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Dramatic changes coming to Masters

Longer holes and bigger bunkers will test players' ability to overpower the course through technology.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 8, 2001


Jack Nicklaus knows a thing or two about the home of the Masters. A six-time winner of the tournament, Nicklaus is resigned that Augusta National Golf Club has to make changes to combat the technology that allows today's players to overpower courses.

"Pretty soon, we'll be teeing off downtown somewhere," Nicklaus said jokingly in April.

He wasn't far off.

Augusta National announced sweeping changes to its historic venue Tuesday that included lengthening several holes and positioning tees and bunkers in a way that will require players to be more accurate.

In what might be the most extensive alterations to the course since the first Masters was played in 1934, nearly 300 yards has been added to the layout, with changes made on nine of the 18 holes.

Alister MacKenzie and Bob Jones designed the course in the early 1930s. It is ranked third among Golf Digest's list of the 100 Greatest Courses in America.

"Our objective is to keep this golf course current," club chairman Hootie Johnsonsaid in a statement.

Johnson announced at the Masters in April that changes would be forthcoming. He stressed that the project, undertaken by noted course architect Tom Fazio, not only would add length to some of the holes but would address accuracy off the tee.

Improvements in clubs and balls have allowed players to reach holes quicker. "I think any of us hate to see people hitting sand wedges into 425-yard par-4s," Johnson said. "The equipment is making a huge difference, and we are going to attempt, as we always have, to try to keep the golf course current with the times."

Changes occurred at seven par-4 holes (1, 7, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 18) and two par-5s (8 and 13). To move the tee back some 20 yards at No. 13, Augusta National had to secure property from adjoining Augusta Country Club.

Perhaps the biggest change is at the par-4 18th, where 2001 champ Tiger Woods could blast his drive past the fairway bunkers on the left and have nothing more than a wedge to the green.

Now, with the tee moved back 55-60 yards and 5 yards to the right, and with the bunkers being made 10 percent larger, the tee shot will need to carry 320 yards. And trees have been planted to the left of the fairway bunkers.

"If you're going to continue to let the ball do what it's doing, you've got to keep lengthening the golf course," Nicklaus said at the Masters. "You have to do what Hootie is talking about doing, otherwise every hole is a drive and a wedge."

"They're not tinkering with history," said three-time Masters champion Gary Player. "Since Day 1, they've always . . . you use the word tinker, I use the word improve. I love it."

The yardage on the course increased from 6,985 yards to 7,270. A new practice putting green also has been constructed to make way for the new tees at the first and 10th holes.

"Beginning in 1934 and throughout their tenure, Cliff Roberts and Bob Jones made improvements to complement the changing state of the game," Johnson said. "We have continued this philosophy."

Former champion Raymond Floyd said at this year's Masters, "They've always tried to stay ahead of the curve around here. This time, the curve got a little ahead of the club."

Fazio has said the intent of the project was not to change the look of any of the holes, but to make them play differently, with longer approach shots and smaller landing areas that reward accuracy and hinder roll.

The construction is not complete, but the course will be ready for play when the club reopens to members in mid October.

"These young guys hitting it as far as they hit it, it isn't going to make that much difference," four-time Masters champion and Augusta member Arnold Palmer said. "You hear talk about changes, and of course that calls a lot of attention to it. But when the tournament is on, it'll look the same as it's always looked."

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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