What changes would you make to Augusta National?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The Zozo Championship was staged last week at the Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles, the former site of Tiger’s off-season World Challenge event. The Jack Nicklaus course shows well on TV, features a strong finish and is popular with golf fans. Many would like to see the course host a regular PGA Tour event. Apart from the majors, which tournaments do you look forward to, specifically because of the host course?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): The Masters, obviously.  The Open Championship, because I’ve played all but one of the rota courses, and minus Hoylake, loved them all.  I like to watch the L.A. Open (sorry, no idea of the current corporate name), because I admire Riviera.  Ditto the Heritage Classic, although I personally think Harbour Town is overrated.  And the US Open, because of whatever course is chosen.  That’s about it.  I too would like to see a tournament played at Sherwood.  It’s a course I’ve admired (never played) for a long time… maybe not US Open calibre, but certainly a cut above.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I like anything at Pinehurst, Pebble, and Quail Hollow. Does Augusta count?  Other than that, there aren’t too many venues I personally park a large amount of my time to watch the entire tournament start to finish just because of the golf course. I’d like to see the Tour visit more traditional old tracks, but as we all know the Tour can’t go to these facilities as they’re either too short or can’t take the crowds. Would sure like to see Medinah on the circuit though, I’d park time for that one!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: I always enjoy Muirfield USA, Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. Mostly because I have played the two CA courses. Jack isn’t too receptive to Golf Professionals at Muirfield and I won’t pay a US$300 green fee.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I wouldn’t say there are any other tournaments that are must watches for me.  I do like watching tournaments on courses that I’ve played, so I’m even interested in watching some of the Bermuda Championship this weekend.  Other than that, perhaps Pebble and Riviera, both courses that I do enjoy watching, but not enough for them to be must watches.  Especially since the Pebble tourney includes all the painful celebrity golf shots that for some reason they still show.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The Bing Crosby Clambake was always something to look forward to when deep in an Ontario winter. Now it’s common knowledge that it’s not the best course on the peninsula, but having had the chance to stand behind the 18th and look back at the original tree and the surf cascading towards the cliff, the return of Pebble Beach to my TV — whatever the new sponsor, still the Crosby — is something to look forward to every winter, however temperate or severe. Here on the Wet Coast, that is dictated by the wiles of la Nina and el Nino over the Pacific. Looks like we’re in for a Nina. We’re bracing for it and so should Pebble.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The LA Open at Riviera, the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town and the AT&T Pro Am at Pebble Beach jump out as among the best courses on Tour. As others have also noted, I’m not too keen on the Pebble event anymore, simply because there’s too much pandering to the corporate bigwigs and second-rate entertainers but it is Pebble Beach. One more that comes to mind is the Dell Match Play, hosted by the Austin Country Club. That looks like a course that would be a lot of fun to play.

Ever since aerial photos of Augusta National showed construction behind the 13th tee, there has been speculation that the hole would be lengthened for the Masters. Augusta National has indicated there won’t be any changes for the tournament in two weeks but that doesn’t mean that the 2021 Masters won’t see some alterations. If you were Augusta National Chairman with a virtually unlimited budget, what hole would you alter that might make it play better or alter its strategy?  

Deeks: If I were the Augusta National Chairman with an unlimited budget, I’d probably be out playing right now, and not answering some pesky Canadian magazine’s nosy questions, thank y’all vair much.  But I’m not he (or she), so…. I’m going through each of the holes in my mind, and I’m thinking, boy, I’m not sure I’d change a thing.  I’ve always thought 17 was kind of a weak hole in that whole back nine, but I’m not sure what you could realistically do with it.  14 is somewhat similar, but the green there is such a fabulous undulating surface that it makes the hole a masterful challenge.  It’ll be interesting to see how BDC and other bombers play the par 5s… driver wedge, driver wedge, driver wedge?  The only thing I would definitely say is don’t ever mess with 16… my favourite hole in all of golf!

Loughry: I’d change ALL holes I could to maintain the virtual shot value originally intended. I’d only do this to combat the technological changes in the game over the last several years and the athletes taking advantage of these technological advances. This is Augusta National, and they’ve been known to set a few trends over the years, if they must expand to maintain course integrity, then I think they do so without hesitation.

Schurman: Augusta National will become a regular tour type of course once Bryson brings his bombs next month. Since the R&A, USGA and the very influential Augusta members have no intention to address the Distance Factor they should open the course to pay-as-you-play and move. They could be the leaders in the industry by building the first course where today’s Tour players are required to hit the same irons into the greens that were used prior to 1970. Include plenty of room to consider the future by building 4 sets of tees…….one at 9000 yds for use over the next decade, the next set at 9500 yds for the decade after that, the next at 10,000 yds and the championship decks at 10,500 yds. By purchasing enough land for future expansion to add length on every hole over time, they could probably fit the new course very comfortably on about 250 to 300 acres. One extra feature they might consider is on-site parking perhaps located in the center of the course since patrons will have to walk so much further due to this monster length course. This will only add another 200 to 300 acres. While we are at it why not build the entire complex under a dome, a hotel for the players and the media and of course let’s not forget a 3000 yd par 3.

