In 2001, Augusta National began adding bunkers, trees, rough and nearly 500 yards of length. Countless armchair architects claimed that the changes muddied the grand vision of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, and Jack Nicklaus once said that "they've ruined" the tournament.
Now, the winner of six green jackets has had a change of heart. "The changes were necessary to keep pace with today's game," he tells Golf Magazine. "It was a good course then, and it's a good course now. They've done a very good job." Recent history bears out the Bear. The Sunday roars are louder than ever, and the last four Masters have been nailbiters. The man who claimed his first Masters title 50 years ago reveals the four design decisions he likes most—beginning with the smartest thing Augusta didn't do.
The More Things Change...
One of the wisest moves Augusta made, Nicklaus says, is what they didn't change. "The greens have basically remained the same," he says. "They're very much the same greens that Jones and MacKenzie had," which lends the course a sense of historical continuity. Nicklaus adds that Amen Corner "pretty much" looks like it did when he was racking up green jackets. "No. 11 plays pretty much the same, it's just longer. No. 12 is the same hole. No. 13 is a few yards longer, but not much; it's basically the same hole. Augusta was always a course that tests length, accuracy, and putting, and it still is. Now, it tests accuracy more than it used to. If the course had stayed the same, they'd be shooting lights out. But Augusta was able to change while keeping most of the positions Jones wanted. Those are still the premium places to hit the ball. The main difference is that the latitude of hitting the ball offline has changed. You have to drive the ball straighter now."
No. 1 TEA OLIVE
OLD YARDAGE: 400
NEW YARDAGE: 445
"Augusta has changed proportionally. I used to hit driver and 7-iron to the first hole, and today's players probably hit driver and 7-iron, even with today's ball and equipment. There used to be nothing between [holes] 1 and 9, so it didn't matter if you hit it in the first or ninth fairway [to the left]. Jones's philosophy was to give you a lot of room off the tee, but to get to the pin, you had to play to the right position. Now, with the addition of the trees and the [fairway] bunker, you have to be precise. The ball goes straighter today, so guys have to drive it straighter into certain positions, which is very much in keeping with the course's original philosophy."
No. 7 PAMPAS
OLD YARDAGE: 360
NEW YARDAGE: 450
"On No. 7, there were no trees between No. 3 and No. 7, so you could hit the ball anywhere on the left side of 7 to play your pitch into the green. The added length [90 more yards today than in Jack's day] to put a premium on accuracy. When I first came here, I hit driver off the tee. The trees were not here then between 3 and 7. The hole was designed to give you room off the tee and to allow you to play a short iron to the green. Now, the hole still plays a driver and a short iron. They've related the course to what's happened with the change of equipment and the ball. Have they changed the character of the hole? Yes, but you have to protect the course, and that's what they've done here. They have used good judgment."
No. 18 HOLLY
OLD YARDAGE: 405
NEW YARDAGE: 465
"Before the changes, I had said that we'll have to tee off 'from downtown,' because the ball goes so far. [After the changes, then club chairman] Hootie [Johnson] took me over to the new No. 18. They had a bronze marker that said, 'Downtown.' He said, 'That came from you.' That added length was necessary. Now you're not gonna drive it over the bunkers anymore, like Tiger and a lot of guys were doing. Also, there used to be nothing [to the] left of the fairway, and if you hit it well left of the bunkers, you were just in the old driving range. That's how I played it when I won in the early years— way to the left. You can't do that anymore because of the narrow chute off the tee."