The Masters. Golf’s first major of the season. For some, the mere thought of it sends chills down their spine – some good, some not so good.
For a golf course superintendent, however, the thought of Augusta National Golf Club can sometimes take on an entirely different meaning.
By now I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Augusta Syndrome,” a phenomenon that many a superintendent has come to expect and dread every April. The near-perfect golf course most people only get to see on TV reveals a golf course maintenance standard that many of us can only dream about.
An abundance of highly trained staff, ample equipment resources, a large budget and a world-class design all mesh together to create one of the world’s most untouchable golfing meccas.
Sadly, for some superintendents, this scene of assumed golf course “perfection” trickles out into the minds of board members and players alike, evoking the inevitable questions: “Why can’t our rough be that full?” or, “Can we get our greens to roll that fast, too?” and of course, “How come our bunkers don’t look like that?”
Sigh. Best answer I can think of, “Because our maintenance budget is limited and it wouldn’t be good for business to close the course for four months during the height of the summer golf season like they do at Augusta National.”
Probably not what golfers want to hear. “Yeah, yeah,” they think. “You’re just making excuses.”
Some superintendents may feel compelled to try to produce this kind of excellence before the questions roll in, eliminating the need to face golfers in the first place. Others may avoid contact with members altogether during April and simply wait for the Augusta Syndrome to fade away.
When Bobby Jones designed Augusta with Alister MacKenzie in 1933, their original intent was a course modeled after the Old Course at St. Andrews, thus relying heavily on a design favoring a ground game versus an aerial one. Sadly, Augusta National Chairman and Co-founder Clifford Roberts began transforming the design to minimize the ground approach soon after its opening. MacKenzie died shortly after the club opened. He was nearly penniless and died just two months before the first official Masters tournament. Jones was also out of the picture, having been called into service for World War II. This gave Roberts free reign to make his changes.
Since that time more than 15 architects have made their mark on Augusta. With the ground game removed, the only thing remaining of the original MacKenzie design is essentially just the routing.
Note: Yes, they make changes and do construction work at Augusta, but no, you don’t get to see it.
As a golf traditionalist, I kind of relish the lore and history of Augusta, from the stories of the origins of the design by Jones and MacKenzie, to the heroic shots of Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and so many others.
But Augusta heroics aren’t reserved for just the players. When Paul R. Latshaw was at the helm as superintendent from 1986 to 1989, he was covered by Chairman Hord Hardin and was undisturbed by members and the media. Whenever a member approached Latshaw, it was Hardin who always insisted on taking the brunt of the questions so the superintendent could focus on the duties at hand.
I don’t know of many supers who have that kind of luxury at their own courses. From my own previous experience, praise from the golfers usually stopped at the pro shop, while only the criticism seemed to filter past the pro to the superintendent.
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The pressure of being in charge of the most hallowed grounds of Augusta can take its toll, but Latshaw has said he had it pretty easy thanks to the Hardin blockade.
As we all know, many golfers become armchair superintendents when they step on to your course. Advice and suggestions come in from all directions and it’s up to us to decide whether to take it or leave it.
Lloyd McKenzie (superintendent from 1975 to 1981) got the best advice of all from Roberts during his tenure at Augusta. McKenzie and Roberts were friends, and Roberts offered up some wisdom that should ring true for all of us.
I’m paraphrasing here since I obviously wasn’t there, but in essence he said, “You will meet lots of ‘experts,’ from doctors to other professionals who will tell you what to do. But we don’t pay them anything – we pay you. So make your own decisions. And if you lose your job, make sure you lose it over a decision you made, not one that somebody made for you.”
It’s advice for the ages – especially during Masters week.