Over the past 52 years, SI has photographed Augusta National Golf Club and environs from the air on eight occasions, and I have been the assigning editor on seven of those shoots. Mostly, news events such as dramatic changes to the course necessitated that we go up top to tell the whole — or hole — story. But sometimes we were motivated simply by the beauty of America's most famous golf course, and the drama that often plays out there. Here's an inside look.
1960: First Time Up
These photos are special not so much for their content, but because of the man who took them. John G. Zimmerman is a legend in a long line of great SI photographers. Zimmerman was renowned as an innovator, and at that time shooting play from a fixed-wing plane was totally out of the box. These photos — of the 18th green and the clubhouse, and the 6th (top) and 16th greens — did not appear in SI until 1961, when they accompanied a preview story written by the equally gifted Alfred Wright.
1996: Master Strokes
This was my first Masters as golf editor at SI, and our team was determined to make a splash. The plan was to be flying over the 18th green on Sunday as the last putt was holed so we could get the winner's reaction. We were expecting a coronation, as Greg Norman was holding a six-stroke lead going into the final round, but instead photographer Jim Gund captured the wonderfully poignant moment as Norman, who had imploded by losing all six strokes and five more, emotionally embraced playing partner Nick Faldo, the man who had caught and passed him. Two other Gund photos from that Sunday, of the 12th hole and an inspiring shot of the 18th surrounded by fans, were also featured in that year's Masters coverage.
1997: Swing and a Miss
Not every assignment works out as planned. Walter Bingham, a longtime golf editor at SI who, in retirement, would frequent our offices, liked to make the argument that the 3rd, 4th, and 5th holes at Augusta National were every bit as demanding as the feared three-hole stretch of the 10th, 11th and 12th. Back in those days the front nine was seldom seen on television, so we thought an aerial shot was in order. The assignment went to Rusty Jarrett, a local shooter who at one time was Augusta National's official photographer. Unfortunately for us, we were thwarted by a stretch of bad weather, and this was the best Rusty could do. We decided to go with an illustration instead of a photograph. The par-4 3rd hole is shown at the top of what appears to be a horseshoe, followed by the par-3 4th and the par-4 5th.
Foreshadowing the monumental course renovation that would come only three years later, Augusta National unveiled what at the time were considered radical alterations — the first rough, or "first cut" in Masters-speak, and new back tees on the 2nd and 17th holes — among other tweaks. SI focused on the par-4 17th and the par-5 15th, where 35-foot pines were planted on both sides of the par-5, with photos by Bob Rives accompanying analysis by Jaime Diaz, who recently received the PGA of America's lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism.
2000: Fun Stuff
Bob Martin, SI's Europe-based photographer, took his turn in the air during the first Masters of the millennium, and he came up with a bird's eye view of Clifford Roberts's charming short course during the Wednesday Par-3 Contest, as well as the armada of fairway mowers that are unleashed on the main course every evening, and a direct overhead shot of the beautiful but dangerous 13th green.
2001: Under Construction
Word filtered out in the summer, when Augusta National is closed, that massive changes were being made, and our friends at the Augusta Chronicle got the scoop. SI photographer Chris Stanford confirmed the story with these snaps. The mess in front of the clubhouse, from left to right, was the new putting green, the new back tee at the 10th and the new back tee at the 1st. The second shot shows the newly stretched — by 60 yards — 18th (top right) and the new back tee at the 8th (center). In all, Augusta National was about 200 yards longer for the 2002 Masters.
2002: Friendly Neighbor
We wanted to do a story about the goings-on at Augusta Country club, which abuts Augusta National and shares a number of local members. We figured there was no better way to illustrate how close the two clubs really are than to have photographer Chris Stanford go high and show the proximity of the 9th hole at Augusta Country Club to the 13th tee at Augusta National. The other photograph is of the swell clubhouse at Augusta Country Club, whose members are unfailingly warm and welcoming during Masters week.
2010: New Look
The latest significant changes to Augusta National were hardly a secret. We knew for years that the club was interested in improving parking and, more important, upgrading the practice grounds, and had been gobbling up all the real estate across the street on Berckmans Road. The end result, captured by Fred Vuich, was expanded parking for all, a dramatically increased capacity for hospitality and, to the delight of the players, a driving range and short-game area to die for.