Monday, April 9, 2012

It's all about the greens.

Detail of the 14th green at Augusta National.
Putting greens to a golf course are what the face is to a portrait. The clothes the subjects wears, the background, whether scenery or whether draperies - are simply accessories; the face tells the story and determines the character and quality of the portrait - whether it is good or bad. So it is in golf; you can always build a putting green. Teeing grounds, hazards, the fairway, rough, etc., are accessories.

- Charles Blair Macdonald.

We admire many remarkable golf holes at Augusta National these days, but the old Fruitland Nursery wasn't exactly an ideal site for golf when Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones surveyed the property back in the early 1930s. Mackenzie's routing makes remarkably intelligent use of a property that's incredibly steep in spots, for one; and, his discovery of those sites that are now the 12th and 13th holes is considered genius.

Whereas the layout of holes is the foundation of Augusta National's brilliance, it's the greens that really make the course. Not only do greens chock full of this kind of character present challenge and provide playing interest, they often make for more dramatic shots than otherwise. Take Louis Oosthuizen's albatross, yesterday, for example. The slope and contour of the 2nd green took Oosthuizen's ball from the centre of the green all the way over the far right side of the putting surface, and into the hole: brilliant drama that you don't see at a 'typical' course where green after green is simply pitched back to front.

What I like best about the greens at Augusta National though is, they reward well-played strokes but, at the same time, severely penalize golfers who miss in the wrong spots relative to the day's hole locations without necessity of using other hazards (an overabundance of bunkers and water for example) to present challenge and playing interest. Golfers must study and learn the intricacies of the greens at Augusta National to have success there. I guarantee it wasn't a fluke that Oosthuizen pitched his ball where it landed at the 2nd hole yesterday. With the right spin on it, Oosthuizen definitely knew how his ball was going to react to the ground there, having made a study of that particular green throughout last week.

When a course requires study - rather than just an effective swing, shot after shot - golf rises to another, far more fascinating and enjoyable level of recreation and competition.

Augusta National's greens didn't happen by accident, either. A lot of intelligence, thought, planning and artistry was required to create them. Almost a century on since Augusta National was originally designed, we're lucky those greens have provided important lessons to golf course architects and unparalleled excitement each year during the Masters Tournament.


  1. Great piece Jeff. as MacKenzie said of labour .. "more efficient to use mental labour than physical", I've always appreciated skill required in playing the game requires cerebral prowess as well as the physical. As I've heard you reference before regarding the unnecessary superabundance of bunkering on many designs, it is quite possible to provide a great challenge without this over-abundance. Unfortunately, the subtleness of these designs are often not understood and hence appreciated by the masses, at least initially. I redid a green of ours a couple of years ago and eliminated the two greenside bunkers of the original design, replacing them with subtle hollows and mounding that challenged greenside chip & pitch recovery shots. Many didn't like the "Look" of the new green at first, but many have come to appreciate the new challenges with experience playing the hole with more experience playing it.

  2. The golfing world clearly needs more Gerry Casavant's. Thanks,