Masters 2021: Augusta National chairman urges action on distance, warns against 8,000-yard golf courses

By Daniel Rapaport  

By Ben Walton

Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley expressed support for the findings of the USGA and R&A’s distance report, which notably called the trend of increasing driving distance “detrimental to the game.”

“Each year, we look at every hole of our golf course,” Ridley said Wednesday in his annual media session ahead of the Masters. “Fortunately, we do have the ability to make any number of changes to protect the integrity of the course. At the same time, we hope there will not come a day when the Masters or any golf championship will have to be played at 8,000 yards to achieve that objective. This is an important crossroads; so we will continue to urge the governing bodies and all interested parties to put forward thoughtful solutions as soon as possible.”

Ridley spoke in detail about the ongoing distance debate in his opening comments for his annual session with media, stressing the importance of preserving Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie’s vision for the golf course when they designed it in the early 1930s.

That mission has become increasingly difficult in recent years, as average driving distance across men’s professional golf continues to increase.

Twenty years ago, John Daly was the lone PGA Tour player to average more than 300 yards off the tee. During the 2019-20 season, 72 players averaged more than 300 yards.

The USGA and R&A have been studying the effects of increased distance for years and finally released a strongly-worded “Conclusions” document in February.

“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end,” the report’s 16-page document reads. “Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary to make golf challenging, enjoyable or sustainable in the future. In reaching this conclusion, our focus is forward-looking with a goal of building on the strengths of the game today while taking steps to alter the direction and impacts of hitting distances in the best interests of its long-term future.”

Augusta National has continuously tweaked its golf course to keep up with the times. The club has added nearly 500 yards since 2000—a process known as “Tiger-proofing,” a response to Woods’ overpowering displays in winning the Masters in 1997, 2001 and 2002—and the tournament tee now measures 7,475 yards. Most recently, 50 yards was added to the fifth hole, a significant change that made it impossible for most of the players to carry two bunkers that guard the left side of the fairway. Still, Bryson DeChambeau said this week that he can easily clear that bunker even into the wind, and surely a growing number of players also will be able to do the same as the emphasis on gaining distance continues. There were concerns last year that DeChambeau would render the course obsolete; he said he could drive the par-4 third and would often have wedge into the par 5s, but he was never a factor in finishing T-34.

There have long been rumours of a change on the par-5 13th, which currently measures just past 500 yards. Virtually every player in the field can reach the green in two without incident, taking the teeth out of the “momentous decision” that Jones envisioned for the second shot. The club owns the land behind that tee but has not yet announced any plans to tweak the hole.

There have also been murmurs that, if the governing bodies fail to take action, that Augusta National could implement a “Masters ball” that participants are required to play during tournament week. But Ridley poured cold water on that idea.

“I would think that would be highly unlikely and would, in my opinion, be an absolute last resort.

“We have had a long-standing position of supporting the governing bodies. I was very encouraged when I saw the areas of interest that were published by the USGA and R&A recently.”


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