2005: Augusta keeps on growing

Lemont, Ill.

Augusta National Golf Club, already one of the longest courses in major championship history, is getting longer – and PGA Tour players didn’t exactly do cartwheels upon hearing the news. Changes in the works for the 2006 Masters will lengthen the course 155 yards, to 7,445.

Most notably, the par-3 fourth tee will go back 30-35 yards, increasing the yardage to about 240; the seventh will add 35-40 yards to about 450; the par-4 11th will grow 10-15 yards to 505 (Augusta’s first 500-plus-yard par 4); and the par-5 15th will increase 25-30 yards to about 530. Nos. 1 and 17 also will be lengthened.

“Our objective is to maintain the integrity and shot values of the golf course as envisioned by Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie,” club and tournament chairman Hootie Johnson said. “Players’ scores are not a factor. We will keep the golf course current with the times.”

The Masters has been keen about keeping up with club-ball technology that has increased players’ distances off the tee and in effect shortened courses. For example, Tiger Woods, who won his fourth green jacket in April, hit a sand wedge into the first hole during the final round this year. So, in reaction, No. 1 will increase 15-20 yards to about 455.

Several players said that lengthening the course enhances the chances of long hitters such as Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson – each of whom has won the Masters this decade.

“All they’re trying to do is have the guy who hits it long win every year,” said Mark Hensby, who finished fifth in his first Masters this spring. “It sounds like they’re trying to eliminate three-quarters of the field. And they’re doing a good job of it.”

Though he stands to benefit, Woods didn’t endorse the lengthening.

“They’re trying to get us to play like it used to play . . .” Woods said. “But they fail to realize the greens are running at 12 (on the Stimpmeter) now. They used to run at, what, 7 and 8? We used to see all the old footage of guys making shoulder turns on 4-footers.

“I don’t quite understand it because we haven’t had a dry week since they changed it in 2002. We went into this year’s Masters thinking over par could win, and it rained. It softened the course up and only a handful of guys were under par. It wasn’t like three-quarters of the field was under par. I don’t agree with it, but we’ve all got to play it.”

Bob Tway, the 1986 PGA Championship winner, also expressed concern.

“The green on the fourth hole was very difficult to hit with a 4- or 5-iron at 200 yards,” Tway said. “I can’t imagine hitting a 3-wood to that green, holy smoke. And No. 7 was the tightest hole in golf already. I think the Masters is the most exciting golf tournament of the year. I’d hate for them to do too much.”

“The only thing I worry about is you leave some tees (up) there just in case you get bad weather – if it’s blowing 30 mph and it’s wet,” British Open champion Todd Hamilton said.

Said Duffy Waldorf: “I’m not a big fan of adding length to make it hard. If you look at scoring on the PGA Tour, the hardest courses are the shortest ones. It’s harder when you make a golf pro think and give him more than one option. I don’t see how this can’t help the long hitters. If you add length and don’t make fairways narrower or add rough, it just helps long hitters.”

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