TEE­ING OFF: BREN­DAN JAMES

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - 8 | BY BREN­DAN JAMES | GOLF AUS­TRALIA EDI­TOR

EVERY golfer who sits and watches the Mas­ters on TV drools over the beauty and per­fec­tion of Au­gusta Na­tional.

The flaw­less play­ing sur­faces, the bright white sand and the flow­er­ing aza­leas project an image that screams golf­ing utopia.

And if you’ve never been to Au­gusta Na­tional dur­ing tour­na­ment week and think it’s tele­vi­sion trick­ery, it’s not. It is that per­fect. I walked the course for five hours dur­ing the first round this year and spot­ted one weed … to my hor­ror.

Un­for­tu­nately this per­fec­tion has a flow-on ef­fect for golf course su­per­in­ten­dents around the world, who are told by their club com­mit­tee they want green, striped-up fair­ways, fast putting greens and white sandy bunkers. It’s called the “Au­gusta Syn­drome”.

The re­al­ity is su­per­in­ten­dents, more than ever, are be­ing asked to do more with less – less staff, less wa­ter and a lot less money. All this, while ex­pec­ta­tions of near per­fect play­ing sur­faces from mem­bers, com­mit­tees and even pub­lic play­ers con­tinue to rise.

De­spite these challenges, su­per­in­ten­dents do what they can to keep their lay­out in the best pos­si­ble shape for play. But they will never be as good as Au­gusta. Here’s why. • It takes an un­lim­ited bud­get to pro­duce per­fect con­di­tions, and the mem­bers at Au­gusta are not only rich, but they draw tens of mil­lions in TV money for the Mas­ters broad­cast, which goes straight back into the main­te­nance of the golf course. • Au­gusta Na­tional is not a busy golf club. There are days where there might only be two or three groups play, which is not out of the or­di­nary. With­out much play, it’s so much eas­ier to give the course some se­ri­ous love and at­ten­tion. • Within weeks of the Mas­ters finish, Au­gusta Na­tional will close for the sum­mer. We get to see it in spring when the aza­leas are in full bloom, and the cool sea­son grasses on the fair­ways and greens are at their very best. In the heat of sum­mer, Au­gusta looks noth­ing like it does dur­ing tour­na­ment week and by clos­ing the course it doesn’t get beaten up by div­ots and pitch marks on grasses that are al­ready un­der stress. • Dur­ing Mas­ters week an army of vol­un­teers bol­ster the al­ready large course main­te­nance crew ten­fold. Most of these vol­un­teers are green­keep­ers or course su­per­in­ten­dents from around the United States and the world. They cut fair­ways, blow leaves and pine nee­dles off greens and pre­pare bunkers. It is akin to a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion be­fore and af­ter play every day. • Lastly. Green speeds. The pre-oc­cu­pa­tion most golfers have with green speeds is ridicu­lous. The fact of the mat­ter is, if you trim greens down too low, too of­ten the grass re­ally suf­fers. Dur­ing the Mas­ters, they can do it be­cause the course will close for sum­mer a few weeks later. In ad­di­tion, fast greens bring play to a grind­ing halt. Slower greens re­quire just as much skill to ne­go­ti­ate but play­ers don’t spend nearly as much time try­ing to get the ball in the hole. • I can’t imagine how much wa­ter Au­gusta Na­tional uses to keep it green. It uses plenty and then em­ploys ex­ten­sive drainage, com­bined with a Sub-Air dry­ing sys­tem, to keep the sur­faces dry and play­ing firm and fast. What course other than Au­gusta Na­tional could do that? So when you see a bare patch on the edge of a green, or the greens are run­ning at 8 in­stead of 10 or 11 on the stimp, or there are no stripes on the not quite lush fair­ways, take a sec­ond to sym­pa­thise with the course su­per­in­ten­dent. He’s do­ing the best he can with what he’s got.

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