Masters Plan for Augusta National

By Geoff ShackelfordApril 4, 2007, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The following is a special feature courtesy LINKS Magazine
Great golf courses may be considered works of art, but their owners hardly treat them as such. While adding even a single brush stroke to the Mona Lisa or building another wing to the Taj Mahal would be considered unthinkable, their counterparts in golf are constantly undergoing revisions, redesigns and restorations.
No great course more reflects this trend than Augusta National Golf Club, which, especially in recent years, has evolved to the point where the original designers, Bobby Jones and Dr. Alister MacKenzie, may be hard pressed to recognize it. In addition to adding 520 yards since 1998, the club has narrowed landing areas by adding a second cut of grass as well as numerous trees.
The club has made these changes in response to the increasing distances that todays best players hit the ball. And while Augusta National has stood pat in the past year, it has proved most willing of any club to alter its layout'both recently and over the years, during which numerous architects have left their marks on the course.
Theres no reason to think this trend wont continue, and in that spirit, LINKS has asked several architects to provide master plans of how they would redesign or restore Augusta National Golf Club. In addition to their thoughts, several young architects'the future Doaks and Fazios'even have offered drawings of their visions. These plans, featured on the gatefold starting on page 71, are similar to what the architects would present to clubs green committees. They provide fascinating insight into architects thinking processes and help better understand the holes strategies.
The plan:
The idea of creating a long range or master plan has been a recent trend in golf course design inspired by years of committee tampering at some of the worlds great courses. The process is usually instigated by older golf courses looking to reverse decades of change to a master architects work. The selection process begins with presentations by the architects to a committee of the clubs leadership. Once hired, the architects analyze the design and receive golfers feedback.
Every architect handles the committee-driven process of long-range planning differently. Some rely on communication skills while others are not shy to break out PowerPoints and lavish drawings. We generally dont do drawings in our consulting work, longtime restorer Tom Doak says. Because we are trying to emphasize that our primary mission is to restore old features and so it is more appropriate to work from old photographs rather than new drawings.
Now on his own, Mike Benkusky, a longtime associate of Chicago-area renovation specialist Bob Lohman, has a consistent approach to older layouts. My philosophy is to throw out ideas on different plans and hope that the committee likes certain ideas on different plans. We then gather all of those ideas and put them onto one plan as our final master plan. I do not try to sway the committee one way or another on the ideas, but lead them through the process by pointing out the pros and cons of each idea and how it relates to the overall design of the golf course.
Augusta National presents a unique challenge because of what happens in early April every year. The difficulty in formulating a successful plan lies in the need to accommodate both tournament and member play, says Bobby Weed, architect of several TPC courses. We all know that technologys greatest impact is felt by the best players, and that the gap between good and bad golfers is wider than ever. No other course in the world must address that issue as directly as Augusta.
Its curious to note that most of the architects polled recommended that instead of changing the course, the Masters should develop a tournament ball to prevent future obsolescence. In the meantime they offer a surprisingly consistent set of suggestions for the club.
Tee to green: restore options
Augusta Nationals recent installation of the second cut along with liberal pine-tree planting led all of the architects we questioned to unanimously recommend that the club restore the design to the wider, less cluttered look that could be found during Tiger Woods 1997 victory.
Our first step in any renovation work is to work on the non-invasive stuff'removing trees and getting the mowing lines right'and as you know, the club has been moving in exactly the opposite direction for the past several years, Doak says.
Australian architect Mike Clayton, who co-designed Barnbougle Dunes with Doak, is a well-known MacKenzie aficionado doing extensive master plan and renovation work Down Under. Worse than the introduction of rough has been the use of trees to redefine the strategy at holes like the 11th and the 15th, says Clayton. Rather than determining the strategy, the pines have conspired to take away the most interesting options and the resulting penal nature of the driving areas has done nothing to add to the thrills of Masters Sunday'to say nothing of the fun for the members. The holes may be harder but are they better?
