“You know Augusta National will be the real lynchpin when it comes to distance, right?”
I’ve heard this phrase, or at least a version of it, several times in conversations with equipment manufacturers after the US Golf Association and R&A announced they wanted to study new model local rules that could reduce distance to elite levels. These two organizations may also want to change how they test golf balls.
The USGA and the R&A are the governing bodies of golf. They make the rules, set the equipment standards and oversee the handicap system. They research the sustainability of soils and grasses, report on the environmental impact of play, investigate ways to improve the pace of play and host tournaments worldwide, including the US Open and British Open.
But Augusta National Golf Club will also play a crucial role, as its reach has expanded beyond Washington Road and Old Berckmans Road. Today, Augusta National awards invitations to the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship Masters and Latin America Amateur Championship winners, so its influence is felt in those regions. It hosts the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, which has quickly become one of golf’s most coveted amateur titles, and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on the Sunday before the start of the Masters.
The club is also home to the most influential golf course in the world. With all due respect to the Old Course at St Andrews, universally recognized as the home of golf in Scotland, the world’s most influential golf course is in Georgia. since dr Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones turned Fruitland Nurseries into a golf course, opening in 1932, it is revered.
Only a privileged few are allowed to play on the sacred ground, but tens of millions of people watch it on television every year and think, “This is what a great golf course must be like.” The green fairways are lush and weed-free, the bunker edges are razor-sharp, the Flowers explode in color while the sand is pearly white. Even the new trees look like they’ve been there for generations.
When it comes to modifying the course and ensuring it continues to challenge the best players in the game, whether that’s adding distance, adding or removing trees, or adjusting the position of fairway bunkers, there’s no stopping big. Augusta National has a state-of-the-art sub-air system that can pull water through the ground and pump it away to make fairways and greens drier, dozens of lawnmowers to mow the grass, and lots of fertilizer is used to grow the plants, bushes and trees alive. In contrast to many golf courses, money is not an issue at Augusta.
So if there’s one place in the world that could afford to keep up with the distance trend, it’s Augusta National.
Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley speaks during the trophy presentation following the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
If the USGA and R&A decide to create model local rules that allow tournaments to mandate the use of distance reducing equipment by players, they will apply those rules to events they control, including the US Open and British Open. It would then be up to the Augusta National Tournament Committee to decide whether to implement the Model Local Rules at the Masters and the PGA of America to decide what to do at the PGA Championship.
If Augusta were to refrain from implementing the model space regulations that reduce distance, it would be a potentially fatal blow to the distance debate. But if you’ve been listening to Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley over the past year, it sounds like that’s not happening.
Ahead of the start of Masters 2021, Ridley said: “We have long held the position of supporting the governing bodies. I was very encouraged when I saw the areas of interest published by the USGA and R&A [in 2021]He added: “Growth of the game is a big issue but our position would be to support the governing bodies and then if for some reason nothing is done then we have to consider other options to our golf course and what we’re doing to continue to challenge these great golfers and maintain the design integrity originally inherited from Mr. Jones and Mr. MacKenzie.”
After discussing the changes to the 11th and 15th holes earlier this year, Ridley said, “We look forward to further discussions during the comment period this summer, as well as future recommendations and ultimately implementation.”
Ridley won a national championship while playing at the University of Florida in the early 1970s, won the 1975 US Amateur (defeated Curtis Strange and Andy Bean), competed in five majors and played in the 1977 Walker Cup USGA, served as chairman of the USGA Championship Committee and was elected President of the USGA in 2004. He’s referred to as “Chairman Ridley” throughout the Augusta National Golf Club, but in the USGA offices his name is Fred.
So it’s safe to assume that if Augusta National Golf Club does play a role in the distance debate and the USGA and R&A decide to create model local rules that could require golfers to use distance-reducing equipment at an elite tournament, the Masters will will adopt these model course rules if Fred Ridley has a say in the matter. And as chairman, he has the most votes of all.