Facelift for an old lady

You could say they’ve taken the Mona Lisa and added a bit more cleavage to make her suit a different age. The purists will tell you it’s sacrilege while the modernists will argue the move was inevitable in the march of time. As for the lady herself, she would probably be just too pleased that someone’s still looking at her.

In much the same way, the world of golf made a quantum leap when Augusta National Golf Club chairman Hootie Johnson announced before the start of last year’s Masters that change was in the air.

What they’ve done could hardly be described as a few brush strokes making Mona Lisa eligible for Baywatch. But suffice to say that changes have been made to Bobby Jones’s classic layout. And for many, that’s enough.

So set your video machine, because for four days starting on Thursday the eyes of the golf world will be watching to see whether Augusta got it right. You see, what will make this year’s first major so important is its ability to bridge the chasm that has developed between technology and the physical constraints of golf.

As the debate surrounding the greater distance players achieve with new golf balls and drivers and how this is making our courses obsolete continues to rage, the golf world is desperately searching for a benchmark. Something people can look at and say, ”That’s what we need to be aiming for.”

Leonardo da Vinci did it when he presented the world with the enigmatic stare of a woman, thus setting the artistic tone of a new civilisation evolving rapidly from medieval to modern society.

In a similar vein, the artists who carve out the fairways and greens around the world have been presented with a challenge. Their response will see the 95 players in this year’s Masters — which ironically celebrates the centenary of Jones’s birth — encountering a lengthened Augusta course that will place a greater emphasis on shotmaking.

A total of 260m has been added to the famed layout, with changes made to nine holes, taking it to an overall length of 6 647m. But while distance will be an asset, the message Augusta National will be trying to convey this year is that it is a course able to reward the best overall game.

The greens and pin positions will be slightly more forgiving than in the past, hopefully negating criticisms that the Masters has degenerated into a putting contest.

Long driving will be rewarded, but not to the extent that, as in the past, the most wayward drivers in the game could win in Masters week. Accuracy will now be crucial into landing areas that have been narrowed.

So versatility is the keyword here, with this year’s green jacket fitted for those who can shape the ball off the tee and create the shots around the greens.

Tiger Woods, the man in the minds of most golf course designers when it comes to making a course challenging enough for the modern professional, has declared the course should play at least two strokes harder due to the changes.

But Woods, who has played the course since the changes were made, also admitted that the layout will reward whoever is driving and putting well irrespective of their length off the tee.

One thing is certain, Woods should find himself in more competition for the green jacket than he did last year. A rejuvenated Ernie Els has all the attributes to do well at Augusta, while Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh must also rank as favourites.

Garcia is simply too young and fearless to care about an old or new Augusta’s reputation, while Singh will make solid pars all day if you ask him to, and the new layout will do exactly that.

Phil Mickelson and David Duval might struggle to match the shotmaking requirements of the new course, while you might want to include a Jim Furyk, Davis Love, Craig Perks or even a Mike Weir on your list of those to keep an eye on.

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Michael Vlismas
Guest Author

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