Imagine Golf Blogs

Masters Minds

Augusta National has been playing tricks with golfers' minds for decades.

Posted Mar 29, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

augusta flag

With all the razzmatazz about Tiger Woods and his return to competitive action at Augusta National next week, there's the danger of rank and file golf enthusiasts being deflected from the real magic of the Masters.  Which will always have more to do with the place, than with players, however gifted they may be.

More than 50 years before the great Bobby Jones was born, the owner of an indigo plantation could view from his secluded home, a shadowy canopy of white magnolia blossoms, stretching for 300 yards to the main road beyond. Magnolia Lane has since become the most celebrated driveway in golf, capturing, in the words of one American writer, all the tragedies there ever were in the Old South and all the tranquility there ever would be.

It is the driveway to a club created by Jones as a home for the Augusta Invitational which evolved into the US Masters and the first major of the professional tournament season.  Since the inaugural staging in 1934, the place and the tournament have acquired a reverence almost unmatched in sport; a mystique which in many respects is difficult to fathom against the background of such a relatively short history.

Captives of Augusta's almost fabulous appeal, will talk of those magnolia trees as a metaphor for everything about the Masters. The unstudied beauty of the flowers which frame the course; of the understated elegance of the place and the wealth of tradition which has been packed into its 76-year existence.

And through another metaphor in which the enormous, historical impact of the American Civil War is recalled, they will talk of each of the 18 golf holes as a monument to a great battle which culminated in certain cases in cruel defeat for such as Scott Hoch, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Kenny Perry. Or there could be the triumphs of Jack Nicklaus, Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Woods. The Masters has it all.

The most feared element of the majestic course is unquestionably its greens, which were once described by Henry Cotton as torture arenas. "I have never seen holes cut in the green behind bunkers, on the edge of water hazards and on steep slopes," he once remarked. "Or all three!  I do not remember ever coming across greens with such slopes on them. Yet somehow, the winners manage."  

Cotton was entering the autumn of a glittering career when he played the Masters on three occasions between 1948 and 1957. Yet he was tied 25th behind Claude Harmon in 1948, was tied 68th in 1956 and gained a highly creditable share of 13th behind behind Doug Ford in 1957. That, of course, was at a time when they played on Bermuda greens before the autumn of 1980, when Augusta officials took the bold step of changing to considerably speedier bentgrass, which many leading agronomists believed couldn't survive through long periods without rain and in the heat of a Georgia summer.

When considering the current speed of Augusta's greens, one must also take into account the dramatic changes that have taken place in mowing equipment and agronomy in general. It is estimated that championship greens in the US are now as much as 70 per cent faster than when Ben Hogan was in his prime. In the early 1950s, greens speeds ran at probably no more than six on the Stimpmeter, compared with double that, these days.

Augusta's slopes are so severe that it often takes no more than the touch of the putter blade to send the ball careering yards past the target. It is a challenge which prompted me to ask Nicklaus if putting of this nature actually constituted a golfing stroke in the strict meaning of the term. Typically, his answer was unequivocal. "Certainly," said the Bear. "Putting should be as much a test of nerve as of skill."

The extent to which these greens tear at a player's nerves, was probably best exemplified by events in the gathering gloom of an April Sunday evening in 1989 when Hoch, faced with a 30-inch winning on the first play-off hole, bent to remove something from the line. Ben Crenshaw, a former champion who was watching the drama on television in the clubhouse, recognised the danger. "Jesus! Hit it!" he screamed. But Hoch continued to circle the putt for nearly two minutes, looking at it from every angle.

When it seemed he was finally ready to execute the stroke, he stepped away once more. "I think that's probably what did it," said Faldo reflecting later on the American's miss. As it happened, he capitalised brilliantly on Hoch' blunder by sinking a 25-footer for the title at the next hole. Notorious greens had claimed yet another victim.

Why Join Us?

We combine great social networking and excellent content, all in one place!

  • Interests

    Choose the interests you want to follow
  • Community

    Connect with friends and other sports fans
  • Content

    News, Views, Equipment Reviews, Contests & Deals
Join Now

Are you a golf professional?