Architect Mike DeVries grew up at MacKenzies Crystal Downs in Michigan and recently oversaw a restoration of the Good Doctors Meadow Club, north of San Francisco. While hes not a fan of the recent tree planting, he feels there may be a more clever way to add challenge for Masters play without penalizing members.
Instead of planting large groves of trees to dictate play, return to planting a small cluster of three to five trees or even specimens that could turn into the next Eisenhower Tree and which would reward or punish play, he says. I would mow tight turf around these areas to encourage aggressive play that challenges a tree. By getting around it, the player will gain a significant advantage. The risk/reward shot will return, instead of just punishing a misplayed shot.
As for added length, few of the architects feel it is a top priority, except for possibly updating the members tees or proposing the addition of another set of tees to deal with the huge, undesirable gap between the back (7,445 yards) and member tees (6,230).
But that decision may have already been made. According to several published reports, the club has been actively scooping up real estate west of the course, with an eye toward more tee expansion on holes like the 455-yard 5th, which has become a drive and short iron in recent years.
MacKenzie bunkering:
The architects polled were unanimous in their desire to maintain the ingenious placement of key hazards, while hoping that the committee would open up the clubs photo archives to facilitate a restoration of MacKenzies bunkering.
To an Australian used to the wonderful MacKenzie bunkers of the Melbourne Sandbelt, it is an oddity to see bunkers on a MacKenzie course so pristine, white and rounded off, says Clayton. The originals had more of a rustic, rugged and natural feel and one wonders what the course would look like if they were restored to the look and feel of MacKenzie hazards. The world over, his bunkers are subtly different, the result of different soils and the skills of the varying construction crews he used. But those at Augusta look nothing like the work of a Scot who was one of the first to extol the virtues of natural-looking hazards that appeared to be as much the work of nature as man.
David Esler, whose rugged bunkering at the highly regarded Black Sheep Golf Club outside Chicago has earned rave reviews, concurs. When one examines early photos, the serpentine bunkers of accidental character define hole strategy at MacKenzies Augusta, he says. MacKenzies bunkers seemed to be ripped from the earth or constructed as if they had bled from a seam in the soil and eroded down hill, exposing sand as they washed away the topsoil. The original bunkers backing the 13th green are exemplary examples of the latter.
The greens: more quirks:
Both DeVries and Esler point to restoring key hole locations to provide interest and challenge for both member and tournament play. Like many Golden Age designs, Augusta National has lost much of its original green surface area, says Esler, who has consulted at classics like Glen View and Chicago Golf Club. Not so much by neglect as is typical, but via conscious reconstruction. Gone are MacKenzies eccentric wings and tabs and false fronts.
Esler notes that any meeting with club officials must include discussion of restoring the front-left hole location on the par-3 12th and a wily front-right spot on the par-5 15th to reclaim MacKenzies delightful creation.
DeVries agrees. Todays longer hitting pros have altered the strategy at Augusta to one where the players hit it as far as possible and then depend on their wedges instead of angles of play to get close to the pin. The greens are still dictating play with their severity, but the best golfers are emphasizing power over placement so they can use their shorter clubs for approaches.
By returning some of the more irregularly shaped greens of the original design, say the original bunkerless, L-shaped 7th or the boomerang 9th to their eccentric shapes, it would require more accuracy with a wedge by the pros and will be fun for the members by reintroducing angles of play for them on their longer approaches to tighter, more remote flagstick locations.
Past vs. future:
Ironically, it seems that for our architects, the future of Augusta National lies in the past. At the same time, they do realize that balancing the challenges of todays game with the intentions of MacKenzie and Jones may require extreme measures.
Preserving the most celebrated aspects of the courses design for Masters competitors, namely no rough and multiple angles of play, says Weed, would require the back tees to be at least 8,250 yards and the fairways stripped, drained, SubAired and sand capped to ensure the ball runs out in all conditions.
Be careful what you suggest. Thats just what may happen.
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

    According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

    Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

    Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

    And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

    Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.