ACHIEVING PERFECTION AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL
I have been fortunate enough to work in some world class golfing venues during my career, none more so than Augusta National, which included the 2012 Master, won by Bubba Watson in a sudden death playoff against Louis Oosthuizen.
Watching the Masters on TV every year, one can’t help but notice the immaculate presentation of the golf course. Upon seeing the course for the first time in person, I was completely blown away and in awe. The slopes and undulations on the greens are overwhelming and deceptive. The TV coverage does not do them justice; they must be seen to be believed. Again, the topography and terrain of the course from the highest point, the 18th green to the lowest point of the course, the 12th green, is a drop in elevation of almost 200ft. The experience of working at Augusta National and during the Masters opened my eyes into tournament conditioning, firsthand the attention to detail required for a Major golf tournament, the level of organization and communication and hard work that goes into running a maintenance crew and volunteers.
People at home in Ireland always ask me, “How can we get our course to look like Augusta”. My answer is simple, you can’t! Of course, every greenkeeper and Club member would love to have their own courses looking as good as Augusta however this is unrealistic for the vast majority of Clubs. There are several factors that differentiate your average members club to Augusta, most notably:
Perfection comes at a cost, and budgets at Augusta appropriately high, spending more per annum than many Clubs would spend per decade. Expectation levels are high and there is significant pressure at Augusta to produce immaculate surfaces year round. In addition to investing vast sums in annual maintenance plans, the Board of Augusta National invest in capital projects including reconstruction, new machinery and technology. This would include a sub air system in the greens which can remove moisture as required or inject air into the surfaces. I believe the new Adare Manore course would be the only course in Ireland to have this technology.
There is no shortage of course maintenance staff at Augusta National, particularly during the week of the Masters. The maintenance crew mainly consists of two teams. A turfgrass team which consists of 35-40 staff and a horticulture team which consists of 18-22 staff. The turfgrass team only manage turfgrass related areas including bunkers and lakes etc. The horticulture team manage all the shrubs, bedding and pine needles throughout the estate. During the week of the Masters there can be around 80 additional volunteers assisting the turfgrass team in preparing and maintaining the course to its peak standard.
Augusta is situated in a sub-tropical region of the USA and has an average temperature in April of around 25oC, compare that to an average of 12oC in Ireland. This provides optimum growing conditions for turf. This can be part of the “Augusta Syndrome” which sweeps through clubs across Ireland, but we do not reach the same growth potential or come out of winter recovery as quickly.
A talking point each year is the mowing patterns at Augusta National and how it is unlike any other course. The term used to describe greens mowing at Augusta National during tournament week is a “freaky mow”. This involves cutting greens in one direction, then the mower is turned around and goes over the exact same line in the opposite direction. This may be done twice per day, resulting in each green being mowed 4 times per day. This particular mowing practice eliminates grain leading to smoother and truer greens.
Irish golfers are used to seeing their fairways striped, cut in a diamond pattern or perhaps half & half (one half dark green and one half a lighter green). These are all common mowing patterns achieved by mowing the grass in different directions. Augusta National take an alternative approach which results in no discernable patter other than fairways being one consistent shade of green and the 2nd cut a different shade. Mowing fairways at Augusta National requires up to 17 mowers sweeping through hole by hole. The fairways are Push Mowed from green to tee, creating the grain to lie against play. The reasoning behind this many years ago was, the players are playing the same course every year; in an attempt to make the course more difficult, fairways are mowed in this direction to decrease ball roll and distance for the players.
There is no rough at Augusta as the word is deemed imperfect. 2nd cut is the term used and this is mown in the opposite direction to the fairways from tee to green. This gives the players a better chance of coming out of the 2nd cut and imparting spin on the golf ball. The thinking behind this concept is, the greens are on average stimping at 13ft and if the greens were any faster or 2nd cut any longer, the course would be near unplayable especially given the slopes on the greens.
It’s the small things that count, the attention to detail is what separates the excellent from the exceptional. These can be the small jobs which may not be recognized, but they are the foundation for success.
My time at Augusta National was a once in a lifetime experience and I truly hope that one day I may get the opportunity to return to the hallowed turf.
Keith Murray is a senior member of Carr Golf’s agronomic team. Keith joined Carr Golf in 2018 following many years working at renowned courses globally which in addition to Augusta National included The Wisely, Wentworth Club and Lake Merced Golf Club.