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Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA Times
« on: April 10, 2003, 04:33:08 PM »
Changes may have taken away original Augusta flair

By Geoff Shackelford, Special to The Times

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The day after last year's Masters, CBS announcer Jim Nantz summed up the less-than-compelling final day:

"We did not see the majestic moments that we expected."

 Tiger Woods won the tournament with a cautious 71 as contenders Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen struggled for pars on the newly lengthened and narrowed Augusta National Golf Club.

"This is a course and a tournament that has always delivered the memorable shot, the heroic shot," said Nantz, who has covered the Masters on CBS since 1986. "The only thing misleading about what I've just said is that Tiger didn't have it on full go because he didn't have to.

"He could have gone lower than 71, but he just had to play conservative. Once we got to 13, Tiger was going to win unless he tripped over the Hogan, Nelson or Sarazen bridges."

Woods, whose record 18-under-par performance in 1997 may have influenced the last five years of course design changes, summarized the new-look Augusta National last year when he said, "I think there's more risk than there is reward."

With tree planting, additional length and narrowed fairways designed to reduce options, the original flavor of Alister MacKenzie's co-design with club founder Bobby Jones has been lost. The departure in philosophy also seems to have reduced the number of potential Masters champions while making back-nine theatrics less likely.

"To me, the water went over the dam when they came out with the rough," two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said. "Plus, with the additions to the length ... to my mind it's diametrically opposed to how it started, to what Jones and MacKenzie had in mind."

A mutual admiration for the Old Course at St. Andrews inspired MacKenzie and Jones' original concept of wide, undulating fairways that provided multiple ways to approach the complicated greens. Width allowed golfers of varying styles to position their tee shots depending on the day's hole location, the player's mood or the ever-changing winds.

Jones wrote that the idea was "to reward the good shot by making the second shot simpler in proportion to the excellence of the first." The benefit of this seemingly vulnerable design scheme was Augusta National's ability to tempt the world's best players into heroic risk taking, while luring less capable players into overaggressive and recklessly planned shots.

"The course is not intended so much to punish the severely wayward shot as to reward adequately the stroke played with skill — and judgment," Jones wrote. "The perfect design should place a premium upon sound judgment as well as accurate striking by rewarding the correct placing of each shot."

Augusta Chairman Hootie Johnson has repeatedly stated that recent design changes are designed to restore a "premium on accuracy." His emphasis on rewarding the straightest path from tee to green differs from Jones' "correct placing of shots," which implied players were allowed to find their route to the hole. Even with so much width, Augusta National's ability to remain a difficult but complex venue was born out of its presentation of options, not necessarily who could hit the ball consistently down the center.

"Here, we are playing all different kinds of shots," Woods said before playing in last year's Masters and experiencing much of the substantial lengthening that had taken place at Augusta. "We are playing bump-and-runs, we are playing high lobs, we are playing spinners and all different types of shots, which sometimes makes it even more difficult, because of all your different options."

After several exciting Masters, Jones believed the original design concept had been validated. During fast and firm Masters conditions, the options gave a variety of players a chance to win if they displayed intelligence, imagination and an ability to cope with back-nine theatrics.

"The finishes of the Masters tournament have almost always been dramatic and exciting," Jones wrote. "It is my conviction that this has been the case because of the make-or-break quality of the second nine. This nine, with its abundant water hazards, each creating a perilous situation, can provide excruciating torture for the front-runner trying to hang on. Yet it can yield a very low score to the player making a closing rush."

Augusta National and consulting architect Tom Fazio insist that the additions were necessary to counteract technology and the emerging wave of long-driving golfers in the collegiate ranks. Bobby Jones expressed concern for such an approach in 1960.

"I believe it is true that with modern equipment and modern players, we cannot make a golf course more difficult or more testing for the expert simply by adding length," Jones wrote. "The players of today are about as accurate with medium or long irons as with their pitching clubs. The only way to stir them up is by the introduction of subtleties around the greens.

"We are quite willing to have low scores made during the tournament. It is not our intention to rig the golf course so as to make it tricky. It is our feeling that there is something wrong with a golf course which will not yield a score in the 60s to a player who has played well enough to deserve it."

During 2002's final round, only Shigeki Maruyama broke 70 on a calm day when the rain-softened course might have been vulnerable in previous years. The normally excitable Masters crowd was silenced by the succession of Sunday pars and bogies. In three Masters since the par-five 15th fairway was narrowed by a cluster of pines, the hole has yielded only four Sunday eagles. None of those eagles affected the leaderboard.

The dramatic 13th also appears to have been transformed into a less-vulnerable par-five. After yielding 10 eagles in 2001, the newly lengthened hole gave up four in 2002, with no player registering an eagle during last year's final round.

The redesign work has been justified by the assertion that yearly course changes are as much a part of club lore as green jackets and Dwight Eisenhower.

"The modifications were a little more of one here, one there," Crenshaw said. "The additions were meant to be an improvement, but they didn't necessarily mean so much to the overall 18-holes. But these last couple of years have seen huge changes. Huge changes."

