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Augusta National: Why mess with perfection?

By John Gordon, Contributor

Dear Editor:

Does the phrase "the emperor's new clothes" ring a bell as we approach The Masters, allegedly the first major championship of the year?

How about putting back in the freezer that planned Easter feast of rack of lamb or succulent Virginia ham, and dining instead on sacred cow?

I speak, of course, of what was established some 70 years ago as the Augusta Invitation Tournament.

Criticizing either the course or the tournament is akin to golf heresy. But then again, no one knows just which Mongolian yurt in which I dwell these days, so stand back.

Not to pick on Senior Writer Derek Duncan -D-Squared as we refer to him during the TravelGolf.com beerfests (virtual, of course) - but these obsequious ovations to this week's golf outing raises my hackles.

Forget the "What We Should Remember" and "What We Should Forget" (Do I hear strains of Col. John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields"? This is a golf tournament, for Heaven's sake!). Evolution of acourse is one thing, but devolution is another thing altogether. By definition, "mutation" simply produces a mutant.

The field at The Masters is without a doubt the weakest of the majors. It's getting by on cosmetic surgery and historical hype. (Reminds me a bit of Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard," to tell you the truth.)

It doesn't even match up to some regular Tour events. Augusta National was (was!) a thing of beauty. Now, it relies on its apologists for publicity. Foremost among them are golf writers whofear that if they reveal the emperor's nakedness, they won't get their annual boondoggle.

Alister Mackenzie was the design consultant to the Old Course at St. Andrews and reveled in the multiple options presented off each tee. He envisioned Augusta National as an "inland links."Recent changes now dictate how each hole is played. Boring.

Augusta National has been bastardized by those "recent changes." The number of real and imagined architects who have dabbled with the former Fruit lands Nursery equal the number of trees planted recently on the right side of No. 11 - about three dozen. The fact that the course has remained so highly regarded is due to its mystique, its unparalleled site, and an unspoken pact among golf insiders and media.

In 1935, the nines were reversed. In 1949, Ike's Pond was created. In '81, the greens were converted to bent grass. Five years ago, the stupid second cut of rough was introduced. In 2002, the course gets stretched to an anti Tiger-proofed 7,300 yards. A year later, more yardage is added.

Every intelligent course architect I have talked to in the past 20 years attests that length isthe easiest and most inappropriate way to make a course more difficult.

When we talk about testing holes, which come to mind? Great par 3s, many based on the Redan model. Fabulous short par 4s, like the 10th at Riviera.

Take a look at Tiger's stats. As of this writing, he's plus-10 on par 3s (184th on Tour),minus-eight on par 4s (third), and minus-38 on par 5s (third.)

Am I missing something in this whole "Tiger-proofing" argument?

The value of length, like so many things in life, is overrated. Imagination is where it's at.

I still don't respect Martha Burk, but she may have made an unintentional point when she said the powers that be at Augusta National are behind the times.

Forget Fazio and the rest of his ilk, Hootie.

Let Alister and Bobby rest easy once again.

Fight the conventional, erroneous belief that length is everything and return shot making to the game. (You might want to talk to the guys who set up last year's Bell Canadian Open at HamiltonG&CC.)

Detractors often hark back to the popular myth that The Masters is nothing more than a putting contest. With good reason, which raises the question of why that aspersion should be cast at what purports to be a well-designed, challenging layout.

Greens speed at Augusta National can approach 15 on the Stimpmeter. Once into double digits, the putting surface is not unlike stroking the ball across your kitchen counter. It has been a sorepoint with competitors for decades, especially great ball strikers with putting woes.

"I've always contended that golf is one game and putting is another," Ben Hogan said after missing the cut in 1957. "If I had my way, every golf green would be made into a huge funnel; you hit the funnel and the ball would roll down a pipe into the hole." Later, he would say, "I've left my blood in every cup of that golf course."

Not a compliment to the overall course design.

Augusta National has a load of guilt to carry, as my pal Derek Duncan (D2) pointed out. Everymember at every goat track wants the same emerald-green conditions as he sees this week. Every golfcourse must have bentgrass. Change, for whatever reason, is positive.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The guys who designed these courses knew what they were doing. They had no agenda to protect.What was good in 1934 might have been ever better 70 years later.

We'll never know.

Not that it's sour grapes, but did I mention my Masters credentials application was turned downbecause it was a few days late?

TravelGolf.com Associate Editor John Gordon is the author of seven books, including TheGreat Golf Courses of America.

John GordonJohn Gordon, Contributor

John Gordon has been involved fulltime with golf since he became managing editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, in 1985. In 1991, he was recruited by the Royal Canadian Golf Association to create their Member Services and Communications departments, and to revive Golf Canada magazine, their national membersmagazine which had been defunct for a decade. After successfully relaunching Golf Canada and serving as its inaugural editor, he was named executive director of the Ontario Golf Association. He returned to fulltime writing in 1995.

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