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Behind the architectural curtain - 2018 Masters

22 March, 2018

2018 Masters - Augusta National Golf Club

Behind the architectural curtain

by M. James Ward

After a long 8-month wait since the PGA Championship crowned Justin Thomas the winner, the first major championship for 2018 is set to begin with this year's Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

To get insights on what makes the event and course so fascinating, interviews were conducted with architects from different parts of the globe. The comments provided shed much light on the various design elements brought to the course and what each of the respective participants feels is needed for The Masters and for golf in general.

Would Alister MacKenzie be pleased or not pleased on how his original design has been changed over the years?

Jonathan Gaunt: I think MacKenzie would feel the Augusta National course today shows too much "control" over nature, he'd find it over-maintained and be displeased by the extreme green-ness of the site, being overwatered and over-fertilized. The changes to design features -- with greens shaping softened to cater for the change of grass species from slower Bermuda grass to faster bent grass. The bunker shapes altered throughout, to a pristine, sharp-edged, highly manicured style all make for a great and fun tournament to watch. However, MacKenzie courses such as Crystal Downs, which has retained its natural look, are closer to his style and vision. I consider Cavendish Golf Club in Derbyshire to be his most authentic remaining design anywhere in the world.

Jeff Brauer : I think so. Good architects always tinker with their designs. I doubt he would believe they should be static. He wrote about elasticity, so he wouldn’t be surprised that length was added, but might be amazed by how much. Given the USGA Green Section was founded in 1920, he would be a proponent of better maintenance.

David Krause: I believe Dr. MacKenzie would be most happy with his golf course. The changes made over the year have been implemented to continue to challenge the best players today and were necessary due to the improvement of equipment and the players themselves. Without the lengthening and improvements, the golf course may have lost its allure to the players and the patrons alike. And I am most certain he would be amazed at the condition of the golf course today!

Brian Schneider : Dr. MacKenzie should be proud of its place in the game, though I’m sure he may not agree with the ways the course has changed. MacKenzie and Jones sought to create an ideal course that could provide a fun, challenging and cerebral test for the best players in the world while also accommodating every class of player. Today’s course doesn’t accomplish that as well as the original version.

Agustin Pizá: I don’t know about pleased but I don’t think he’d mind. He was a very progressive man. If he had lived a longer life he would’ve most likely foreseen golf as we live it today. All great minds adapt to change and he would’ve not been the exception.

Given what has happened is it still legitimate to say Augusta National remains an Alister MacKenzie layout ?

David Krause: Of course! The changes over the years have retained the spirit and excitement that MacKenzie and Jones were striving for. The chance to attend the Masters last year has convinced me they would both be very pleased indeed with the need for very "soft" hands around the greens. The number of pitch and run shots I witnessed there was for me the highlight of the experience.

Agustin Pizá: I think it’s the correct thing to hold on to history. History is what gives Augusta National its backbone and its soul. The only reason why we are discussing this is because of technology in clubs and balls and what the golf athletes started to do with it in the beginning of this century. If you keep Augusta National a pure members course like Cypress Point, the need for more distance and/or more space for TV, fans and bleachers would have been irrelevant thus preserving the architect's full intent.

Brian Schneider: I believe that’s fair, as MacKenzie’s routing for Augusta National remains largely intact. And while every green on the course has been rebuilt over the years, he deserves credit for those that continue to reflect his original ideas. However, the unique design concept, that made vintage Augusta National unlike any other course on earth, has undoubtedly been compromised by the extent to which trees and rough now influence play.

Jonathan Gaunt: It's a good question -- no. Augusta National has been modified by so many different golf architects that it bears very limited resemblance to the original MacKenzie masterpiece. Hole alignments have been changed, tees moved back, greens have been remodeled and some totally moved and rebuilt. Numerous bunkers have been filled in, removed, added and water features have changed to suit the Masters tournament, too. The holes generally are in approximately similar locations, but the course today actually plays backwards from the way MacKenzie had originally designed in his routing..

Jeff Brauer: Yes. The routing is the same. I would never remove the original designer credit unless there was a total blow up and new routing.

When is it appropriate for a club to change the original intent of an architect who first created the course ?

Agustin Pizá: Whenever they want. I refuse to believe any club would like to alter a masterpiece by Alister MacKenzie. It’s the business side of our industry that obligates the club to do it. It will never be easy to accept the lack of moral responsibility from the USGA and R&A who both succumbed to big enterprises and their business instead of protecting the integrity of the sport and its heritage of historic golf courses.

Jeff Brauer : Times change. Courses change roles (like private to public). Costs rise and regulations become more restrictive. Most courses have to live in the here and now, and change is often a very practical necessity. A course would have to approach National Landmark status to fully endorse keeping it truly in its original state.

