Narrowed fairway stuns golfers

Posted: Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Before this week, players were led to believe changes to the Augusta National Golf Club this year were subtle, with an enlarged green here to create a new pin position and a few trees planted there.

No one said anything about shrinking fairways.

The players were in for a shock when they discovered that on at least six holes -- Nos. 1, 2, 3, 9, 10 and 11 -- the fairways have been narrowed considerably. That brings the rough, which was introduced in 1999 and measures one and three-eights in length, more into play.

``They've brought it in not just a little bit but a lot,'' said Bob Tway said of the rough.

Noted golf course designer Tom Fazio is the man in charge of overseeing changes made at the direction of the Augusta National.

The fairways on the holes in question have been narrowed by 10 to 25 yards, players agree.

That will translate into higher overall scores this week. The rough will make the 6,985-yard Augusta National play longer than ever.

The incroachment of the rough into the fairway will slow down drives hit into areas that once were fairway. In turn, golfers in the rough will have longer shots into greens and won't be able to put as much spin on the ball as they do from the fairway. Spin is what helps control the shot once it hits the green.

``This golf course is not set up where the winning score is going to be a real low score like in the past,'' 1997 Masters champion Tiger Woods said.

Throw out Woods' tournament record score of 18-under-par 270 in 1997 and the winning scores in the 1990s were between 274 and 280. The 280 came last year.

Former champions such as Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd question the way the fairways have been shaped on the holes that are narrower.

``They don't follow the contour of the holes, which is kind of interesting,'' Woods said.


Click on image for a larger version.

Augusta Chronicle staff graphic

``This golf course has always been played by the treeline,'' said six-time champion Nicklaus. ``I'm in favor of the rough, but don't cut it in straight lines that isn't along the tree lines. It looks like it's done by someone who doesn't play golf or understand golf did it.''

``I believe the architecture was meant to be wall-to-wall and the difficulty was really from the greens,'' Floyd, the 1976 champion, said.

``It's a far different course because of the rough,' two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said. ``I'm not sure it plays as interesting.''

Crenshaw bemoams the fact that the rough takes away one of the most exciting shots in golf, the recovery shot.

``There's no question they've placed a premium on accuracy,'' Crenshaw said. ``There are shots you could play in there that you can't anymore. That's what made it fun.

``I'm going to keep playing this week,'' Crenshaw said half-heartedly.

Here's a breakdown on the holes where the fairways have been narrowed.


Click on image for a larger version.

Augusta Chronicle staff graphic

No. 1: To the right side, past the fairway bunker.

No. 2: To the right side.

No. 3: Both sides have been narrowed.

No. 9: To the left side.

No. 10: To the right side.

No. 11: Both sides have been narrowed.

On some holes, such as No. 10, the new rough is on a slope that golfers used to aim for because it would slingshot their balls down the hill.

``Now there's a longer shot from the rough to a green (on No. 10) that is new, harder and faster than it was in the before,'' Woods said.

Not all the golfers oppose the shrinkage of the fairways.

``I think it's great,'' David Duval said. ``It puts a little more demand on hitting the ball straigher and taking some lies that the (Masters) committee feels you should take on holes.''

The additional rough has taken some heat off the 17th hole this year. Major alterations were made to the course in 1999, with the least popular one being the lengthening of the 17th hole by 25 yards. It made carrying the Eisenhower pine tree, located in the left-center of the fairway, more a challenge off the tee to carry.

The tee on the 17th hole has been moved up five yards this year, but players said they haven't noticed. Two other changes were made on No. 17 for the 2000 Masters -- two trees that had been planed in 1999 were removed at the golfers' right, at 175 and 255 yards from the tee. Three trees were added betwen the 15th and 17th hole and three to the left of the Eisenhower tree. Also, four new trees were planted to the right of the 14th fairway.

Two greens were rebuilt (Nos. 10 and 16) and two re-grassed (Nos. 12 and 13) to created new pin positions. The new pin positions on No. 10 are left-front and right-rear. At No. 16, there is a new pin in the left-front.

``I think this is a true piece of art,'' defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal said. ``When you have a great painting, you don't try to change much on it.''

``The Augusta National is an incredible golf course and one of my favorites courses to play,'' Phil Mickelson said. ``I think by (co-designers) Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie were great designers. I don't think it's the place of anybody, if you can't break 90, to be changing the golf course from those original designs.''

``They've changed a lot of things here,'' Floyd said. ``In the long run, it's been for the best.''

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