Changes at Augusta National Golf Club have added 285 yards - a little less than the length of an average Tiger Woods drive - but accuracy and shotmaking will be at a premium for this year's Masters Tournament.
The fabled course, once the domain of power hitters and players with a deft putting touch, will require players to shape shots both left and right when they compete in the April 11-14 event.
Architect Tom Fazio, the longtime consultant to Augusta National, did the work to nine holes after the 2001 Masters, when the course closed for its summer break. The changes added 285 yards and were designed to strengthen several par-4 and par-5 holes. Several new pin positions should be a byproduct of the changes.
"I think I'm pretty much in favor of them," said Ron Whitten, architecture editor for Golf Digest since 1990. "They did a good job of not only stretching it back, but moving tees left and right and requiring some new shots into fairways and greens.
"It's shotmaking. It's no longer a high-hookers' course," he said. "You have to fade some tee shots. You open up the chances to more of the players in the field."
Billy Andrade, who visited in November, is one of about a dozen players who have seen the changes. More players are expected to visit this month as the PGA Tour swings through Florida.
"It was just breathtaking," said Andrade, who will be playing in his sixth Masters. "I remember Seve Ballesteros saying, 'Why mess with a Picasso?' They messed with a Picasso and made it better. That was my impression of the whole experience."
Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson implemented the changes, saying "our objective is to keep this golf course current." Advances in golf technology were cited as the primary factor for the changes.
The nine holes - Nos. 1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14 and 18 - were all lengthened, stretching the course to 7,270 yards. Tees on four holes (Nos. 8, 10, 11 and 18) were shifted slightly, and bunkers on Nos. 1, 8 and 18 were enlarged.
A stand of 30 to 40 trees was added to the right of the ninth fairway, and six trees were planted near the bunker complex on the 18th hole.
Woods, a two-time Masters champion who set the 72-hole scoring record with a 270 total in 1997, said tournament scores should not be as low in the future. Woods won in 2001 Masters with a 272 total.
"A lot depends on the weather, but I don't think in the future the scores will be quite as low because of the fact that now it's so much longer," said Woods, who played last fall with 1998 winner Mark O'Meara. "We're hitting longer clubs."
Regarded as one of the longest-hitting players on tour, Woods said the changes were not targeted at him. His average driving distance of 299.3 yards is second only to John Daly's average of 316.7.
Whitten, who wrote hole descriptions for the 2002 Masters Journal, said change is commonplace at Augusta National.
"Every year they have done subtle changes," he said. "Augusta always is and always will be a work in progress."
The architecture expert said course renovations are nothing new, citing St. Andrews and Baltusrol as two major championship venues that have been constantly changed.
"Augusta has had the same tournament since 1934," he said. "If you look every place else, old venues have kind of faded, and new ones have come up. St. Andrews is certainly not the course Bobby Jones played. It's far different."
Whitten would not characterize the changes as being the most dramatic or sweeping in the course's history. Every hole has been changed at some point, and the nines were actually reversed in 1935.
"I still think the most sweeping was when they put in the new 16th hole (in 1947)," he said. "These are just back-tee adjustments which are going on across the country."
Nos. 1 and 18 have been the focal point of the changes. No. 1 requires a tee shot of 300 yards to get over the fairway bunker that guards the right side. The tee on No. 18 was pushed back 60 yards and will require players to hit a mammoth drive of 335 yards to clear the bunker complex, which was increased in size by 10 percent.
"On 18, you used to walk off the 17th green and just walk right onto the 18th tee," Andrade said. "Now, you have to go way to the right. The tee now is behind some pine trees. If you poll all the players, they probably didn't know there were pine trees back there."
Andrade said he was impressed that the changes look natural.
"When you see the pictures of the bulldozers and the construction going on, to see what they created is just amazing," he said. "If you hadn't been there before, you would have never thought there'd been a thing done to this golf course.
"That's a true testament to everybody involved in this change. It's incredible. Everything looks like it's been there for 50 years. They did a wonderful job."
Time will be the true test for the changes, Whitten said.
"How many years before people start carrying it (the bunker on No. 1) again? That will be the bellwether whether technology continues to overrun the game," he said. "If in three years Tiger or Charles Howell carries it with ease, then you start wondering."
No. 1 - Tees moved back 20 to 25 yards. Fairway bunker reshaped and extended 10 to 15 yards toward green. New length: 435 yards.
No. 7 - Tees moved back 40 to 45 yards. New length: 410 yards.
No. 8 - Tees moved back 15 to 20 yards and shifted to the golfer's right 10 yards. Fairway bunker reshaped and nearly doubled in size. New length: 570 yards.
No. 9 - Tees moved back 25 to 30 yards. Trees added to right of fairway. New length: 460 yards.
No. 10 - Tees moved back 5 to 10 yards and moved 5 yards to the golfer's left. New length: 495 yards.
No. 11 - Tees moved back 30 to 35 yards and moved 5 yards to the golfers' right. New length: 490 yards.
No. 13 - Tees moved back 20 to 25 yards. New length: 510 yards.
No. 14 - Tees moved back 30 to 35 yards. New length: 440 yards.
No. 18 - Tees moved back 55 to 60 yards and moved 5 yards to the golfers' right. Fairway bunkersenlarged by about 10 percent. Trees added to left of fairway bunkers.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer David Westin contributed to this article.
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