Originally created 04/14/02

Club makes changes to all 18 holes



Changes, changes, changes. The topic has been discussed ad nauseum this week inside the perimeter of Washington and Berckmans roads and Rae's Creek.

While the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club have been abuzz with analysis of the extensive modernization project involving nine holes of the Alister Mackenzie classic, it's been a more quiet week on the other side of the fence behind Amen Corner.

It's business as usual at the Augusta Country Club, where club members and guests spend the dryer moments playing gentlemen's and ladies' matches amongst themselves. Visitors to the Masters know it only as the sliver of a course where golf carts pass by high above the National's 12th green. The most publicity it has received was when the National bought a chunk of property to push back the 13th tee and when a stray ball once intruded through the trees to the 12th green, where Tiger Woods was putting in the 2000 Masters.

Locals know it simply as The Club.

Change has been the story at The Club this year as well. In a little more time than it took the National to transform the Masters site into a beast of a major championship venue, Augusta Country Club underwent its own face lift. The National tried to turn back the clock on technology. The Club simply turned back time to the Donald Ross era.

Under the direction of golf course architect Brian Silva and with an assist from Donald Ross' original sketches and notes dug up from when he transformed the greens from sand to grass in 1927, the club redid every hole on the course. It was an ambitious project that required a lot of faith from the membership that wasn't displeased with the course they were digging up.

Silva is a veteran of many Donald Ross restorations, some earning better reviews than others. He's been hailed for work completed at Biltmore Forest and Charlotte Country Club in North Carolina. He was pilloried for his handiwork at a Massachusetts club, where the Donald Ross Society was actually formed in Silva's dishonor.

As for his restoration of Augusta Country Club, Silva seems pleased.

"I think it's the purest," he said.

Despite a few new back tees added and a net gain of 30 or so devilish bunkers all over the course, reaction from the members who play it daily has been a far cry different than the professionals playing the Masters.

"Most people actually think it's playing a little bit easier than before," said Silva of the feedback he's received from the club. "I think that will change once everything is grown in and the greens get up to speed."

The club's most famous golfing member, Charles Howell, couldn't comment on the work that was done to his home course. "I haven't played it since they redid it," Howell said.

Some of the changes are shocking to see in this era. The front of the green on the uphill No. 2 hole, for instance, is actually squared off with sharp corners.

But the most intriguing green on the course is the 16th - a rare punchbowl green in between steep banks and guarded in front and on the left by an ominous array of bunkers. It's a hilltop fortress suitable for protecting a regiment of soldiers, which it once did as the site of a Confederate gun emplacement. Some say the old trenches were used as sand traps. Silva himself didn't know what to do with the green until he saw Ross' handwritten notes: "Finish as punchbowl."

"The members aren't sure what to make of No. 16 yet," Silva said. "But the more they get used to it the more they like it."

Ross, it should be noted, wanted desperately to work with Bobby Jones on making Augusta National, and was reportedly hurt when Jones favored Mackenzie. The slight prompted Ross to overhaul his crowned-green jewel Pinehurst No. 2 into the toughest course in the South.

That was a distinction famed golf writer O.B. Keeler once bestowed upon Augusta Country Club. During the first Titleholders, one of the original majors in women's golf, Keeler called it the "hardest course in Dixie and one of the grimmest tests of golf in America."

The latest reviews aren't quite as dramatic for the Hill Course originally designed and routed by another Scotsman, David Ogilvie. Like Ross, Ogilvie apprenticed under Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews.

But any aficionado of classic golf course architecture would consider it a beaut more than a brute.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.