TEEING OFF: BRENDAN JAMES
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.