shot around to the green,'' MacKenzie wrote in 1934.
 
Tiger Woods showed neither courage nor skill -- only raw power -- when he hit wedge into the 15th this year.
 
The other change is the 17th hole, mainly cosmetic. The tee has been moved back 15 yards, and the Georgia pines down the left side have been pruned to make the Eisenhower Tree more prominent. The base of the 65-foot loblolly pine is about 210 yards from the tee.
 
What does it all mean?
 
Augusta National, steeped in tradition, remains a contemporary course.
 
If the Masters had left everything the way it was, there would be no pond fronting the 16th green; the 10th green would be at the base of the hill, not above it; the 14th hole would have a bunker and the seventh hole would have none. And don't forget, the nines were reversed for the second tournament in 1935.
 
Augusta National is longer and harder than ever.
 
Players hit the ball longer and better than ever.
 
``Their ability is so marvelous,'' Finsterwald said. ``It's not that they're so much longer, they're straighter. And there are more good putters than there were. So I don't think the test has changed. But players have risen to the changes. But the scores stay pretty much in the ballpark, don't they?''
 
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