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Looking back on the recent Masters Tournament, the first thought that crosses one's mind is that not since Sherman has there been so much strife over Georgia real estate. In particular, there was practically a nonstop dialectic about two new bunkers that appeared on the Augusta National course, to which was added a strident obbligato of complaints about the condition of the fairways.
Even allowing for the fact that the headline makers at the Masters are under persistent pressure to produce newsworthy quotes on almost anything, including the local flora and fauna, it was a little disconcerting to hear Augusta National receive so much verbal abuse. For more than 30 years and through countless alterations, golfers have tended to regard it as one of the superb courses of the world, perfectly groomed, lovely to look at and a privilege to play.
The new bunkers were in the driving areas of the fairways on the 2nd and 18th holes. They had been under consideration for several years, and they were finally installed for this year's championship under the supervision of Architect George W. Cobb. A month before the tournament, Chairman Clifford Roberts issued a press release describing the bunkers and suggesting that if they did not work out quite right they might very well be changed. Well, no sooner had the vanguard of contestants from the previous week's Greensboro Open played their first practice rounds on Monday than a howl went up, primarily about the 2nd hole.
"The one on the 2nd hole is a trap, the one on the 18th is a bunker," said Ben Hogan. That was at the traditional Tuesday night dinner for past champions that is held at the club each year. It is the kind of function where old Masters are not loath to speak their minds. Of the former champions present, only Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and possibly Gary Player were apt to be seriously bothered by the bunker at No. 2, but the way the oldtimers talked you might have thought the course had been defiled by vandals. When it was finally suggested that Palmer, the tournament's only four-time winner, make a few comments, he took the pragmatic line. "Well, it's there," he said, "so what are you going to do? As far as I'm concerned, I'm either going to go around it or over it or under it or through it or beat it into the ground," which is exactly the way Palmer has been dealing with golf courses for the last 10 years.
At the Masters it is axiomatic that the place to get your birdies is on the four rather short par-5s. Of these, the 555-yard 2nd is the longest, but it is downhill all the way, and last year it yielded more birdies to the leading players than any but the 13th. The trick was to get the drive over the crest where the fairway takes a downhill turn to the left. The shorter and chancier route was to flirt with the large pines guarding the left side of the fairway, and that is still the only way to get to the green in two. The safer play was to drive into the wide-open spaces on the right and hit the second shot short of the bunkers fronting the green.
But into this safe-driving area went the new bunker, a deep gouge of sand with a towering white face. Of all the golfers at the Masters, it is doubtful if any but Nicklaus could fly a drive over this bunker under normal conditions—a carry of better than 265 yards. Everyone else now had the choice of risking the narrow lane between the bunker and the trees on the left or playing short. Once again the cry was heard that Augusta National was being tailored to help Nicklaus and Palmer. But this did not prove to be the case. The bunker was equally troublesome for all. Because it extends across the entire right half of the fairway, it may leave too narrow a passageway to the left, but it certainly serves its purpose. Henceforth, birdies at No. 2 will be rarer.
The change at 18 is even more stimulating. It may have come about because the sight of Nicklaus—on national TV at that—driving far to the left of the fairway in previous years and coming safely into the 18th green from that unexpected angle was more than Masters officials could bear.
The new bunker—it is really two bunkers, although Roberts regards it as a "huge two-sectioned bunker"—is a splendid addition to one of the better finishing holes in golf. The hole is an uphill dogleg par-4 of 420 yards. Along the right side of the fairway where it bends to the right some 230 yards from the tee, there is a thick stand of Georgia pine.
The well-placed drive to the middle of the fairway leaves anything from a five-to a seven-iron shot into the green. The left side of the fairway, and the well-trampled rough adjoining it, was a hazard-free target, and this was destroying the hole, which was designed to make the golfers keep to the right near the trees.
It was at the very landing area of the drives on the left fairway that the new bunkers were carved. The first is an innocuous flat slab of sand, but the second, a few yards farther along, is somewhat deeper with a sharply rising face. From the first bunker any capable golfer who hits the ball properly can reach the green with a five-or six-iron. From the deeper forward bunker, one can still reach the green if the ball is not too close to the face. Such shots were successfully performed a number of times during the four days of the Masters. But the bunker took its toll, in part by forcing the golfers toward the woods on the right. At one point on Friday, four of the leaders came rolling happily into 18 looking for a nice pleasant par to end the day and got an unsettling bogey instead.