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IS THE MASTERS FIXED?
Gwilym S. Brown
April 04, 1966
No—but one could easily say it might as well be, for Augusta National is so suited to the golf games of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player that nobody else wins. Here are some strong arguments in favor of redesigning this great course—and a well-considered vote of dissent
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April 04, 1966

Is The Masters Fixed?

No—but one could easily say it might as well be, for Augusta National is so suited to the golf games of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player that nobody else wins. Here are some strong arguments in favor of redesigning this great course—and a well-considered vote of dissent

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AUGUSTA HAS BECOME THEIR PLAYGROUND

1958

PALMER

1

PLAYER

MC

1959

PALMER

3

PLAYER

8

NICKLAUS*

MC

1960

PALMER

1

PLAYER

6

NICKLAUS*

13

1961

PLAYER

1

PALMER

2

NICKLAUS*

7

1962

PALMER

1

PLAYER

2

NICKLAUS

15

1963

NICKLAUS

1

PLAYER

5

PALMER

9

1964

PALMER

1

NICKLAUS

2

PLAYER

5

1965

NICKLAUS

1

PALMER

2

PLAYER

2

*as an amateur MC missed cut

When the talk turns to who is going to win next week's Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., or next year's, or some Masters of the far-distant future, there may be no point in thinking beyond the three men snuggled into the wide green coat on the cover, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. In the past eight years (see chart) these three have collected seven of the green jackets handed out annually to the new Masters champion. In fact, since Jack and Gary joined the parade that Arnold started in 1958, the rest of the field has been hard put to even finish second. Scoring averages show that golf's Big Three have dominated Augusta to an astonishing degree. Palmer has averaged 71.48 strokes per round in the Masters, Nicklaus 71.54 and Player 71.79. Next on the list—out of those who have played 25 rounds or more—is Ben Hogan at 72.31, then Bill Casper at 72.88. No other golfer is under 73. The Lemas, Venturis, Littlers, Heberts, etc. have been on hand merely to fill out the twosomes that toil in vain around Augusta National each year. Compared to the U.S. Open, which has been won by 13 different golfers in the past 13 years, or the PGA, which shows 16 different winners in its last 16 years, the Masters is hardly more in doubt than Batman's tussle with each week's guest villain.

All of this raises interesting questions—questions that are being discussed increasingly by golfers, including the touring pros themselves. Is the Masters a bad golf tournament because only three men now seem able to win it? If so—saints save us from the thought—should the hallowed Augusta course be redesigned? Is it an antique that, because of some unfortunate features, has been outmoded by modern power golf? (One noted pro has called it the most unfair course on the tour, and a famous golf architect, the late Dick Wilson, once said, "The tournament is fine, but they don't really have a golf course.") The questions are good ones, and conversations with the people most immediately involved reveal some interesting thoughts.

The country's other most prestigious tournament, the Open, is played on a different course each year, but one that is always reshaped and regroomed especially for the event. Fairways are narrow, the rough is deep and bunkers are numerous. In a U.S. Open the golfer hits the ball straight or he might never get to hit it again. If playing in the Open is like shooting rapids in a canoe, the Masters is like a brisk ocean sail. There is always plenty of room to maneuver, though if one gets on the wrong tack it can take a long time to move from point to point. At Augusta the fairways are mammoth—70 acres, as compared to about 35 on most courses. There are a mere 45 bunkers, only six of which are fairway traps designed to catch tee shots. The long hitter, and especially one who can hook the ball, can blast away without a qualm. This gives Palmer and Nicklaus a spectacular advantage.

"It amounts to at least 10 strokes a tournament," says Jack Burke, who won a green coat in the balmy days of 1956. "About 12 strokes," says Jimmy Demaret, who must wonder now how he ever managed to parlay short hitting and a natural fade into three Masters titles. "About 12 strokes just on the par 5s," says Billy Casper. The reason their estimates are so high, of course, is that Nicklaus and Palmer take every advantage of their added distance by being superb with their irons as well.

Gary Player is a somewhat different case, but only slightly. He can hit the ball long; he almost keeps up with Palmer at Augusta. "He is a tremendous iron player," says Demaret. "He is unusually successful at Augusta because he is an excellent fairway wood player," says Byron Nelson. "He is a marvelous chipper," says Bobby Jones, Augusta National's eminent president. So much for Gary Player.

But what about Palmer and Nicklaus? Is it fair that they should be able to hit the ball so far and not be penalized when they hit it off line? Nicklaus himself has pointed out (SI, April 6, 1964) that the terrain at Augusta is such that the long hitter, in addition to his carry through the air, often receives much greater roll on his drives than the golfer with only average length. A good deal could be done to decrease this advantage.

"I think they should narrow the fairways," says Demaret. "I'd like to see more of a premium put on a straight tee shot." Demaret suggests drastic surgery to accomplish this. The only driving hole that would escape his renovation is the 7th, already a tight par 4 of 365 yards. Demaret would plant trees and put bunkers on 13 holes, with the 18th in line for the biggest overhaul.

"The 18th should be trapped by a series of bunkers running down the left side of the fairway," he says, "and the hole should be shortened so that the average hitter can at least get to the top of the hill."

Jack Burke would like to see 1, 3, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 18 tightened, but points out that another significant difficulty for the short hitter lies in where the cups are placed. "They try to toughen the course by putting the flags where you don't dare shoot at them," he says, "especially from a long way off. But if you don't shoot for the flags you three-putt a lot. There is hope for the short or average hitter only if he has an unbelievable four days of putting." Doug Ford is against adding bunkers, but he says the par 5s should be lengthened (Nicklaus once hit over the par-5 15th with a drive and a seven-iron).

Even Gary Player thinks the course might well be tightened (largely because of his friend Jack Nicklaus), and he has a sensible suggestion as to how much. "I just believe in the word fair," he says. "I don't think a very long hitter like Nicklaus should have to hit the same narrow area in the fairway that shorter hitters do. In other words, if we both hit the bail 10� off line and I have 25 yards of fairway to shoot at, then give Jack 35. But don't give him 50 or more, which is what he has now at Augusta. Until they narrow the course it is going to be mighty difficult for anyone to ever beat Nicklaus. I think he is going to win the Masters more times than any man who ever lived. A guy like him comes to the last hole needing a 4 to win. He'll just aim it down the left and hit hell out of it. Wherever it goes he only has to hit a wedge to the green. How can the average pro beat Nicklaus there? Put him on an Open course and there are 10 guys who can play him. Nobody can at the Masters."

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