Jonathan Gaunt: No golf architect has a right to expect his design will be retained as first built -- a new golf course is a dynamic thing and, in this respect, as the course is played more often, certain demands are made of it by the golfers. There are always improvements as the course matures. It would be great if every golf course owner asked the original architect to continue to advise on design matters and make improvements and provide a better experience for member and visitors alike. If I had my own way, the original architect should always be given the opportunity to provide new advice -- even 20 years down the line.

Brian Schneider : Great golf courses are works of art with tremendous architectural value; the best clubs respect that fact and will act as responsible stewards of their property. Nonetheless, golf courses and the game itself are constantly evolving. When considering any change, club officials and golf course architects need to understand the significance of the course’s architectural heritage and the value of what may be lost.

David Krause: When there is a need for it. Any renovation work should be done for a reason. Often, changes are made to a golf course due to conditions -- poor drainage or air circulation, limited light, etc. However, when there is a need to change the strategic set up of a golf course because its playability requires it, then it is also justified. I doubt if there is a single course in the Top 100 that has not had some alterations made to it over the years. It is a part of being a golf course, a living thing.

There's been much discussion -- especially in architectural circles -- that something should be done on the increasing yardage new golf balls provide. The USGA and R&A brought forward a recent joint statement of concern on the subject. If you were counseling Augusta National would you advise them to adopt a "Masters golf ball" for the competition since it's highly unlikely any of the participants would balk at playing given the stature of the event?

Brian Schneider: I’d certainly welcome a change in the way the game is played by today’s professionals, and Augusta National is in a unique position of influence. However, I’d prefer that equipment regulation happen universally through action by the R&A and USGA rather than unilaterally, and for just one week each year.

Jeff Brauer: Barring big new gains in distance, I am against the tournament ball for now. The players and galleries prefer the best equipment and long tee shots. 75% of the next 24 majors will be contested on courses that also hosted them in the 1920's. Most retain their general character, adding length at the tee ends only. And, if any course can afford change, it’s Augusta.

David Krause: Absolutely. I was able to spend quite a lot of time with Robert Trent Jones Senior during his week-long visits to Valderrama back in the 1980s. Length of the tee was a favorite discussion topic of his with the owner of the course, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño. Both were convinced that the Masters was the event where a reduced distance ball could be used. Augusta National had the authority necessary and could set an example for the world of golf. That situation has not changed.

Agustin Pizá: I think the damage is done, although the course is still perfect and beautiful, it has a different approach and appeal from its original intent. Protecting this now with the special masters ball is like asking them not to hit the driver off the tee please. Moreover I would like to see a confirming masters ball because it could bring the finesse player back in the game. One of the things that I mostly disagree on the distances is that the Masters has become a power game And much of the finesse players don’t stand a chance.

Jonathan Gaunt: The joint statement issued by the R&A and USGA is a positive move. I'd not recommend a special golf ball be played at The Masters, as the course continues to provide a challenge year to year, for all players. I'm not an advocate of extending future tournament courses to +8,000 yards, as been suggested by some. What I would do, though, at Augusta National, is play all holes between 251 and 474 yards as par-4's and all holes 475 and upwards to be played as par-5's rather than mixing them up as they do at The Masters.

Most compelling and least compelling hole architecturally at Augusta National?

David Krause: I fell in love with the 3rd hole during the Masters. I watched the best players in the world attack the hole with drivers and were left with a pitch to the green, others carefully lay up with 4 irons, to allow for a full wedge and the spin that acompanies it. Yet all were challenged by this 350 yard hole and its great green and surrounds. Least compelling for me is number 17. Bit of a let down after the previous string of holes, but it is a tough act to follow.

Agustin Pizá: Number 11 before adding major distance and number 11 after adding major distance.

Jonathan Gaunt: The 12th is always most compelling - has been a card wrecker so many times. It's a great par-3 and you can't believe how small the green is until you stand on it. Plus. the swirling wind in that corner of the club can range dramatically. The 8th is a dull, blind, thrash uphill. Lacking in strategy and a bit of hybrid hole that's been modified many times, but never to great effect. It certainly fails in MacKenzie's principles of golf design.

Jeff Brauer: 12 and 13 are the best topographical fit holes, by far. I once met MacKenzie great nephew, who said family lore (for whatever that is worth) was that Mac disliked the routing, believing that using the existing clubhouse location forced him into some bad holes. 17 and 14 are certainly awkward uphill holes.

Brian Schneider: The great 13th would be my first answer, I’m also partial to the bunkerless 14th. The green complex is perhaps the most compelling on the course, with a variety of fascinating hole locations that encourage both thoughtful positioning and controlled ball flight. In combination with the reverse-camber tilt to the dogleg, it gives the player a lot to consider. My vote for the least architecturally compelling is the 18th. The tee shot is uncomfortably narrow with little room or need for decision-making, and the blandly two-tiered putting surface can be found on any course in Georgia.

If you were brought on board as architectural consultant by new Masters Chairman Fred Ridley, what would you advise him to do with the event and course?

