Apr 13, 2014; Augusta, GA, USA; A general view of azaleas in bloom in front of Butler Cabin during the final round of the 2014 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Golf Course: Augusta National

So the 2014 edition of The Masters is in the books and Bubba Watson won a second green jacket with a 3 stroke victory. Augusta National is among a handful of courses in the discussion as the “best”, certainly in America but also the world. Much of this stems from The Masters and the mystique and history surrounding the club; but no golf course hauls in the accolades that ANGC lays claim to without having something special on the course. The course plays to a yardage of 7435 and a par 0f 72.

You can see the explanation of the criteria for GtGC here.

Setting (14) – Augusta National is located on the of the greatest properties of any golf course in the world. While the slopes and elevation are muted on television, the hills are extreme and are the foundation of the routing. Elevation, often, is a double edged sword in golf course design. When used properly, it can create drama and add to the necessity of course management. When used too loosely, it can often make things unfair and gimmicky. Augusta National possess the kinds of slopes that allow the 15 plus designers who have messed with it to make the wonder that sits there today. Aside from the terrain, the serenity and natural wonder of the azaleas and massive oak trees makes it one of the most beautiful places in golf.

Test of Golf (10) – This one might ruffle some feathers. Augusta is clearly a difficult course, and it’s beaten up many of the worlds best for over 75 years. But as Golf Club Atlas notes, it’s not the test that was intended when it was built, nor has it stood up to the advances in technology. Golf Club Atlas notes that Mackenzie had originally intended for the ground game to be an integral part of Augusta National. Founder and Co-Owner Cliff Roberts was given virtually free reign to tweak at will after Dr. Mackenzie passed away, and he envisioned and created an aerial heavy course. When you don’t have to use the ground to make shots, a course can start to be overpowered as we’ve seen with the “Tiger-proofing” that was done after his record breaking early performances, and just last week with Bubba Watson playing a sand wedge into a Par 5. The course played from 6800-7000 yards for 60 years, and in an attempt to protect par and the good name of Augusta National, it was lengthened in 2005 to the current 7435 yards it is today. This is a problem because instead of making the course harder, they’ve just made it more penal by shrinking fairways and stretching tee boxes.

Design (16) – Alister Mackenzie, as I noted before, intended for the ground game and proper trajectory to be a huge part of the Augusta experience. Mackenzie also liked to employ natural bunker shaping and other minimalist features to blend the course with the surrounds. Augusta National, today, has become a bastion of cold and calculated bunker shaping. The carefully carved and symmetrical traps feel forced and make for an aesthetically inferior television product. And while I rather like the white sand, as I feel it frames the hole on such an emerald green course, some professional architects do not agree. The changes at Augusta have, in general been for the worse. Squeezing tee shot landing areas and speeding up the greens on aerial course just serve to punish shots that shouldn’t be punished. As we’ll see at Pinehurst this June and Chambers Bay next year, wide fairways and proper bunkering make for a “choose your own adventure” type of golf course. The style that Augusta currently employs merely directs you on the proper path to the hole and dares you not to miss. If Augusta (in it’s current form) is akin to watching a classroom lecture, Pinehurst is a full fledged internship. Augusta is still one of the gems of golf design, if for nothing else due to the routing and the drama present in every shot. And it’s bentgrass greens and bermuda fairways are the finest you can find anywhere in the world.

Bonus (0) – Augusta National is on a near perfect site and it once had a near perfect course. While it’s still quite an impressive track, I’d be more inclined to take away points than give them, seeing as they’ve voluntarily altered Alister Mackenzie’s “greatest design”.

40/50 – I don’t want to be mistaken, Augusta National Golf Club is one of the greatest courses in America. If we were grading the entire site and the history that’s happened on it’s grounds, it would be nearly a perfect 50. Even in it’s current form, the design is still far better than most anything that was produced after it opened and up until around 2000 when the new wave of architects grabbed the torch. But every year, I can’t help but feel cheated by the changes, and by the stubbornness of Cliff Roberts. If you’re interested in the history of Augusta National, golfcoursehistories.com has a great interactive image of the changes between 1938 and 2013, which really highlights the cold nature of the bunkering and how much wider the fairways once were.

Tags: Augusta National Augusta National Golf Club Golf Golf Course Architecture

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