The folks at Augusta National were always
going to take steps to defend their pride and joy when Tiger Woods made the
course look little more than a pitch and putt at the 1997 US
Masters.

Fair enough, too. Most traditional golf
courses – Australia’s included – have found it tough to stand their ground against
today’s titanium powered drivers and long-haul balls.

The only problem is their solution – to push
tees back as far as possible – threatens to fundamentally change the way Augusta plays and
rob the Masters of its unique charm.

Not even the most anti-American golf fan
can deny that the Masters has held a special place among golf’s majors. Even
though it is an invitational event and, as such, boasts arguably the weakest
field of the four majors, it remains for many players the major they covet
most.

It has also been the most enthralling major
to watch. The Masters has always demanded that players get out and attack the
course, because, unlike what often happens at the other majors, par after par
after painstaking bloody par has never been enough to get the job done at Augusta.

Sadly, this may not be the case when the
players tee it up at Augusta this year, a course 140 metres longer than last year, and
approaching 500 metres longer than when Woods won in ’97.

Take the par three fourth hole, for
instance. It now measures 219 metres and while long-hitters like Ernie Els have
reached it with long irons in practice, the shorter guys may find themselves
reaching for a wood. And, believe me, if that’s the case, they won’t be
thinking birdie!

Significantly, two of the greatest Masters
champions of all time, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, have recently spoken
out against the changes. Nicklaus told the April
edition of Golf Digest magazine: “I think they’ve ruined it, from a
tournament standpoint.”

Let’s hope the gents at
Augusta don’t reduce the Masters to a battle of
attrition. It has been so much more than this over the years.

Peter Fray

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