The extensive use of tree planting to narrow the course might be the most extreme departure from Jones' philosophy, particularly considering his desire that Augusta National reflect links-style golf.

"I don't see any need for a tree on a golf course," Jones once told journalist Alistair Cooke while the two sat on Jones' Augusta National cabin porch, looking out at the 10th hole.

Young trees have also been transplanted within the taller pines to cut down on daring recovery shots. Jones, however, stated a preference for courses that allowed "the player to retrieve his situation."

Hootie Johnson denies that a fear of low scoring has anything to do with the changes. Or does he?

"We were not concerned with the scores, we never really gave that a lot of consideration," Johnson said during his 2002 news conference. "Of course, the short club, I guess leads to the score. We just hated that time after time, [players were] pulling out sand wedge or pitching wedge to par fours."

Former chairman Clifford Roberts made his share of course changes but resisted employing rough or excessive length to control scoring.

"It has been proven to our own satisfaction, that those who patronize the Masters get more pleasure and excitement watching the great players make birdies than bogies," Roberts wrote in his autobiography. "Most assuredly, MacKenzie and Jones would have been disappointed if good scores by capable players had not been forthcoming."

Jones advocated a restricted competition ball in 1927. Might he insist on such a measure to return Augusta National to a strategic shotmaker's course, vulnerable to risk-taking by a variety of players?

"I should never care to argue for anything which would lessen the difficulty of the game, for its difficulty is its greatest charm," Jones wrote. "But when, in spite of vast improvement in the ball, in seeking to preserve the difficulty and to make scoring as hard as it was in the old days, we make the mistake of destroying the effect of skill and judgment in an important department, I cannot help protesting."

Geoff Shackelford's new book is titled "Grounds for Golf: The History and Fundamentals of Golf Course Design," (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Press). He co-designed Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark with architect Gil Hanse.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


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Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2003, 08:28:21 PM »
Once again, Tommy, thank you once again!!! :)

That is fantastic to read, I think I'll have to print both this thread and the thread about Crenshaw and keep them on file because they are just so important.  

Geoff and Ben do such a fantastic job putting together the words that need to be said.  
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
We make a living by what we get...we make a life by what we give.


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Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2003, 05:33:27 AM »
Fantastic article.

And, I think it's great that the Los Angeles Times is willing to run such an article. I mean, in how many daily newspapers can we find detailed and intelligent writings on golf architecture? Not many to my acquaintance, even during Masters, US Open or British Open weeks.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Tim Taylor

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Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2003, 06:24:29 AM »
Wow. When I saw LA Times in the subject, my immediate thought was "this cannot have anything to do with architecture".

What a well thought, reasoned article. I think I'll buy Geoff's book.

ANGC is probably the only course in the world about which such an article stands a chance of being published in the LA Times.

« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2003, 06:27:29 AM »
Great Piece Geoff!

I must admit that until the last paragraph about Jones' mentioning of the "restricted ball" I felt Geoff was contradicting  his campaign for a Competition ball. Going low wasn't a problem, it was encouraged and was what made it so exciting.

That last paragraph seems like it is out of context. Is it?
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Mike Hendren

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Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2003, 09:00:26 AM »
Thank you Tommy.  This is very well written and I find little to disagree with, excepting the premise that the golf course was to blame for the lack of drama and majesty.  Should not Vijay, Phil, Ernie and Retief bear part of the blame?


« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Two Corinthians walk into a bar ....


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Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2003, 09:46:46 AM »
Thanks Tommy and  happy Masters Week!!
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2003, 10:27:02 AM »
No need to thank me guys, thank the guy who wrote it all. All's I did was hi-light, copy and paste!:)
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


Re: Where Risk No Longer Is Rewarding-Shac in LA T
« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2003, 10:31:44 AM »

Should not Vijay, Phil, Ernie and Retief bear part of the blame?
Before the shot clock, UNC Chapel Hill used to be able to get a little lead and play the four corners to perfection--  Be patient, pull the ball out to expand the court, rely on superior individual skills, and wait for your opponent to over commit or otherwise make mistakes.  

Now, was the four corners successful because UNC's opponents were all fat, lazy, of weak character, or natural born chokers?  Or did the four corners put the opponents into an impossible position where the poor souls had to take chances that most often resulted in easy UNC baskets?

As you have probably guessed, my take last year's last round is a little different than most here.  I saw a bunch of great golfers pressing too hard on a course that might no longer reward aggressive, pressing play.  Ernie Els hitting a driver instead of a three wood, against his better judgment?  Choke, or aggressive play on a course that now appears to favor conservative play?  Mickelson going repeatedly going long by trying to hit everything close? Choke or aggressive play?  Retief going . . . forget it, Retief choked.  

Maybe I am being to optimistic and all these guys withered to raisins in the hot sun. This is definitely a supportable argument.  But, could it be that the changes at Augusta have upset the delicate risk-reward equilibrium enough that aggressive play down the stretch now has a much greater chance of appearing as just another modern day choke?  
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


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