Rule: First off, it wouldn’t be 13.  I think that hole is perfect the way it is, particularly as the trees on the left get taller, so the big hitters can’t just carry the corner.  It’s hard to think of any hole that would play better to be honest.  I guess if I were to make one change, it would maybe be to shorten the 3rd hole and actually make it drivable.  I think every great course should have a short par 3 and a short par 4.  The 12th is a perfect short 3, they just need a risk-reward short 4 in my mind.  It would be nice if it were later in the round but there aren’t any others that really fit the bill.

Quinn: Have always felt that the uphill 2nd shot into the tortuous 17th green on Sunday was a charge/drama killer. Pin is always back right. Anything more than 15 feet left is almost dead, two putts is great — but not for TV or the thrill of the tournament. Rumour has it that the Club could afford to blast away and flatten the ascent to the green and temper its Sunday temper. Playoffs aren’t all bad.

Mumford: I never liked the changes they made to #7. By lengthening it considerably and making it a tighter driving hole, they took the fun aspect out of it. The old hole put players in wedge range and offered eagle possibilities on a green that has a couple of pin positions where the ball can funnel to the hole if the approach is just right. Maybe the remedy is to move the tee way up a couple of days so a long iron or fairway metal could get them close. Or make it reachable with a driver.

Golf and gambling go together like peanut butter and jam. However, until recently, legalized betting on the PGA Tour was forbidden. All that changed a few years ago thanks to the US Supreme Court. Now the PGA Tour has partnered with at least five betting sites and during the Las Vegas event a couple of weeks ago, actually started posting odds and prop bets on-screen during the telecast, while announcers explained how some of them worked. According to the latest reports, we should expect to see more of this. What’s your take on this gambling scenario and are you likely to place a bet at some future tournament?

Deeks: I used to gamble a bit… poker with the guys, a few casinos over the years… until I realized I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t feel any more depressed when I lost money that could’ve gone toward far more important things, like the family.  I NEVER bet on sports, though, because I thought knowledge and skill actually CAN apply here (not just blind luck).  So, I don’t condemn sports betting by any means.  But frankly, selfishly, and subjectively, I wish they hadn’t come along and sullied the game of golf with this pastime.  I’ve always snobbishly believed that golf was a “purer” activity, and rather above the base level and instincts of gambling on football, baseball, boxing, horses, etc…  But I’ll bet you 1,000-to-1 on a penny that it’s here to stay in golf, and we’ll all have to get used to it.  No, I won’t be participating.

Loughry: I’m personally not a big gambler, but I can see how it would add to your excitement and viewing experience (positively and negatively). I’m sure this will be popular amongst most of the golf community, but I do wonder if gambling within your won foursome is where the interest is most, as you’re a part of the “unfolding” compared to watching your favourite players on TV?  It certainly adds to the experience, I don’t see it detracting interest.

Schurman: Betting and golf are historic. The reason is that there is the time between shots to recalculate and bet some more. That’s why the NHL, NBA and Soccer aren’t popular for betting, but the NFL and MLB are. In golf, they start with one player vs another on a per-round basis. By the time Sunday rolls around your combinations of players by score per 18, 36, 54 and 72; GIR player against player; fairways hit player against player; and you name it. Golf and betting go together like love and marriage…. has someone said that before?

Rule: Perhaps I’m too much of a traditionalist but the gambling doesn’t interest me at all.  However, the main reason that the NFL is so popular is because of gambling, and so it certainly has the potential to grow the game of golf in popularity.  They just need to sign on Mickelson as the Tour’s spokesperson and start promoting it everywhere.

Quinn: On the 18th at a Nicklaus in Cabo, I missed a birdie putt — I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I’m not making this up — and my three Mexican playing partners erupted, variously. Two guys shouted and hugged each other, and the other guy shouted at me a string of Spanish that reminded me of my failure of that particular language course many moons ago at U of T. Turns out, over a few of not yet popular north of the border Coronas, that my putt was worth $3,000 (US). The guy swearing at me evidently was my partner in this massive bet. It was all lost in translation to me. Long way of saying, I’m not involved in on-course betting (a beer max) and not a fan of the distortions of fantasy football or any other betting. It’s a pug’s game and only the mobsters, books, governments, or other criminal types profit. Encouraging — even promoting — bets and props on golf is the Tour’s ultimate surrender, and prostitution.

Mumford: I don’t mind a friendly wager on the course but prefer not to have it in my face when I’m watching a golf tournament. Betting may add eyeballs to the telecast, but I can’t imagine it does anything to grow the game. Almost every entertainment product looks for additional ways to separate us from our money and this is the latest cash grab, with the PGA benefitting from their participation in gambling. I don’t like it but now that the genie is out of the bottle, I suppose it’s here to stay. As Puff Daddy says, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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