- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

AUGUSTA, Ga. This week's Masters could be the last at Augusta National as we know it.
Feeling threatened by advances in equipment technology and the raw power of Tiger Woods and his PGA Tour brethren, tournament chairman Hootie Johnson announced yesterday that the world's most familiar layout will undergo the most drastic changes in its history in the coming offseason.
"We do plan to make extensive changes in an attempt to strengthen some of our par 4s," Johnson said. "A number of our par 4s will be strengthened from the standpoint of length some with length and others, all really, having to do with accuracy off the tee."
For years, the Greencoats have tweaked and stretched the collaborative brainchild of Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie to protect it from the game's ever-improving practitioners. In 1981, they converted the greens from Bermuda to bentgrass. In 1999, they added a light second cut of fairway (1 3/8 inches) and lengthened Nos. 2 and 17 by a total of 50 yards. But next year they could change as many as seven of the course's par 4s, drastically changing the face of the course.
"They need to respond to the technological changes in the game to maintain the integrity of the golf course," said 1976 champion Ray Floyd, who saw countless minor changes during his heyday. "The changes back then were all subtle. They'd move a tee or put in a gallery mound. They moved the eighth tee back two or three times, and people didn't even notice. You never needed any dramatic changes, but now you do. You can't have guys hitting 9-irons and pitching wedges into par 4s."
The dramatic effects of technology on the game over the last several years are undeniable. As a perfect example, career rank-and-filer Joe Durant switched to the Titleist Pro VI ball before this season and jumped from 116th in driving distance last year to 34th this season (281.4 yards) while notching two Tour wins.
Mark Calcavecchia used the same ball to break the PGA Tour's long-standing 72-hole scoring record at the Phoenix Open, posting a 28-under 256.
"For years I've been screaming about restricting the golf ball," said six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, who defended the club's decision to lengthen the course while pleading for both the USGA and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to take a stand against manufacturers and adopt a universal set of standards limiting golf ball advancements. "It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to allow the golf ball to do what it is doing. I don't blame Augusta National they're just trying to keep up with technology. Augusta National is one of our great golf courses in the world. To have it diminished by a golf ball because the manufacturers can't stand to have their ball go shorter and because the USGA can't stand up because they are afraid of being sued to death and I don't blame them is absurd. Where do you go? The game gets ruined.
"Somebody has got to stand up and stop the madness with the ball… . And the Masters is in no position to take that lead. They are a golf tournament. Frankly, I think the Tour should, but I don't think Tim [Finchem] wants to do that."
If the Greencoats exploit all the available space on the property, they could stretch Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 14 and 18 between 150 and 200 yards, as well as moving some outdated bunkers (particularly on No. 5) to bring them back into play and tighten holes off the tee.
"There's no target total yardage," said famed architect Tom Fazio, who will be in charge of carrying out the proposed changes on the par-72 course that currently measures 6,985 yards. "But I'd say you're in the ballpark with 150 yards of added length."
The news of severe changes startled many players on the property, touching off an almost uniform outcry of dismay.
"It just doesn't need it," three-time champion Nick Faldo said. "I like the fact that Augusta National has always emphasized accuracy and strategy, but now they're just going for brute length."
Said Rocco Mediate: "The greens have always been this course's ultimate defense, and they aren't designed to accept the type of long iron shots we're talking about now. It's tough enough to keep a wedge on No. 14; I can't imagine hitting a 6- or 7-iron in there.
"This course has remained pretty much the same for decades, and all of a sudden a player like Tiger [Woods] comes out who's gifted beyond imagination, and they say, 'We've got to make this golf course longer.' Guess what? That's not hurting him. It's hurting us. He'll still be hitting 7-irons and 8-irons to every par 4, but most of the rest of us will be hitting 3- and 4-irons. Now who do you think is going to win? If they go through with this, they might as well not even send invitations to 80 percent of the field next year, because we won't have a chance."
The primary concern for most players, however, is that significant changes would forever thwart the possibility of comparing the performances of future Masters champions with those of yesteryear.
"This is obviously the only course we all come back to every year [for a major], and it's going to get to the point where it's impossible to compare it to the course of 30 years ago," Hal Sutton said. "That severely damages the history and tradition of one of golf's most cherished events. So enjoy it this week. Because you might not recognize the course next year."

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