Agustin Pizá: Make a special documentary of Augusta National on television and share with golf fans everywhere why Augusta is in pristine shape year in and year out. How much time you close the course to prepare, what’s your yearly budget and your maintenance staff and equipment. This is what I would propose because 50 million people who watch the Masters all over the world go back to their clubs and question their superintendent why their course doesn’t look like Augusta National.

Brian Schneider: I’d be hard pressed to name a national sporting event better run than The Masters. Selfishly, because I’d love to study and play the original Augusta National, largely devoid of trees and rough and with MacKenzie’s original greens intact, I’d encourage a thorough restoration. I’d then ask him to lobby tirelessly for equipment regulation.

Jeff Brauer: Change the fairway grading on 7 and 14 to eliminate the blind landing zones, and restore the old mound configuration in front of the 14 th green, which was more elegant than the current configuration. I wouldn’t profess to have any knowledge on how to run the Masters.

David Krause: I would not want to change a thing with the event itself. It is a masterpiece, how patrons are greeted, informed and cared for when there. I would like to see the elimination of the second cut developed in 1999. I understand the reason, but the golf course was truly unique in the past with its single height of cut, allowing the player to choose his line. I thought this presentation was magnificent.

Jonathan Gaunt: I'd suggest he read MacKenzie's 13 principles of golf course design and look carefully at how Augusta National measures up. I'd suggest re-introducing some of the original MacKenzie bunker design features -- still found at Cavendish, for example -- but that they be re-positioned correctly, in relation to hole strategy and challenge. I'd recommend refraining from manicuring every single millimeter and allow some natural characteristics to re-establish. If Mr. Ridley's not interested in appointing me -- I'd suggest they hire Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.

Yes or no -- should golf move to bifurcation in terms of the rules -- especially relating to equipment advancements?

Jonathan Gaunt: No.

Agustin Pizá: No. Part of the beauty of golf is trying to test yourself against your favorite player. Golf is the only professional sport that you can actually play on the course that your favorite player played and measure yourself up as an amateur. Equipment advances should be stopped for all unless we’re talking about tennis shoes, apparel or golf carts.

David Krause: Yes. I would suggest that a professional limited distance ball be developed and used by Tour players. Even without rule changes, there already is a clear distinction between the amateur and elite player. Tracking equipment, fitting labs and the like may be available to the public to a certain extent, but practically speaking they are not and the professional game has developed in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, leaving the amateur game far behind. It's time to make a change and Augusta National is exactly the place to make that first all important step.

Brian Schneider: No, because I believe it’s unnecessary. Equipment should be dialed back for all skill levels so everyone can go back to the tees they were playing thirty years ago. This would minimize the desecration of countless classic designs while encouraging smaller courses that are more easily walked, less expensive to manage and more fun to play- and play quickly!

Jeff Brauer: No. Personally, I would bifurcate courses, not the ball. Designate and then design/re-design 100 or so courses for US tournaments. Forget the 7,200-yard plus tees for most other courses, perhaps shortening most to fit average golfers. Paraphrasing Churchill, “Never has so much length been built for so few.” We need “major league” and “little league” size courses, not one size fits all.

The participating architects

Jeff Brauer – Began his career in golf architecture in 1977, and formed his own design firm in Arlington, TX, 1984. Since then, he has designed 60 new courses, across the US and in Asia, and renovated a similar number. He’s a member and past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Jonathan Gaunt – Senior Member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA), with more than 30 years’ golf design experience. Has built over 40 new golf courses across Europe, North Africa and North America. He has also advised on more than a dozen MacKenzie-designed courses in UK including Cavendish GC, where he is a member. Firm located in Derbyshire, England.

David Krause – Has been active in golf design since 1986 when he began his career with Robert Trent Jones Senior at the Valderrama Golf Club. After 5 very intense years, worked along with Seve Ballesteros developing the Championship course at Pont Royal in the south of France. Krause Golf Design was established in Hamburg in 1993 and has since designed or renovated 12 of Germany's Top 50 golf courses including the highly rated Winston Links and Winston Open, host of the Senior European Tour. Past President, European

Institute of Golf Course Architects.

Agustin Pizá – Creative Director at Pizá Golf with a masters degree in GCA from the University of Edinburgh. Senior Member of the EIGCA. 20 years experience working with industry greats like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Fazio and Robert von Hagge. His design in Huatulco, Las Parotas has been highly praised for environmental, strategic and aesthetic design. Known as “The voice of golf in Mexico” for his TV shows on Azteca TV and Golf Channel Latin America.

Brian Schneider – Senior Design Associate, Renaissance Golf Design, Inc. Joined Renaissance Golf Design as a Design Associate with 2002 and has served as Lead Design Associate on acclaimed projects such as Barnbougle Dunes and the Red Course at Dismal River, among others. Also focuses on restoration of classic golf courses in the U.S. and abroad. Previously involved in the maintenance of numerous notable courses, including Pine Valley, Shinnecock Hills, Merion, Riviera, The Old Course at St. Andrews and Augusta National.


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