Augusta National: From Inside the Ropes

Augusta #1 -- Andrew: "The fairway bunker is over 10 feet deep “ I did not know that."

 Last year, Weir Golf Design architect Ian Andrew attended the Masters with his business partner. On Sunday Ian had the unique opportunity to walk the course while Weir played with his brother, Jim. All the photos in this post are from that trip, with Ian presenting a unique look inside the ropes at Augusta. I spoke with him about what makes the course great, what surprised him and why it might contain the best back-to-back holes in the world.

G4G: What surprised you about your first visit to Augusta?

IA: The same surprised everyone has “ the elevation. I was quite surprised at how much all of the holes roll and thats one of the charms of the golf course and makes it interesting regardless of how much theyve changed it.

 G4G: Designer Tom Doak says there is about 100 feet of elevation change in the course, which is about the most you want to have in a great design.

I dont necessarily agree. There is something else that could work with bigger elevation changes, but it all comes down to how you get back up hills before you come down. If you can do it in slow transitions, than youll be fine. If you have to climb and keep climbing or a series of holes, thats when courses arent a lot of fun.

At Augusta it works well. Fifteen is about the low point and you work uphill on 14, and back downhill on 15 and then you work uphill on 17 and 18. But it is often uphill on the tee shot to a flats and then uphill on the second. There is enough transitions to make it work. If you went from the valley right up to 18 it would be a bit more of a struggle. But you dont. There are transitions on the way up, which is why it works.

Augusta #3 - Andrew: "Any ball on the approach runs to the bottom “ the green falls away from the approach “ good luck hitting the roof of a volkswagon because thats what the left pin is."

G4G: Was there any one hole that caught your attention? 

IA: The third is unbelievably difficult. It is about a 20 foot rise to the green and then the green crowns off right in the front and goes backward. I could not believe how much slope backwards there was in that green. I asked Mike where the target was and he said right middle, and the target is about 10 feet by 10 feet. Thats the only way to keep the ball on the green unless you get a great lie and can really spin it and then you can play out to the left. When I watched him putt on it I thought, ËœMy God. The putt was about 10 feet and the break was about 12. I knew there was a big break there, I just didnt know how much. On that hole he said you dont try to make putts, you just try not to make 3-putts. The interesting thing was we were talking about a 350-yard hole and he was talking about not making five.

Augusta #5 -- Andrew: "The left roll in the green is massive, so was the middle one before Fazio removed half of it last year."

 G4G: Was there any specific design element that stood out?

IA:  I was amazed at how contoured the greens are and it got me thinking we could have more contour in greens. But I would definitely not go to the level theyve gone to. Theres far more contour in them than I would ever have guessed. I also really enjoyed the chipping areas. They arent bowls “ just areas cut short. They give you options and different ways you can play “ and it makes for better golf. And it means if you just miss it makes for some terrible spots for the pros to try to get up and down. It taught me that the short areas could make things more playable and more difficult at the same time, which is something I had thought anyway. I think it is the best answer for golf.

Augusta #7 -- Andrew: "he fairway is 'stupid' narrow for such a long hole."

 G4G:  What did you learn from watching Weir play the course?

IA:  That he really, really picks a route. Hes extremely well planned on how he plays the golf course and has very definite ideas on how he plays the golf course and where he wants to play from. That doesnt mean he plays from the same spots every time, but he knows the spots where he needs to be at to score. On the second hole, theres an option that if he hits a certain spot the ball will go forward and he can go for the green in two. But if he doesnt hit that spot, he knows exactly where he wants his second shot, which is stunningly left for the most part to get to the back right corner. It almost looks like a miss to play it out to the spot. He knows those spots from playing over 10 years. Depending on where the pin is changes how he plays the hole. It is interesting to listen to him talk about where he was trying to play to, as well as certain things hed tried that didnt suit him.

Augusta #13 -- Andrew: "The lie is downhill with a cross slope for a pitch in “ its hard not to pull or push it left."

 G4G: Finally, how does it rate? You’ve seen Pine Valley, The Old Course, Pebble Beach, Cypress Point — how does Augusta compare?

IA:  Thats a good question. Put it this way, where it is spectacular it is very, very spectacular. Kind of like Pebble Beach. The highlights are everything you expected and more. Twelve through 14 is the most spectacular stretch. Where it has been tinkered with, or on holes like 16, it is just okay. You could find a version of 16 just about anywhere. Im also not a fan of 11 at all and I thought 2 was plain. But the highlights are so high that it is some of the best in the world. Some of the other holes are great, but not quite as good as I expected. And 17 and 18 dont do much for me. I was surprised some of the holes didnt have the appeal I expected, while others, like 13, where maybe the best Ive ever seen. If it is not it is on a very short list. I cant imagine a better combination of 12 and 13.

Augusta #15 -- Andrew: "Notice the short grass around the green and the fact the green is a crown."

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Ian. I’m curious about your response on green contours. Sounds like you’re saying that they were a little more extreme than you thought, and that you liked that, but also thought you wouldn’t go quite as far as they did? Are you talking about the contours relative to the green speeds there?

  • HenryE,

    The contours in general – the rolls in the green are very aggressive – and my feelings have nothing to do with speed for the Masters.

    I like the contouring a lot – particularly the greens built by Maxwell.

  • So if it’s not the speeds they cut them at, then why not use aggressive contours if you like them? Also, note the soil lips on most of the bunkers – a feature I like, but is no longer in vogue due to maintenance.

  • Just a heads up, but it’s easier to maintain that soil lip look than raking sand all the way to the edge… you get a much more defined edge than having the grass and sand mixed. Better for tournament play as well.

  • Shicks, I’m no expert, but I think the issue is during heavy rains the soil/silt from that defined edge contaminates the sand in the trap. That leads to a mixed texture of sands and eventually impairs trap drainage. Ian, or some other expert would be better to comment. I like soil lips because I see them as having a traditional style.

  • Typically during heavy rains, the crew will go out and push the bunker sand up regardless, and during that process the soil and silt is removed. If surface drainage is going away from the defined bunker edge, typically this shouldn’t be a problem, but good surface drainage is hard to get!

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