Green with envy? Don’t be. Augusta is unique

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

One of sport’s most powerful rituals unfolds again next week with the Masters. And for all of the privileged thousands of spectators who will congregate at Augusta National Golf Club in hushed awe at the beauty of the place, many millions more will watch at home, wishing they were there, and wishing as well that their own home course could look as lovely and as flawless.

The television networks airing this golf spectacle would do the whole game a valuable service if they periodically scrolled a disclaimer that the image you were watching takes place under highly unusual circumstances and is not to be attempted at home. It would be golf’s equivalent to the warning on car ads showing autos racing along the California coast or undertaking trick maneuvers.

It’s not a criticism of the folks who showcase Augusta National in glorious theatrical shape that the playing surface they provide should not be a model for the game. What superintendents rue each spring as “the Augusta National syndrome” is the mistaken view that dense, lush green turf, hand-raked flash-white sand bunkers and a blooming garden of color-coded perennials is the norm for the game.

“Why can’t our golf course look like that?” asks the starry-eyed green chairman. The answer is that most courses don’t have the many millions of budget dollars on hand that Augusta National presumably has – though the exact figure is not known. Most courses don’t have the equipment arsenal and the hundred-plus volunteers on crew for the week. Nor are they closed six months of the year to heal and continually tweak the grounds, to improve airflow and to upgrade drainage. It also must be noted that the surface on which the Masters is contested is an overseeded bed of turfgrass that annually replaces its native Bermudagrass. Augusta National might be the only golf course in the country where members don’t play a single round on the indigenous turf.

Luckily, the game is big enough to accommodate lots of diverse playing styles and many different course set-ups. The attempt to emulate the Augusta National look elsewhere is likely to lead to excessive costs, undue expectations, stressed turfgrass and overworked staff. And it’s not going to be sustainable for more than a few days. In fact, pursuing it at all probably is a mistake. Thus the need for viewers to be forewarned. The beauty you see on the screen is real. It’s just doesn’t travel well to your home course.

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