You know the official word of Augusta National. Tradition. If the people there could copyright the word, sell it in the gift shop with a Masters logo on it, they would. As is, they are more than happy to use it in as many ways as the dictionary allows. In just one eight-hour period a person can hear that the Masters is a "timeless tradition" and also the "greatest tradition in golf." Augusta National is a place that "celebrates tradition" and "values tradition" while always, of course, "respecting tradition." All of it, naturally, adds up to a "tradition unlike any other."
The funny thing is that while everyone might get distracted by the talk about tradition and the stateliness of the Eisenhower tree and the Sarazen bridge, the simple truth is that no major golf tournament—perhaps no major sporting event—has changed as much as the Masters in the last decade or so. That's the remarkable mystique of this place. Everything feels the same. But except for the recipe for the pimento cheese sandwich, the Southern stodginess that demands that fans be called patrons and the absence of a cardboard check for the winner, very little is the same. The Masters is wildly different from the tournament that Tiger Woods won by a staggering 12 shots in 1997.
Start with the course itself. Every hole—with the exceptions of number 3, the famed number 12 and the 16th—has undergone significant changes in the last eight years. Shoot, just look at the 1st hole. The thing has had four major changes over those few years.
• 2002: moved tees back 20 to 25 yards and reshaped fairway bunker
• 2006: moved tees back another 15 to 20 yards and added trees
• 2008: reduced the back of the tee to "ease patron movement"
• 2009: moved the tee up seven yards, rebuilt the green
That's just the 1st hole. At number 7 the tee was moved back 40 yards in 2002 and another 40 yards in '06. At number 18 a bunch of trees were planted and the tee was pushed back 55 yards and moved slightly to the right. At number 11 a forest of trees was added down the right side, and the par-4 was stretched to 505 yards. And so on.
"It's a very different golf course now," two-time Masters champion Tom Watson said before the week began. "They had to do it to keep up with the times. But it's definitely different."
Of course, there were always subtle changes being made—"Augusta National evolves but never changes," said Arnold Palmer as he narrated a video montage on CBS—but the key word was subtle. You could come back year after year and never notice the changes until somebody pointed them out. As Jack Stephens, the former club chairman, used to say back in the 1990s when asked about certain adjustments: "We don't interfere with the good Lord's work." Sure, they might rebuild a green here or reshape a bunker there, but they would never do anything that would dramatically alter the look of the course. They would never do anything drastic like, oh, adding rough to the place.