OPINION: Augusta National is not a course to be trifled with
At first glance, Augusta National looks like the golfing equivalent of your dear sweet old granny, your favourite nursery school teacher, that old lady from across the road who always had a spare sweet for you when you walked past after school.
You need to park those thoughts immediately… I'm here to tell you that Augusta may look all prim and proper, and neat and tidy, and so magnificently well manicured, but in fact that all just adds to conceal the course for what it really is… a grumpy, mean, crotchety old wolf (with a sore foot) in sheep's clothing.
This course wasn't even 'born' to be a golf course… it was actually a plant nursery until it was converted into one of the world's foremost golfing temples and opened for business in 1933.
The nursery heritage is in fact where all of its 18 holes get their names, from Tea Olive at the 1st to Magnolia at the 5th, all the way to Azalea on the 13th to Holly at the 18th.
The course is rated as a par 72 during Masters week, but in reality is closer to 76 or even 78 following USGA rating exercises in 1990 and again in 2009. This course loves big numbers and is not impressed with world rankings or reputations. When you drive up Magnolia Lane, there is the eerie and unnerving sense that you're a bit exposed, that things here are a bit different, that even though you're surrounded by thousands of people, you're actually completely alone.
Augusta has been at the centre of its fair share of controversial and archaic decisions and policy standpoints… like when club co-founder Clifford Roberts decreed that as long as he was alive "the players at Augusta would be white and caddies would be black". That ruling remained in place until 1983. The ruling on not allowing female members was only overturned four years ago in 2012.
Truth be told, Augusta doesn't care if you like it or not. It is what it is… one of the toughest challenges ever to face the modern golfer. Ask Trevor Immelman. In 2008 he was dueling with Tiger Woods (a duel the South African won) and he came to Redbud, the 170m par 3 16th hole with a 5 stroke lead. As he stood over the ball ready to tee off to the green on the other side of the large lake, the wind that had been blowing all day suddenly just dropped and there was a deathly silence, and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion… as if the course was taking a last breath before launching one last effort to derail him. It almost worked too. Immelman shot a double-bogey 5 as he found water at that hole, but he held his nerve over the last two holes to become just the second South African to wear a green jacket.
The Masters is the only Major that is played at exactly the same course every year, surely allowing players to get used to it and eventually master it (pardon the pun). Nothing could be further from the truth… every year the course looks and feels a little different, like it's sprouted a new bigger bunker, a faster green, an extra break onto a normally flat putting line.
After all this is Augusta, the home of the Masters… and this is not supposed to be easy, or everyone would be doing it. And we know how Augusta feels about having everyone doing it!
Jeremy Harris is the sports anchor at Kfm and Cape Talk based in Cape Town. He is a keen golfer and plays off a 5 at his home club, Arabella. He is the specialist golf correspondent for EWN Sport and is also the narrator for the Sunshine Tour's two TV programmes on Supersport. Follow him on Twitter: @jeremyharris55.