Augusta National sees changes ahead of Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The place is pure, that we know. It is just more so than we are used to seeing.

Augusta National opened Monday to the small group of people who are permitted on the grounds this week for the edition of the Masters in November. The tournament was postponed from April because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are no spectators. No chairs. No ropes. No grandstands.

It should be a fabulous and unique viewing experience for those who watch the tournament this week on television. But if you have ever been to Augusta National for a Monday practice round during Masters week, it is hard not to be in awe of how different the place is today.

“I’m picking up pine straw, making myself useful,” said one volunteer on Monday morning who was working near the 12th tee with nothing else to do. Typically, he’d be looking out over thousands of people, many of them in grandstands, sitting behind the tee box at the 12th, watching approaches to the 11th green and witnessing shots from the 13th tee.

On Monday, it was eerily quiet.

Ropes are replaced by painted dashes along what is supposed to be the normal rope line. Some of them go right up to the fairway. Others are farther back, allowing for more space and a cleaner look for when the television cameras are on.

During a normal Masters week, the practice rounds are anecdotally the most attended, surpassing tournament days. Tickets are distributed via lottery, and many people are seeing Augusta National in person for the first time. Conservative estimates put 40,000 on the ground each day. Traffic outside the club is congested, there are long lines at merchandise and concession areas, and every hole is rows deep with spectators.

This week, there are three concession stands open for use by volunteers on sight. There is no merchandise for sale — although the club has made it available for the first-time ever online, but only to those who had purchased a ticket through the club.

“You’re the biggest crowd of people I’ve seen so far,” said another volunteer who was working the crosswalk between the 13th and 14th holes. He was talking about a total of five people, when normally he’d be herding dozens at a time from one side of the fairway to the other. Among a few things noticed on the course:

  • The rough appears longer. It’s possible it will be cut prior to the first round, but on Monday it was thicker than what the “first cut” would normally play and look.

  • In various spots, clusters of trees have been added. One interesting location is beyond the fairway bunkers on the 18th. At least five trees have been added, making the idea of blasting a tee shot over those bunkers less advantageous. Could this be in response to Bryson DeChambeau, who could easily bomb his tee shots that distance.

  • There is also another cluster of trees farther up the right side of the fairway at the par-5 13th. It may prevent those who think they can just blast the ball into the 14th fairway from the tee into thinking they can do so.

  • The weather has been warm in Augusta, so the Bermuda grass that would normally die out in the winter is not completely gone. The ryegrass overseed gives the courses its usual lush, green look, but from a competitive standpoint, the Bermuda grass that remains will be of interest.

For the week, it appears that as many as 1,000 people will be on the grounds, tops, at any time. That includes the Augusta membership and one guest plus a few media and television personnel and volunteers.

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