The Master values ​​tradition, but the change of course is constant

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Less than 24 hours had passed since last year’s Masters ended, and preparations for this year’s tournament were underway.

He started with heavy equipment, taken to Augusta National to remove a huge tree from its former home near the 15th tee.

While some traditions at Augusta National are almost never changed and some rules are downright absolute, the course itself has a long history of evolving with the times. And the process of changing some things for this year’s Masters, which starts today, began immediately after last year’s tournament ended. The main changes this year: making the par 4 11 and par 5 15 15 to 20 yards longer and lowering the tees on both holes.

“I think this place changes a little bit every year,” said world number one Scottie Scheffler.

He is not wrong.

Golf balls simply fly farther now than they did years ago thanks to technology. Golfers are bigger and stronger. These are not new developments, of course. Courses had to accommodate all of that, and most have, Augusta National certainly among them.

Augusta National makes no secret that it looks at potential changes every year and usually makes at least one adjustment to ensure it remains a tough but fair test.

“That’s what this place is about. It’s as much a game of chess as anything else,” said Rory McIlroy, who needs a Masters win to complete his career Grand Slam. “It’s just about getting into the right positions and being disciplined and patient and knowing that the pairs are good.”

It’s not like the 11th and 15th holes are crying out for a change. The 11th hole was the second-toughest hole relative to par at last year’s Masters, with an average score of around 4.4 and a birdie only around 5.3 percent of the time.

And now it seems to be even more difficult, not only with increased length but also with changes in the contour of the fairway. Some trees have been removed from the right side of the fairway, though that alone won’t make it any easier to play.

“We thought Larry Mize’s shot was gone,” five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods said. “Now he’s really gone.”

The 11th hole, White Dogwood, as it’s called at Augusta National, played about 455 yards in 1987, when Mize chipped in from the right side of the green for birdie and the Masters title in a playoff. Greg Norman. He now plays 520 yards.

Mize once said that he never tried to replicate that chip. He couldn’t now if he wanted to; the right side of the green has been raised, so the shot he made would not be the same now under any circumstances.

“Some of the changes, some more drastic than others,” Woods said. “Others are very subtle.”

The 15th was the easiest fourth hole on the course last year (4.77 average score), but the most difficult of the four par-5s. It’s the hole where Gene Sarazen hit a 235-yard 4-wood for double eagles in 1935.

The tee was pushed back about 20 yards this year, and earlier in the week Lee Westwood was making his approach from 267. A hole that the Masters touts as “famously attainable” is no longer as accessible.

“It certainly makes you think now,” Westwood said. “Even if you get a good drive, it’s not an immediate, ‘Yes, I’m going to try it.’ … It’s really a juggling act and an assessment of whether it’s easier to hit a 100-yard shot on a green that’s slightly angled toward you than a 20-yard shot out the back that’s heading away from you toward the water. It certainly makes you think.”

While the changes at 11 and 15 get most of the attention, the greens at three other holes (the par 4 third, the par 5 13 and the par 4 17) were also redone last year, which is it is not strange

Augusta National president Fred Ridley said a byproduct of that was the potential for perhaps new pin placement instead of the usual dots on those greens. Long story short, even golfers who know, or knew, all the nuances of Augusta National have had to relearn a few things on the fly this week.

“That’s really what we were trying to incorporate, the risk-reward element into some of these changes that we made,” Ridley said.

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