Hard, Hilly and Heavenly

April 09, 2008 | Drew Forrester

Augusta National isn’t amazing.

And, it’s not phenomenal.

It’s MUCH better than that.

My first trip ever to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National on Tuesday showed me more about the golf course than I could have ever known without at least seeing it once in person.

The “three H’s” best sum up what Augusta is all about.

> Hard – Talk about difficult…wow, that place is incredibly hard.  I know Tiger blew it away in ’97 at -18, but that will NEVER happen again.  No way. The course measures nearly 7,500 yards now and virtually every hole is either uphill or downhill and the front of every green is protected with bunkers or water, meaning you MUST hit the ball high to get it on the putting surface.

Now I know why they say “high ball hitters” have an advantage at Augusta.

The fairways are generous (some are 40 yards wide) and the rough isn’t really “the rough” at all…that’s why they call it the “2nd cut”. 

But, you can’t just blow your driver all over the place anymore, because some conveniently growing (planted) pine trees do the job of heavy rough by making your approach shot difficult if you have to navigate your way through those Georgia pines.

And, then, of course, once you reach the putting surface, the real fun begins.  You can tell how important putting is by watching the players in their practice round(s).  Everyone spends at least 10 minutes on every green, putting to imaginable hole locations while their caddies take “major” amounts of notes.

On TOUR from week to week, practice rounds are generally regarded as a chance to play a casual round with a couple of friends, a $50 per-hole wager tacked on to keep it interesting.  Yesterday, though, was W-O-R-K.  There weren’t any friendly matches, and, a bunch of guys (Tiger, Robert Allenby, Robert Karlsson to name a few) took to the course by themselves, with caddy, to study the course and do their prep work.

You’ll also see a lot of “national pride” when it comes to the practice rounds.  The South Africans all played together yesterday (Player, Goosen, Immelman and Clark) as did the Spanish gang (Garcia, Villegas and Romero).

Hilly > Like I wrote above, the place is so much more “up and down” than TV leads you to believe.  The course is basically a “tiered bowl”, with the 16th hole being the very bottom of the bowl and the course’s lowest point.  One of the coolest things about Augusta – because of the tiered bowl effect, is that you’re literally always a 2-minute walk from two or three other holes.  While the golf course property, per-se, is huge, the course is a well-connected jig saw puzzle with holes and greens mingling along together without much notice (unless you’re paying attention).  One minute, you can be watching the approach shots at #10…and all you have to do is walk 40 yards up the hill and you’re suddenly face to face with the 15th tee.  And, about 75 yards to your right is the 7th green, if you feel like hopping back over to the front nine. 

Very few holes don’t feature some kind of substantial uphill/downhill issue.  Almost no approach shot to a par-4 can be made from a flat lie.  When you watch The Masters this week and see that 18th hole, don’t be fooled when the announcers point to it as a 465-yard hole.  It’s nothing like a 465-yard hole.  The tee shot comes out of that well known shoot and players have to hit a drive of at least 280 yards just to get around the corner and have a look at the green.  But, once you get to your ball, you can’t even see the green, it’s so high up on the hill.  So, that 180 yard approach shot into the final hole at Augusta is really more like a 200-220 yard shot depending on wind, conditions, etc. 

Heavenly > The only negative, I guess, about visiting Augusta is that you’re reduced to seeing ONLY the course.  You don’t get to walk in to Butler Cabin, you never see the Champions locker room and, in general, everything but the course is off limits.  And, that’s a shame, because if the rest of the place is as beautiful as the course, I’m sure we’d all love to see what it looks like. 

Everything you’ve heard about Augusta being clean?  True.  Kids in yellow jump suits with “LITTER” on the back walk around and pick up any trash that somehow makes it way to the ground.  There are attendants in every bathroom tellling you which stalls are available, etc.

Everything you’ve heard about the food/drink prices?  True.  Sodas are $1.00.  Beer, $2.00.  Ham and cheese sandwiches, $1.50.  Turkey, $1.50.  If you want that really nice chicken breast sandwich, you’ll have to fork over a whopping $2.50, which is the highest cost of ANY food item.  And, by the way, the sandwiches were outstanding. 

The souvenir prices were typical of what you’d expect at a major league ballpark.  Hats, $22.  Shirts, $70.  Coffee mug, $16.  Hey, when you charge $1.50 for a turkey sandwich, you have to make up for it somewhere, right?

It was simply the most well run event on the most well manicured golf course that I’ve ever seen.

I knew all that already, but, just once, I had to see it for myself.

I say -9 wins the tournament. 

Everyone’s picking Tiger, and why wouldn’t you? 

If Woods somehow gets the bird flu between now and then, I’ll take Australian John Senden to win.