2004: The Masters - First major gets minor change: Tighter 11th

Augusta, Ga.

The holes at Augusta National Golf Club are getting tighter. Having added 365 yards to the course in the previous five years and reshaped landing areas to soften the forward kick of drives, the gentlemen in green jackets have decided for this year’s Masters to tighten the par-4 11th hole. The change appears minor but is important because it’s part of a larger trend to squeeze landing areas with trees and rough.

For 2004, the sole change to the golf course as far as play is concerned is the addition of 36 pine trees along the right side of the landing area of the 490-yard 11th. The result is a narrowed zone for tee shots. In 2002, the tee was pushed back 35 yards so that players from the back tee launched their drives through a narrow chute of trees. Now they have even less room to work the ball, effectively making the ideal shot a light fade.

This season’s renovations are modest compared with the major changes in 2002, when eight holes were lengthened, rebunkered and partially recontoured. Given the drastic scale of changes to Augusta National in recent years, it’s as if club officials want to give the much-altered layout time to show off its newfound character.

That character now differs markedly from the one intended by the original design team of Alister Mackenzie and Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones when the course opened in 1933. The early idea was to create an inland version of strategic golf, with wide berth given to tee shots and multiple angles into the enormous, heavily contoured greens. By design, nearly half the holes incorporated elements of the Old Course at St. Andrews, primarily in terms of putting contours. There were precious few bunkers (only half of the current 44). The emphasis was on diverse lanes of play.

That has all changed, not as much by lengthening the course as by other alterations along the way. The conifers have grown, thereby narrowing corridors of play. In the last decade, many of the holes have had their landing areas further narrowed by secondary tree plantings, and the latest is No. 11. The thinking appears to be that by narrowing the space for tee shots, players will have to rely upon more accuracy; and if they want to work the ball around doglegs or target specific positions in the fairways, they will have to play fairway metals and long irons off the tee.

Trees aren’t the only things Augusta has used to narrow three-dimensional playing areas. Rough – what the club calls “second cut” – also has been added, starting in 1999. At 13⁄8-inches, the ryegrass works like rough to make it tougher to spin the ball onto the notoriously slick, well-sloped greens.

This is the club’s version of countering technological advances in equipment. Along the way, much of the design uniqueness of Augusta National has been abandoned. What started as a course heavily influenced by classic, horizontal ground game values now has been turned into a paradigm of a narrow, tree-lined golf course that rewards vertical golf.

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