Course Rater Confidential: What should first-time Masters viewers know about Augusta National?

GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture. To get their unvarnished takes, we offered them anonymity. You can see GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the U.S. ranking here, and meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.

As it does each year, this iteration of the Masters is sure to draw a lot of viewers who don’t usually watch a lot of golf, so let’s give them a primer. What should they be looking for? What makes the course and the event so special, so challenging, so memorable?

Top 100 Course Panelist: If I were trying to explain the Masters to a casual golf fan, the closest comparison I could probably come up with is Wimbledon. Both major tournaments, dripping with tradition and infused with all kinds of prim customs. They’re both played at the same venue every year — impeccably-manicured grass ones at that — in front of crowds that are expected to comport themselves in a particular fashion. There are dress codes and codes of conduct. Where Wimbledon has strawberries and cream, Augusta has peach cobbler. Where Wimbledon has Federer, Augusta has Woods. Both are truly global competitions. The playing surfaces at both places are firm and fast, and the tournaments themselves tend to produce great winners. But I’d also tell them that this year’s autumn Masters is the first of its kind, so for all the history we have to lean on, in a sense, this stands to be a novel experience for all of us.

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Top 100 Course Panelist: The first thing to keep in mind is that, because of the time of year, this is a one-off Masters. The course will look different, as the traditional springtime palette of blooming dogwoods and azaleas will be replaced by autumnal colors. Typically, Augusta does the impossible – it presents a course that is green and firm and fast. However, this is the first time that the Masters will be held in hurricane season and as fate would have it, the remnants of one headed that way on Thursday morning. The club and maintenance crew have a lot of levers to pull, but the course was only recently overseeded with ryegrass, and that two-month-old turf poses a challenge in terms of making the fairways play bouncy and “Augusta tight.” Still, guess what? The same people who run the tournament are the same people who know the course the best in November so rest assured, they will make correct daily course-setup decisions and adjustments as dictated by Mother Nature. All these differences aside, one thing hasn’t changed: Augusta is all about its hole locations and the variety they employ. Some are quite easy but are often in the low points of greens. With rain, the tournament committee may opt to cut the pins in higher spots, which really can make the course a monster.

Top 100 Course Panelist: I would start by telling them that this year, there will be no patrons, and that makes for a big difference, both in the optics and the atmosphere. You won’t see those rows of people behind the greens and tees. You won’t hear the polite applause or the roars. I would tell the casual golf fan that those sights and sounds are integral to the traditional Masters experience, and that there’s no substitute for them. I would also mention the elevation changes of the course, and tell them what the rest of us have heard so many times: that television flattens the course, and that to really experience Augusta National, you have to be out there walking it to get a feel for both its scale and for the drama in many of the ups and downs.

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