About Augusta National Golf Club
Augusta National Golf Club is home to what many view as the world's greatest golf course so it is rather fitting that the course, which admittedly has seen many changes throughout its history, was originally designed by the illustrious duo of the world's greatest golfer at the time, Bobby Jones, as well as the game's preeminent course architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie.
Influences and Early Beginnings
Considering the love both Jones and MacKenzie had for the St Andrews Old Course, it is hardly surprising that Augusta's original layout was heavily influenced by the traditional links courses of the UK & Ireland. In fact, Mackenzie took specific design characteristics from specific holes from such courses, with a handful even thought to be almost direct replicas.
From a design standpoint, many of them have rendered the course in its current guise, from a design standpoint at least, almost unrecognisable when compared to Jones and Mackenzie's original layout.
Originally, both Jones and Dr. Alister MacKenzie believed in creating holes which demanded keen attention to strategy from the player's perspective, with an array of angles from which the hole could be approached. This notion still rings true at Augusta and while there are certainly advantages to being able to hit specific portions of fairways and greens with acute precision, the course does offer a much different challenge to the one devised by the original architects.
Changes to The Original Design
Only two holes on the course have remained the same length – the 6th has actually been shortened ever so slightly – and while some have only seen small increases in length, holes such as the par 5 8th have been stretched by up to 26%!
The design features on many holes have changed too, with a long list of course architects including the likes of Perry Maxwell, George Cobb Jack Nicklaus & Tom Fazio having been commissioned to update the course at various stages in the past.
While the overall length and the challenges the course presents have changed significantly since Augusta's early days, one thing remains the same: the main challenges here lie in wait on and around the amazing green complexes which haven't been radically changed over the years.
"The greens have basically remained the same," said Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 6 Green Jackets. "They're very much the same greens that Jones and MacKenzie had,"
With huge slopes and drastic undulations featured on each and every one, the extent of which you simply have to see in person to understand, player's short games, as well as their ability to keep the ball below the hole with their approach shots is of paramount importance when playing at Augusta.
Tiger Proofing following wins for Woods 1997 and 2001
Of course, such is the magnitude and sheer volume of changes that have been made to Augusta National over the years, it would be impossible to not them all. So we've tried as best we can to give a general overview of how Augusta has changed throughout the years, and how the challenge the players face today compares with the one Jones and MacKenzie originally laid down.
While the overall yardages of Augusta National have changed greatly over the years, most notably when the course was "Tiger-Proofed" following the 2001 Masters (Tiger won again in 2002 which begs the question: Why would you lengthen a course to give the field a better chance against the longest hitter at the time?), as well as the historic design features first laid down by Bobby Jones and Dr Alister MacKenzie, one thing has remained largely constant; the green complexes.
"The greens have basically remained the same," said Jack Nicklaus in an interview with Golf.com. "They're very much the same greens that Jones and MacKenzie had," which is a good thing as the greens and their notorious run-offs give Augusta its identity, at least from a playing perspective.
Another aspect of the course they've left largely untouched is Amen Corner, the most iconic part of the course.
Away from 11, 12 & 13, the course has seen some drastic changes in places and while Nicklaus maintains that the landing spots – whether that be in the fairway or on the greens – that Jones picked out as the premium places from which you play your next shot have remained largely the same over the years, he does intimate that there is more of a premium on straighter driving.
"Augusta was always a course that tests length, accuracy, and putting, and it still is. Now, it tests accuracy more than it used to. If the course had stayed the same, they'd be shooting lights out", said Nicklaus.
How have they created a demand for straighter hitting?
Quite simply, on many holes they have planted huge numbers of trees, reshaped / repositioned bunkers and pinched the fairway in.
The Par 4 1st for example, historically measured 400 yards, and now stretches to 455 to accommodate the modern golf ball and the modern athletic golfer. In 1972 and 2006, additional trees were added to the hole flanking the fairway to punish more errant tee shots, and in 2002, the bunker on the right of the fairway was advanced 15 yards further up the hole to further tighten the landing area.
Further examples of the use of additional trees and tighter fairways, two features that support Nicklaus' notion that you must drive the ball straighter at Augusta in the modern era, can be found at the Par 47th which in its formative years, featured a generous fairway and very few trees to speak of. These days the hole is a full 110 yards longer and mighty trees line each side of the fairway, placing a real premium on an accurate tee shot.
Like the 7th, the par 4 17th, both very similar holes visually, has seen plenty of new trees added to tighten the tee shot up. In its formative years the hole almost looked like a driving range such was the sparseness of trees, but following tweaks in 1999 and 2006, the hole is now flanked by towering pines, with the tee having also been moved 40 yards further back.
Another fine example comes in the form of the Par 4 18th which has seen plenty of trees planted along the left hand side, as well as the bunkers which the players now see looming large in the distance as they line up their tee shots. These were added in 1967 whereas previously players could bail out to the left.
As we can see, the changes at Augusta National are eternally ongoing and while they are overdone from time to time – when Zach Johnson won with a score of +1 in 2007, many observed that with the birdies and eagles all but dried up, The Masters had lost some of its verve – on the most part they keep the world's greatest relevant to the modern game.