03 Apr 2017

Masters Special: Augusta National – Home of The Masters since 1934

It is finally April, which means it’s time for The Masters at the famed Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. One of the most alluring sporting venues in the sporting world once again comes under the spotlight as various storylines play out upon its immaculately manicured fairways. Will McIlroy become only the fifth player to win the modern-day Grand Slam by winning The Masters? Can Dustin Johnson continue his current dominance over the rest of his peers? Will Tiger Woods show up? Will John Daly park his R.V. outside the gates and sell his wares for a quick buck? All will be revealed over four days in downtown Augusta.

The course itself hasn’t changed since it was last lengthened in 2006 but the Augusta Executive have bought more surrounding land and there are rumours that in the coming years they will push the tee-box back on the iconic par-5 13th hole. This will make the drive even more difficult than it already is and force big-hitting lefty Bubba Watson into re-thinking his ‘cut the corner’ strategy. Originally, the nines were played back to front (can you imagine today’s pros playing the run- through Amen Corner so early in their rounds) but the decision was made after the first Masters to switch the route.

 

The Green, Green Grass of Augusta

 

Back in 1981 the Committee at Augusta National wanted faster greens for the first Major of the year so they replaced the Bermuda strain that had served them since the tournament’s inception with Bentgrass – and they got what they wanted.

As a result, some of the natural undulations in the greens were gradually altered to factor in the faster putting surfaces and, ultimately, scoring came down as putting got harder. At the time, Seve Ballersteros’s five stroke win at 13-under-par 275 in 1980 (the lowest score since 1976) was seen as the catalyst for the change in grass, but the officials at Augusta had been on the ball with regard to how slow the greens had been for the previous few years.

The advancements in agronomy saw new techniques arrive to maintain the grass, and, as a result, the healthier strains of Bermuda that were installed in 1975 were overseeded with rye – which is stiffer when trimmed tight. This created slower surfaces. Scores in the Bentgrass era confirm the changes certainly made scoring tougher. In the last ten years on Bermuda, six of the winning scores were 10-under or higher.

From 1981 onwards only one of the next nine winners got into double figures below par. Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Ballesteros are the only players to have won The Masters on both grasses. “I think these are probably the most severe greens we play anywhere,” Nicklaus said in 1981, when Watson won with a score five strokes worse than Ballesteros the year earlier.

80,000 plants of more than 350 varieties have been added to the Augusta National grounds over the years, but an unseasonably warm winter might mean that Augusta’s blooms have peaked and will be on the decline come Masters week. Still, even if there are no signs of colour in the shubbery, at least the players can brighten the surroundings with their attire…

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