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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

Augusta National – A Theatre of the Dramatic

Augusta, Ga. April 6, 2011 – Although the temperature is still struggling to pass fifty degrees in much of the southeast, we know spring is here. Not just because of the yellow dusting on everything outdoors, but because this is the week that the golf world takes true notice of 2011. It’s Masters Week and our juices begin to flow for the much-anticipated first major of the year.

The other three major venues change each year yet there has only been one place for the Masters. Augusta National was started by the great Bobby Jones. Along with the expertise of Alister Mackenzie, the old Berckman’s Fruitlands Nursery now possesses what may be the most dramatic venue for golf anywhere in the world. Each year we hear the same line, “The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday”. A bit over the top, yet very true, thanks to the architectural genius of Mackenzie and some foresight by Bobby Jones.

One reason the back nine at Augusta is so dramatic and a great venue for spectators (in person and on television) is because those holes have a nice architectural rhythm and balance of golf holes When one discusses balance and rhythm of a golf course in design, most people give blank stares in response. The balance of a golf course determines if there is a good mix of easy and hard holes; left, right, or straight holes; long or short holes; and uphill or downhill holes.

The rhythm of a golf course is how each golf hole plays off the other holes. To expand further, how those holes are distributed within the round of golf. Are all the easy holes clustered in the beginning and the hard ones at the end? Are the first three holes dogleg lefts and the next six holes dead straight? Excluding the par-threes, at Augusta, there are four straight holes, two doglegs to the left and one dogleg to the right. There are three uphill holes, four downhill holes, and two which are mostly level.

Rhythm and balance aside, what makes the back nine at Augusta National such a dramatic venue are the golf holes which demand heroic shots as if there was a shot clock and time was running down. Ten and eleven are sheer brutes and provided the leaders get through those holes intact, the drama picks up on the most famous par-three in the world. Number twelve is a mid-iron shot just over Rae’s Creek with a green set at a very subtle diagonal to the line of play. The prevailing left to right wind makes any miscalculation potential fish bait.

The short twelfth is followed by a contrasting boomerang dogleg left par-five which calls for almost every pro to consider going for the green in two (again requiring a carry over Rae’s Creek). Because of its heroic nature, the pros know that not making a birdie so late in the day will mean lost ground to the field. It is one of those situations where one thinks, “Everyone’s doing it. So I better too.” The same can be said with the other par-five on the back nine, number fifteen. This downhill hole demands the golfer to hit a second shot between two ponds bordering the green. Too short: Wet. Too long: A possible excruciating dribble to wet as well.

Augusta isn’t like a U. S. Open where birdie opportunities are hard to come by. In fact, one can birdie the remaining par fours (fourteen, seventeen, and eighteen) with relative ease. The challenge to the golfer is the relative ease of how an eagle or birdie can be made by most of the field with these par-fives. That knowledge pressures them all to go for each green in two. In turn, the difficulty of simply having to perform makes the task daunting for them and exciting for us. Of course, the watery graves if they fail make it all the more dramatic.

The par-three sixteenth hole is a heroic remodel by Robert Trent Jones in 1946 that is the last bastion of drama for the Sunday crowd, mostly because the last two holes don’t have such a finite hazard as water. The cant of the putting surface makes the Sunday pin-placement another heart-buster. Few will go for the pin and bring water into play unless they need a must two. The safe route is to hang their approach out to the right and let the ball roll left down to the pin nestled against the water. The final two holes are a bit of a letdown because the watery drama is over and there is little opportunity for eagles, double bogies, or worse.

Ironically, just after the inaugural Masters in 1934, the front and back nines were reversed. The reason Mr. Jones made the change was that the front nine received more sunlight than the back nine so frost delays could be avoided by switching the nines.

Many may think that the drama of the back nine was unintentional because of this change, but Jones’ switch actually returned the nines to their intended order per Mackenzie’s original routing. At some point after initial tree clearing, the duo decided to flip the nines, thinking number nine was a better conclusion than eighteen (and it probably is). Luckily, Jones had the foresight a few years later (thanks to simple sun studies) to return the nines to Mackenzie’s first plan. That simple decision makes for the best nine holes in spectator golf. Remember, the Masters doesn’t start until the tenth tee on Sunday.

About Richard: Richard Mandell runs Richard Mandell Golf Architecture in Pinehurst, North Carolina ( Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).

Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008

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