Monday, April 8

Augusta National and Doctrine of Deception

By John Coyne
Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved.

Two Masters champions on practice day at Augusta National. (Keith Allison)

FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T FOLLOWED its storied history, Augusta National Golf Club was originally a 365-acre indigo plantation. By 1857 it had become a plant nursery. At the height of the Depression the property was purchased by Bobby Jones, the brilliant amateur, and a friend of his named Clifford Roberts. Together they hired a Scottish golf architect, Alister Mackenzie, to design a course.

There were Americans they could have hired. But Bobby Jones didn’t want an American course which were, he felt, too constrictive. He wanted Mackenzie to design a golf course where every hole presented a problem or a puzzle, a greenside mound that had to be negotiated, or where there was trouble if you went too long.

Bobby Jones also wanted a course like St. Andrews in Scotland, with wide fairways, undulating greens, and bunkers that came into play only if a shot was mishit. He wanted a hole to look wide open from the tee and playable for any high handicapper; that was a hard par and a difficult birdie.

Jones also borrowed ideas from Sara Bay in Sarasota, Florida, a course built by Donald Ross with elevated greens that required pinpoint approach shots to the slopes and crowns.

Jones and Mackenzie created what today is called the Doctrine of Deception. Instead of a player seeing clearly that he had only one shot to get where he needed to go, they built a course where players would think they might have two or three chances and could therefore try a shot that was above their ability.

And that’s why the Masters Tournament is so thrilling. The winner is always the player who thinks he can pull off the impossible shot. And playing the impossible shot is the only way to win a Green Jacket.

That said, Augusta National has been a course that begs to be tinkered with. After its first tournament in 1934, the nines were reversed. Still Jones was not satisfied with his baby, nor was his co-founder, Clifford Roberts.

Down through the decades holes were altered to make them more of a challenge to the masters of the game, and also to improve viewing for patrons, as spectators are called at Augusta, and to keep up with golf’s new technology.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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