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Masters 2010

'Old' Soul

From wide fairways to run-up shots, Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie had St. Andrews very much on their minds when they designed the home of the Masters

Masters

Overseas Influence: The Old Course's (right, by Iain Lowe) strategic genius inspired Jones and Mackenzie when they built Augusta National.

April 5, 2010

The offspring? A hilly, tree-lined, florally abundant agronomic wonderland. The parent? A rumpled, treeless slice of links long abandoned by the sea. Other than playing to pars of 72 and hosting major championships in 2010, it seems unfathomable that Augusta National GC and the Old Course at St. Andrews could be related. Embedded deep within Augusta National's soil, however, rest architectural nucleotides that, upon DNA testing, reveal a golf course almost entirely sired by its Scottish forebear.

Given Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie's deep ties to St. Andrews, it comes as little surprise that the Old Course was on their minds during Augusta National's 1931 design phase and 1932 construction. But the extent to which St. Andrews influenced the genetic code of several key holes has been understood by a select few.

"They created so many shots that remind one of how you think and play your way around St. Andrews," says two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. "They really were 'extravagant admirers' of the Old Course."

Jones and Mackenzie are believed to have met during the 1927 British Open at St. Andrews when Jones, then 25, was in his playing prime while Mackenzie was a 56-year-old doctor-turned-golf architect who had surveyed the Old Course just three years prior. Mackenzie supplemented his now legendary Old Course map -- which still adorns many pro shop and locker-room walls -- with an R&A championship hole-location plan that likely influenced the '27 Open. (Jones won that event by six strokes.)

Though Jones was six years removed from his infamous tantrum and withdrawal at the 1921 Open and had been part of a winning U.S. Walker Cup team there in 1926, his relationship with St. Andrews blossomed at that 1927 Open. His lone British Amateur came three years later on the Old Course during the Grand Slam year and 28 years later he received the Freedom of the City, only the second American to be so honored after Benjamin Franklin.

When Jones' post-retirement plans to build a golf course began in earnest after he was ousted in the first round of the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, it allowed for time to savor Mackenzie's Cypress Point design and to inaugurate the doctor's new Pasatiempo course in Santa Cruz. When Jones returned to California in early 1931 to film the "How I Play Golf" series, much of his recreational golf was played at North Hollywood's Lakeside GC, a Max Behr design enthusiastically inspired by links golf and in particular, the Old Course.

Both Mackenzie and Jones were great admirers of Lakeside and in particular Behr, a complicated figure who gained prominence as an elite amateur golfer, reaching the 1908 U.S. Amateur final. Later he worked as Golf Illustrated's editor until 1918, before moving to California where he became known for his design work and profound written pleas for the spread of St. Andrews-inspired golf emphasizing the use of natural or "seemingly natural" ground features.

"To Bobby Jones golf is a diversion, a pleasant way of spending his time," Behr once wrote. "Thus, with an open mind, he brought and applied to St. Andrews the greatest golfing skill in the world today. And the reaction of his skill against the character of the Old Course precipitated an opinion that might well revolutionize the prevailing ideas as to what a golf course should be."

Because as Behr noted, "Golf at St. Andrews is all strategy. The taint of penalty is absent. The steamroller of logical thought has not been allowed to destroy it. St. Andrews violates every conception of what we think a golf course should be."

Behr was speaking to an American audience that had little concept of strategic design and the ground game. Jones and Mackenzie appeared determined to change that with Augusta National.

"An underlying thread for [Jones and Mackenzie] was the use of ground features and how to incorporate them into play," Crenshaw says. "Even though it's hard to pull those off on heavy clay soil like you find [at Augusta], they did it."

With little doubt about their purpose, Jones and Mackenzie met on site for three days in July 1931 to route and plan Augusta National over the Berckmans' nursery site. Jones later described their simple goal: reward "the good shot by making the second shot simpler in proportion to the excellence of the first."

The reward could be one of four possibilities: a better view of the green; an easier angle of attack around a slope; an open approach past guarding hazards; or "a better run" to the tee shot itself.

"A course which is constructed with these principles in view must be interesting, because it will offer problems which a man may attempt, according to his ability," Jones wrote. "It will never become hopeless for the duffer, nor fail to concern and interest the expert. And it will be found, like old St. Andrews, to become more delightful the more it is studied and played."

This meant a design with wide playing corridors, subtle ground features and a limited number of well-placed bunkers (less than 30), which also had the intended effect of setting a positive example for a sport facing economic uncertainty. But more than the desire to cut down on bunker maintenance, Jones and Mackenzie sought to import the intricacies that made St. Andrews such a delightful day-to-day adventure.

"They wanted to show that there are different hazards in golf other than bunkers and water to extract penalties," Crenshaw says. "The concept is so very simple. You play over here to get there. But it's got to be accommodated for and presented that way with width."

Six holes of Jones and Mackenzie's original design featured unmistakable Old Course bloodlines -- the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, 14th and 17th, as currently numbered -- while several others included St. Andrews-inspired strategic touches. Initially, the duo wasn't shy in letting it be known where the seeds for their Augusta design were sewn. Starting in December 1931, when final preliminary design details were wrapping up, Jones' pal O.B. Keeler penned an American Golfer column under the subtitle, "There'll be a notable trace of Old St. Andrews in the new club at Augusta."

However, both Jones and Mackenzie made clear they were not building replica holes, even though they repeatedly invoked specific Old Course landmarks in describing their Georgian creation. Mackenzie clarified their thinking by suggesting they had a "mental picture" of the world's great holes to reproduce their finest features.

"At Augusta we tried to produce eighteen ideal holes, not copies of classical holes, by embodying their best features suggested by the nature of the terrain."

In his 1960 Golf Is My Game, Jones explained that tribute holes were not their intent.

"This was, at best, a bit na´ve, because to do such a thing, we would have had literally to alter the face of the earth. It was to be expected, of course, that the new layout would be strongly influenced by holes which either Mackenzie or I had admired, but it was only possible that we should have certain features of these holes in mind and attempt to adapt them to the terrain with which we were working."

Yet for all of the attempts to defend the originality of their design, Augusta National's initial incarnation featured extensive use of mounding to obstruct views of poorly placed tee shots, while several undulating greens featured wave-like fronts novel to American design and only traceable to one other course on the planet. The first less-than-subtle Old Course tribute hole came on the 350-yard third. Keeler noted that it would be one of Augusta's two short par 4s and called it "a rather glorified replica" of St. Andrews' much-loved 12th hole.

"It will not be too easy a par 4," Jones told Keeler. "You remember that perilous little plateau green on the twelfth at St. Andrews? Well, this green will be quite similar; and you know it's not so simple, even after a big drive on the twelfth at St. Andrews to get the ball anywhere near the flag."

Immediately after that came two more not-so-distant Old Course relatives. Augusta's par-3 fourth paid direct homage to St. Andrews' 11th, the Eden, a.k.a. home to the Hill bunker where young Bobby threw his now legendary 1921 Open Championship tantrum.

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