The reports of Augusta National Golf Club's course changes have been greatly underestimated.
As early as this week, Masters chairman Hootie Johnson is expected to publicly disclose details of the renovations being made to the course that annually plays host to the season's first major golf championship. But a sneak peak over the pines and inside the gates of the sacred tract revealed an array of modifications that exceeds any previous reports or notions.
An aerial survey of the golf course by The Augusta Chronicle on Wednesday revealed at least eight holes having undergone significant alterations, including new tee boxes on each of them that could increase the course length by an estimated 140 to 185 yards. The course measured 6,985 yards for the 2001 Masters.
Other visible alterations include the reshaping and repositioning of the fairway bunkers on three holes and the recontouring of the landing areas on four holes.
The changes are being overseen by golf course architect Tom Fazio, who has been Augusta National's chosen consultant and designer for more than a decade. Neither Fazio nor any club officials would comment on the project.
But as the work draws to a finish, the most ambitious construction project since the course was built by Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones in 1931 is sure to be the subject of international debate when the players arrive for the 2002 Masters in April.
When the Masters chairman announced on the eve of the 2001 tournament the club's plan to make "significant" changes before the 2002 Masters, he indicated that four or five of the par-4 holes would be addressed in an effort to lengthen and strengthen the course. Asked how many yards might be added to the course, Johnson quickly responded, "All we can." But as the plan gained momentum when work began in June, Johnson clearly understated the scope of the project.
As of this week, only three of the course's 10 par 4s have been untouched - Nos. 3, 5 and 17. The rest, as well as one par 5, have been lengthened anywhere from 10 to 40 yards. When Golfweek magazine sent up a reconnaissance plane to take photos for a story two weeks ago, the report estimated that the course will gain as much as 115 yards to bring the 18-hole dimensions to 7,100 yards.
That estimate seems to be largely conservative. It includes a significant miscalculation to the new length of the No. 1 tee and a complete oversight of the new tee at No. 9 that extends almost all the way back to the driving chute of the second hole.
Five of the eight new Masters tee boxes appear to have added 20 or more yards to the holes - including new teeing grounds that stretch as much as 30 to 40 yards on the par-4 7th and 18th holes.
Nos. 1, 8, 9 and 14 appear to have been stretched anywhere from 15 to 30 yards, while Nos. 10 and 11 - already the two longest par 4s on the course - might have increased by 10 to 15 yards.
While the majority of the changes involve length, the real teeth of the project are aimed at placing a premium on accuracy off the tee.
The fairway bunkers on Nos. 1 and 8 have been dramatically enlarged, elongated and repositioned to take away preferred avenues of the longest hitters. Both tee shots now will require golfers to play down the left side, requiring more demanding second shots.
Other more subtle changes might come into play on the landing areas on Nos. 7, 8, 11 and 18, where hitting the right spot in the fairway will be paramount to having the best approaches into the greens. Large swathes of those fairways were torn up and reconstructed, though the extent of those changes was not discernible from the aerial survey.
No. 1, Tea Olive
Par 4, 410 yards
Tee: Extended so far back (20 yards) that the putting green needed to be moved toward the stoop of the Eisenhower Cabin.
Fairway: The bunker on the right has been shifted toward the green and has been elongated to extend approximately 30 yards farther up the fairway.
Comment: The combination of yards at the tee and to the far end of the bunker will prevent even the biggest hitters from bombing it up the right side.
No. 7, Pampas
Par 4, 365 yards
Tee: Trees were cleared to make room for a new back tee that is situated as much as 40 yards behind the old ground.
Fairway: Construction being done at the landing area suggests that the contours might be tinkered with to make this short hole play longer.
Comment: Large tree between the new tee and the No. 6 green will create a chute to force certain shots and make players work harder to get perfect wedge into the green.
No. 8, Yellow Jasmine
Par 5, 550 yards
Tee: Pushed back (15 yards) and a little to the right toward the 17th green, creating a different angle to the fairway.
Fairway: Transformed obsolete fairway bunker with a massive, odd-shaped bunker that extends as much as 50 yards farther up the right side.
Comment: The right-side power alley with the easiest angle to the green is cut off, pinching the landing area to the left and requiring a more shaped approach.
No. 9, Carolina Cherry
Par 4, 430 yards
Tee: Tucked back into the trees and almost all the way to the No. 2 driving chute is a new tee that adds 25 to 30 yards.
Comment: Chairman Hootie Johnson said he didn't like seeing players slingshot drives to the bottom of the hill to set up easy wedge approaches.
No. 10, Camellia
Par 4, 485 yards
Tee: Pushed back about 10 yards and tucked into the elbow of the new putting green.
Comment: If it's not the first 500-yard par-4 in major championship golf, it's close enough. More downhill-lie approaches could result.
No. 11, White Dogwood
Par 4, 455 yards
Tee: Tucked into its own corner of the course, the tee might have been extended another 10 or so yards.
Fairway: The fairway was torn up almost all the way to the green, indicating a major project to recontour and soften the landing area.
Comment: More than length, the idea is to demand more accuracy off the tee so that the second shot will remain a perilous introduction to Amen Corner.
No. 14, Chinese Fir
Par 4, 405 yards
Tee: Moved back (15 to 20 yards) and slightly left to where the grandstands used to be.
Comment: The added length and angle will require a more precisely shaped drive to warrant the best approach to one of the most demanding greens.
No. 18, Holly
Par 4, 405 yards
Tee: The new back tee has been pushed beyond the pine and almost to the 15th fairway, adding as much as 20 to 30 yards.
Fairway: The bunker tandem at the far end of the dogleg was shifted to pinch the landing the way it was originally intended.
Comment: The tightest drive on the course got tighter, with the added length to the dogleg making it tougher to bend a shot toward the green or blow it over the bunkers.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.