Brandel Chamblee revisits changes to Augusta National Golf Club

1 of 4 Fred Vuich/Golf Magazine
Perfect. That, in a word, is how outspoken Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee describes the Masters before significant — and ongoing — changes to Augusta National were first unveiled in 2002. "It was a perfect tournament and golf course," Chamblee says. "It blended past, present and future — past champions had a chance to win, current players were the favorites, and younger guys had a shot too." By reshaping the course to keep pace with technology, the National lost sight of designer Alister MacKenzie's vision, making it less democratic. "You'll never see a Watson or Norman almost win. It's simply too hard." There's still a lot to love, Chamblee stresses — "Nos. 12 and 13 are perfect" — but he insists the renovations have affected the spirit of Augusta. "Experience used to matter the most," he says. "Now, it's about brawn." We asked Chamblee to deconstruct the three holes that have most changed the Masters.
2 of 4 Fred Vuich/Golf Magazine; Illustration: Trevor Johnston
No. 1, Tea Olive 1998 yardage: 400 2010 yardage: 445 A. DEEP TROUBLE "It's all about the fairway bunker. When they moved the tees back, that put the bunker at about 318 yards away, too far to fly it. Also, the bunker is six, seven feet deep — deeper than Hootie Johnson's pockets, I once said — so you can't hit it in the bunker and then reach the green. Used to be, brave players would challenge the bunker, so that they could enjoy the ideal angle coming into the green. Risk and reward! But today, players won't go near it. It's too risky. Instead, they take their drives up the left side, leaving a middle-iron from the worst possible angle into the green — not MacKenzie's intention." B. RUDE AWAKENING "The first hole used to gently wake you, like your mother getting you up for school in the morning. Now it's more like AC/DC slapping you in the face. Hey, "Back in Black" was a great song, but I don't want to hear it on the first tee at Augusta. I want to hear a symphony."
3 of 4 Fred Vuich/Golf Magazine; Illustration: Trevor Johnston
No. 7, Pampas 1998 yardage: 360 2010 yardage: 450 CHOKED UP "This was meant to be a quaint little par-4. MacKenzie never would have grown out trees in order to narrow the chute off the tee, and he never would have added rough and so much extra length. As with No. 1, your choice off the tee is gone, and with it much of the hole's seductiveness. The tee shot doesn't ask. It demands. You must hit driver because if you hit a 4-iron, you still have a long iron approach into a green that was not designed to accept a 3-, 4-iron. It was designed to accept a wedge." MIGHTY MITE Every course needs a short par-4—at Augusta it's the 350-yard third; it's perfect. Sure, you can spit on the green from the tee, but if you lay up, the angles and the pin position still pose a challenge. You ask, 'Should I hit driver or iron?' It drives you nuts, but in a fun way, like a puzzle. I say, return No. 7 to that philosophy. Bring back the artistry."
4 of 4 Fred Vuich/Golf Magazine; Illustration: Trevor Johnston
No. 17, Nandina 1998 yardage: 400 2010 yardage: 440 A. A NEW APPROACH "You were meant to hit about an 8- or 9-iron onto the green on 17. Why? Because both the front of the green and the back left of the green fall off, so you're actually only hitting to a 20-foot deep tabletop. Today, you might have a middle iron or hybrid [approach], and it's impossible to stop the ball on that tabletop with a longer club. To make matters worse, the green is far more severe than MacKenzie ever intended." THE FINAL WORD "MacKenzie understood that golf should be fun," Chamblee says. "It should entice you, make you consider something heroic. Maybe you fail, but you had the option of taking that risk. Today, I see players coming off the course and there's no joy. They're bruised, beaten. Why? Because the course is too difficult, and too philosophically different from what MacKenzie intended."