With the year’s first men’s major just a week away (this week’s ANA Inspiration on the LPGA Tour is also a major) it’s hard not to get caught up in the hype that surrounds the event every year.
But if I’m brutally honest, I have mixed feelings about Augusta National, the host club, and by extension, the tournament itself.
On the plus side, the Augusta National course usually throws up the most exciting tournament of the year.
Originally laid out by club co-founder Bobby Jones and the great designer Dr Alister MacKenzie, the course is an architectural gem.
And while there have been major changes over the years to both the layout and the setup (most of which would be unlikely to meet with the approval of either Jones or MacKenzie) Augusta and the Masters continues to deliver thrill a minute Sunday afternoon golf.
The wide fairways and large, undulating greens allow the players the freedom to be aggressive while at the same time demanding precise execution if they are to be rewarded.
At this level, that’s a recipe for excitement.
But there are down sides to Augusta’s popularity, too. Chief among them is the course presentation, which is perfect. And that’s the problem.
Every April golf fans around the world see the pristine conditioning at Augusta National and assume presentation is a major contributing factor to a ‘good’ golf course. It isn’t.
If Augusta had fairways equal in quality to the local council course and greens running five feet slower on the dreaded ‘stimpmeter’ it would still be one of the world’s best.
Condition complements, but does not add, to the quality and architectural merit of a golf course.
Augusta is also a poster child for exclusion. Becoming a member is notoriously difficult (asking to join is said to be a guarantee of being knocked back) and it was only six years ago they admitted their first women members.
Being in America’s deep south the club also has a chequered past with race relations.
Ron Townsend was the first African-American admitted as a member and that only happened in 1990 amidst an international controversy involving Alabama’s Shoal Creek club.
For all of that, though, Augusta National undoubtedly moved forward under the stewardship of recently departed chairman Billy Payne.
The innovative thinking behind the introduction of the ‘Drive Chip and Putt’ competition and Asia Pacific and Latin America Amateur Championships are major feathers in the club’s cap.
Payne also guided the tournament and its coverage into the digital age and while not hasty to adopt new technologies they have chosen upgrades wisely (the Masters App is one of the best of any tournament, as is their online coverage at Masters.com.)
This year will also see ‘shot tracer’ technology introduced at five holes, another welcome and overdue addition.
All of which has me, once again, eagerly awaiting the first round next Friday morning Australian time regardless of some of those nagging misgivings.
Because once the gun goes off at Augusta, everything else is secondary and it is ALL about the golf.
PETER MANZIE - BETTER BALL COMPRESSION WITH IRONS:
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