2005: Why lengthen Augusta?

Confucius once said that only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. For the sake of argument, let’s rank the men at Augusta National, caretakers of the esteemed Masters Tournament, somewhere in the middle, and pose a question that needs asking: Did Augusta National really need lengthening?

To their credit, the powers running the Masters have done a nice job staying ahead of the curve that is modern technology. Anyone who watched Tiger Woods hit a wedge to the first hole at this year’s Masters, or nearly drive the 380-yard 10th at Cog Hill on Sunday, realizes today’s golf ball travels a long way.

Woods captured his fourth Masters title in a playoff against Chris DiMarco after both players finished 72 holes at 12-under 272. The next closest competitor was 5 under. This year’s course played to a scoring average of 73.987. And this is a layout that hasn’t been dry for the Masters since significant lengthening in 2002.

Woods and Jack Nicklaus each questioned the need to stretch Augusta to 7,445 yards. Earlier this season, Davis Love III said, “Tigerproofing (Augusta) was the biggest joke. Make it 8,000 yards. He’ll just win more of ’em.”

He’s probably right. We can only hope these latest changes aren’t over the top – or the only record in danger next spring might be Billy Casper’s.

Two steps forward, one back

On June 28, the U.S. Golf Association announced nominations for its 2006 Executive Committee. The nominations include three new members touted as “individuals from diverse backgrounds (who) possess a wide range of skills.”

William M. Lewis Jr. becomes the third African-American to serve on the Executive Committee in its 111-year history. A Harvard University and Harvard Business School graduate, Lewis is co-chairman of investment banking at Lazard Ltd. in New York.

Pat McKinney of Charleston, S.C., is a wealthy real estate developer, credited with creating the allure of the Kiawah Island community.

Steve Smyers, a Lakeland, Fla.-based golf course architect (he designed Old Memorial in Tampa, where USGA president Fred Ridley is a member), is an Executive Committee anomaly in that he’s neither a lawyer, financier nor business tycoon.

To its credit, the USGA addresses critics with the addition of Lewis, McKinney and Smyers. Lewis adds racial diversity; McKinney and Smyers bring golf business expertise to a committee that’s frequently bashed for being insensitive to (or ignorant of) the effects its decisions have on the industry at large.

Where the Nominating Committee failed, however, is in those whom it voted “off the island.” The three “retiring” members – Paul Caruso of Helena, Mont., Mary Bea Porter-King of Kapaa, Hawaii, and Bruce Richards of Bellevue, Wash. – leave the balance of power tipped decidedly to the east. That fuels the long-held perception that all shots in the USGA ultimately are called by elitists from the East Coast.

Try as it might, under its antiquated system of governance, the USGA just can’t win.

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