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.
Much is often made of the difficulty of Augusta National’s greens. But what, exactly, makes them so challenging? The slope? The speed? The firmness? Some combination? How do you compare their difficulty to that of other famously challenging greens, like those at Winged Foot, Oakmont or any other course that you think warrants a comparison?
Top 100 Course Panelist: The gap between Augusta National’s green speeds and a regular Tour stop’s green speeds has narrowed over the past two decades as grasses have improved. What makes the greens still so good/formidable is that they provide a number of excellent hole locations. Ultimately, there are ways to get the first putt close-ish (to within 3-4 feet), but how many of those ticklers you then make will largely determine whether you build momentum or slip back in the pack. Experience is key to reading the subtle breaks — the only person who would have made Nicklaus’ Sunday putt on 17 in 1986 is, well, Nicklaus!
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Top 100 Course Panelist: The slope and the need to miss in the right spot. On the 2nd hole, for instance, you can’t miss left. On the 3rd, being just short leaves you with a very delicate shot. The greens make you think so much more than the normal Tour stop because of the difficulty you face in trying to recover from a missed approach.
Top 100 Course Panelist: It’s a combination of speed and contouring. The greens are not as fast as Oakmont and a bit more contoured than Winged Foot, which is saying a lot. What makes the greens tricky at Augusta National is the subtle bit of grain toward Rae’s Creek.
Top 100 Course Panelist: Certainly speed and firmness, but topography and elevation change are severe around many of the greens, similar but more pronounced than Royal Melbourne or Oakmont in the 3-4 yards from fringe into the green. In recent years, mowing patterns have been changed to lean away from the greens, reducing bump-and-run options, taking spin and control off. Having said all this, once you are atop the green and putting, Augusta’s greens are simple in comparison to Oakmont.
Top 100 Course Panelist: So much of the history and lore of Augusta National has been created around the greens. As a result, some of the difficulty is psychological. You’re already imagining the challenge as you walk to the first tee. The green complexes are large, undulating surfaces which require the player to utilize specific sections of the green, based upon pin placement. Over the years, as greens speed has increased, it has further reduced the pinable areas on the greens. Speed control is crucial as many putts have severe uphill and downhill elements with little room for error. The pressure on your putting game has a carry-over effect to the rest of your game, adding to your anxiety and determination to hit approach shots as ideally as possible.