Sunday, 26 December 2010

At Augusta with Mike

Imagine being able to walk the fairways of Augusta National with three friends and nobody else around.

Yesterday I found myself walking the front nine with Mike, his caddy Brennan, and his brother Jim. I had been graciously invited down to Augusta to spend the week with the family. Mike invited me out to join him on Saturday and then his family arranged for a pass so I could see the practice rounds and the first round of the Masters.

Mike’s tradition on Sunday is to arrive in the afternoon and go out and play nine holes. What’s new is he’s now allowed - as a past champion - to take out one guest. While it was incredible to learn about specific angles from Mike and Brennan, it was even more special watching Jim play and how much fun he was having.

Here are the things that I did not understand about the front nine.

The valley on the first hole is 50 feet deep and the players landing is now into the up slope (with any prevailing wind). The green has some really serious contour with each pin position either in a valley or up on small plateaus. The back right plateau is the size of a large table top.

The landing area for the tee shots on the second hole is major crown, and that the rough makes this hole far easier than it would have been before the first cut went in.
The green on the third hole falls away from play despite the fact that it’s on top of a 10 foot rise. The bank in front is sharp and anything on the front edge of the green will retreat back down the hill.

The 3rd approach

The 4th hole green is a roller coaster ( and falls six feet from back to front) with the easiest pin tucked back right with a nice backstop…..that’s fine except that the shot is 257 yards to clear the bunker. The hole is quite downhill and the rise in front of the green is six feet which doesn’t come across on TV.

The 5th tee shot is quite up hill, meaning from the newer back tees all balls land into the upslope and don’t roll out. The bunkers on the left are 18 feet deep – I’m not kidding – it took sherpas to get back up.

The 5th Green

The 6th hole plateau is about one to two feet above the rest of the natural fall of the green. It’s like a fortress sitting well above the rest of the hole – and tiny!

The 7th is really over-treed and extremely narrow. It’s far tighter than you might expect (25-30 yards) and standing on the tee, the hole feels like its 1000 yards long.

The mounds on the left of the 8th green are far bigger than they appear. The back mound is at least 8 feet but may be as high as 10 feet. They are cut short on both sides and block the view of all the green except the front pin (from the middle of the second landing area).

The false front on the 9th green is about four feet in height and runs about 20-25 feet into the green. You could be 30 feet onto that green and spin the ball back down the green and down the hill and end up about 30-35 yards from the pin very easily

The Back Nine

Everyone who visits Augusta National always starts off with the comment that the 10th drops far more than you would ever guess. But the thing that stood out for was the size of the slopes in the fairway. When you think about how tight a target the 10th is and the length of the shot – the one thing that nobody tells you is that 95% of all shots are from a hanging lie. These guys are good!

The tee shot on the 11th is much tougher than I expected. Not only is the carry very long, the landing hard to see and the fairway is turning right – but the fairway actually cants “left” at the corner which is something I never would have guessed. The hole is a monster. 

11th tee shot

I can’t do justice to the 12th. But I will say I finally get the issue with winds. The combination of high tree canopy, a narrow entrance for the prevailing wind and then a wide open space - creates a vortex which pulls the wind in but traps it and circulates before it escapes. The whole area works like an eddy in a river. 

If the 10th at Riviera is not the best designed hole in golf – then the 13th at Augusta is. It’s the best five the game has to offer with a perfect blend of risk and reward, draw and fade.

I have now made eight different “separate” trips to look, draw and watch play at the 14th green. The three mounds and serpentine approach may offer the greatest lesson in how to defend a hole without bunkers, how to build in an elevation change without creating a tier and how variation is the key to taking a “wild” contour and make it blend in. 

The 15th is a fascinating tournament hole to watch, but a hole that I have a great deal of trouble trying to find something architectural that I would copy. I will say this, I really wish that they would not have planted the trees on the right to create the alley.
The 16th is a hole I found myself liking more than I expected to. It certainly has a Robert Trent Jones feel to the hole with the way he used the water, but the hole is all about the green (like most of the holes at Augusta). The cross slope created by a ridge that runs through the green and into the back means there are nasty pins above that are plateaus the size of your coffee table or the lower pins that can be accessed by using the slope running through the green.

The 17th green runs out in three directions. Anything not hit at the central mound is thrown aside and therefore all play is made to the centre of the green. The one thing you can’t see is that the area around the green falls hard left and that likely why they have trouble reading the green since when you’re on it feels flat.

The 18th hole is into a super tight chute – far tighter than I would have ever guessed and the landing is straight uphill making all tee shots stop where they hit. I didn’t know till the other day that the big approach mound featured a Mackenzie bunker at one time.

Mike's hockey stick putter during the par three tournament.

My last thoughts for your watching this week. The course is all about green position because there are places where you can not two putt without making a 10 footer coming back. The other thing I learned from Mike is that missing just off a green in a key location is often a perfectly played shot to the right position. Playing well here is often about controlling where you miss.

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