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Page last updated at 05:23 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 06:23 UK

Taming technology the Augusta way

By Jamie Lillywhite


THE MASTERS
Venue: Augusta Dates: 10-13 April Coverage: Watch on BBC ONE, BBC TWO, BBCi and BBC Sport website (UK only); listen on BBC Radio 5 Live; highlights on BBC iPlayer for seven days

Augusta National
The beautiful colonial clubhouse at the Augusta National Golf Club

The mysterious powers that be at Augusta have never been afraid of changes to their hallowed turf.

Virtually every year since the vision of Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts and course designer Dr Alister Mackenzie came to fruition at the site of the former Fruitlands Nursery in the 1930s, minor tweaks have been made.

As everyone knows, Augusta National is a remarkable place where magical transformations appear with not the slightest evidence left of the upheaval that has just taken place.

Fifty foot pine trees are shipped in to close up escape routes on fairways, blue dye is added to further enhance the lakes and, where necessary, extra land is cultivated.

The club has a maximum of 300 members and it is estimated that the average member spends only around six days per year at the course, which is only open from October to May.

But what has attracted most attention in recent years has been the decision to gradually lengthen the famous lay-out.

When Nick Faldo won the second of his green jackets in 1990, the course measured a total of 6,905 yards.

Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods
Woods' first title in 1997 led to major changes at Augusta

In the next 15 years that had grown to 7,445, the equivalent of adding an extra regulation par-five hole.

So, in effect, the course had become five shots more difficult, yet the par remained 72.

Faldo and a host of the more seasoned campaigners complained that the length of certain holes made it impossible for average hitters to compete at the Masters.

But advancements in club and ball technology made the Augusta brains trust wary, and when a certain Tiger Woods won by a record margin of 12 strokes in his first professional appearance at the Masters in 1997, they vowed that significant steps had to be taken.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Jamie Lillywhite

Only the short par-four third - which actually measures 10 yards less than it did in 1990 - and the three shortest par threes the sixth, 12th and 16th have not been changed.

Whether by design or a quirk of fate, the extra 540 yards have been divided completely equally between the two nines, 270 added to each.

The opening drive was a daunting enough prospect for many a player, but the first hole has been lengthened by 55 yards in recent years to take on a new perspective.

Then there is the seventh, designed as a cunning drive and pitch hole, but now a very different proposition, with 90 yards having been added.

Bernhard Langer at the 18th in 2007
The drive at the 18th must not only be precise but considerably long

When it came to extending the par-five 13th by 25 yards, Augusta officials paid more than 500,000 for a third of an acre of land in 2002.

Just as the first tee shot has changed in the last few years to present an even more formidable challenge, so too has the final one at the 18th.

Always a tight shot through ever encroaching statuesque Georgia pines, the tee has been pushed back and the par-four hole measures an extra 60 yards compared to the 405-yarder the players faced in the early 1990s.

Officials have indicated that no major increases will be made to the length of the course in the immediate future, but, as ever, subtle changes have been made this year.

The first tee has been increased to allow for the hole to perhaps be reduced in length given a northerly wind, while the seventh and ninth greens have been altered for "agronomic reasons" allowing for extra pin positions to be used.

The viewing of spectators, or 'patrons' as they are known at Augusta, has been taken into consideration, with trees removed from the 11th, a new viewing area built at the 16th, more colourful free-flowering azaleas planted and 'pine straw' replacing grass on a couple of walkways between holes.

Whatever the opinions of some traditionalists, it is this attention to detail that ensures Augusta National remains a magnificent spectacle for both golf and horticultural aficionados alike.


see also
Ken Brown's Augusta preview
07 Apr 08 |  Golf
Augusta course extended
20 Aug 02 |  Golf
Augusta under the knife
10 Apr 02 |  US Masters
Changes afoot at Augusta
07 Aug 01 |  Golf


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