The 2012 Masters is almost upon us. The Augusta National Golf Club has furiously fought through many changes in recent years in an attempt to keep up with the modern game and the technology wars of the clubs the players wield and the golf ball and the obscene distances it is now traveling. We are now seeing a varied assortment of winners of golf's first major based on these alterations to how the game is now played.
When I grew up watching The Masters you could count on Watson, Nicklaus, Seve, Faldo and a number of other seasoned shot makers stepping into the spotlight and contending for the green jacket come Sunday afternoon. In recent years there has been an alarming changing of the guard at Augusta where some lesser lights, although fine players, have contended for and become a part of Augusta history by becoming Masters Champion.
We all know Augusta's beauty and we can all perfectly envision every hole whether we have been there or not thanks to the magic of television. Having played the Masters event back in 1998 before the drastic equipment changes and before the course was lengthened I thought I may add some of my thoughts about how unfortunate this turn of events has become in my eyes.
When the great Bobby Jones and Dr. Alistair MacKenzie designed the Augusta National layout they set out to build a course that was fair yet demanding. They opted for a larger fairway area to place the tee shot in than many courses, but they designed greens and pin positions that requested the golfer to play their approach shots from the correct area of the fairway to be able to receive the best access route into the hole for an easier putt.
The green complexes on holes such as 10 and 11 are long greens with a narrow width , with the sole purpose of accepting a long iron approach that can feed into the flag placement if brought in on the correct trajectory. The 12th green is an entirely different proposition being narrow in depth yet wide in width. A masterpiece of a hole designed to be struck precisely with a 6 or 7 iron through circling winds with water and azaleas ready to tarnish a players scorecard if they could not execute the shot correctly. The par 5 13th and 15th holes were the classic risk reward holes were a long iron or even a fairway wood selection could gather great reward but the element of risk had to be heavily weighed into the decision making of going for the green or not in two shots.
Notice I mention the word 'trajectory'...... That was one of the ulterior motives behind the design of most if not all the holes at Augusta National.... The golfer had to have masterful control of his trajectory to approach greens and get to pin positions. Any deviation would spell disaster.
In recent years even with the advent of close to 700 yards being added to the overall yardage of the course the professional armed with drivers and balls that travel 350 yards have rendered the layout futile in it's defense. The professionals are now lofting 8 and 9 irons into holes that were designed with the original intent of accepting 5 or 6 iron approaches that repelled unacceptable shots into 3 putt range or down slopes into difficult recovery situations.
The course has lost it's fire, lost it's ability to reward only the finest struck approach shots. The entire purpose of The Masters was to be exacting and test the player to hit his finest shot from the required area and now the leader board more often than not looks like a regular tour event with a lot more players in the mix- especially the one who can bomb it from the tee and have short iron approaches into the par 5 and par 4 holes.
The Masters is still filled with mystique and excitement but I believe it has certainly lost some of it's luster through no fault of it's own.
I will still be watching as it is one of sport's truly great spectacles, however i do view it through different eyes now especially after playing the event in 1998 and knowing what clubs players were hitting into the greens then as opposed to now and the mental demands and precision it required on every shot.
A true test of a golf course is to be able to have the player hit every club in his bag. It should consist of short, medium and long holes that require an array of long iron approaches, mid iron approaches and short iron approaches. Technology has literally taken the long iron from the players hands and altered the game into a direction that was never intended by Jones or MacKenzie.
With all that being said....maybe 2012 is the year Australia can break it's Augusta duck... Good luck to all and enjoy watching