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Guest commentary: Augusta uncrowned

Guest commentary: Augusta uncrowned

Fream, Ronald W

The historyof Augusta National has always been recorded, Masters by Masters, since 1934, as ifa sacred ritual, the continuation of a serious tradition. The mystique has been massag ed and enhanced year after year as TV coverage projected the world’s great players – taking their turns as champion – putting on the green jacket, after a usually breathtaking final round before a huge gallery.

Augusta National Golf Club has long considered the Masters as an “inheritance to posterity.” The origins of the course, inspired by Robert Tyre Jones Jr. and co-designed by Dr. Alistair MacKenzie were, as Horton Smith said, “a cause of character, individuality and personality.” Over the years, modest changes were inserted into the original design. In recent years, cosmetic changes became common but remained modest. The most significant changes evolved as the standards of maintenance improved. The growth of turfgrass maintenance, agronomic knowledge and equipment sophistication led to the recent years’ “immaculate perfection” standards – not a blade of crass unkempt.

Of the four recognized major golf tournaments of the year, only the Masters is played year after year at the same venue. This continuity of site helped enhance the legend of famous players, famous holes, famous shots and famous victories. Past shots and past scores could fairly be compared and certainly were. These past glories are obsolete now.

Throughout the years, the basic playing character was more or less true to the original design and the founders’ original intent. The continuum was in place. Now, in an effort to counter or defend against recent technological advances by club and ball manufacturers, as well as the unique ability of Tiger Woods, Augusta is undergoing a vigorous redesign that has dramatically changed many of the holes. Where now are the continuum, the tradition and the playing link to the course Jones and MacKenzie produced? In fact, if Jones or MacKenzie were alive today, they would not recognize the Augusta National of 2003. Whatever great shots, superb lightning-fast putts or grand Sunday afternoon final nine charges that were the stuff of legends and so faithfully documented will not now be a continuum and link to past performances. The new course may well look like another Tom Fazio course, one of many, but not one of one. Lengthening and moving tees, bunkers and approach shots bring new golf not directly comparable with Masters tournaments of 2001 or before. Growing a “second cut” or semirough to hinder slightly wayward tee shots removes the long and proud distinction of not having rough at the Masters. Adding instant trees surely has altered how some of the holes were previously played. It is different now.

Will Augusta National still be automatically ranked as one of America’s truly great courses or is it now actually one of several long, demanding courses set into surrounding woodlands? Augusta was never a course of unique natural setting or spectacular and memorable vistas. The pine forest actually became more claustrophobic as trees grew taller and wider and were joined by new additions of trees. The glory was in the link to a historic source of original design and a masterful management of the early legends.

While the “splendor, splendor, splendor everywhere” will return, it will surely be difficult now to claim the legacy or compare the scoring traditions of earlier Masters. From 2003, it is a new course, a new tournament and a new record to establish. Will Augusta National again warrant its lofty stature based upon its illustrious heritage? Perhaps not. Perhaps now Augusta National will be another rolling, long, pine tree-lined course with nice spring flowers that merely hosts a prominent tournament and still provides enviable immaculate perfection in turfgrass management. While modern technological advances are helping the individual golfer’s length of play, technology is doing nothing for the memories and traditions of golf, which are too few as it is.

Copyright United Publications, Inc. Apr 2003

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