The changing face of Augusta National

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A lot can happen in 80 years. You could live and die and be deemed to have had ‘a good innings’. You could build 10 Colosseums. You could plant an acorn and watch it turn into a mature mighty oak. You could even get through the entire box set of Lost, though we wouldn’t recommend it.

Eighty years is a long time at Augusta, too. When Horton Smith sealed victory at the first Masters in 1934, it was on a layout measuring just 6,680 yards. Whoever dons the Green Jacket this year will have negotiated 7,435. And that’s far from the biggest change.

The course was originally played in the opposite order, with the holes we now know as 10-18 forming the front nine. Imagine facing Amen Corner in your first four holes... The nines were reversed in 1935, and have stayed that way ever since.

One of the subtler but most impactful changes came in 1981, when the quarter-of-an-inch Bermuda grass was replaced by the faster and more consistent Bentgrass, only an eighth-of-an-inch long. The greens at Augusta were never slow, but 1981 was the year they hit warp speed.

The most widespread changes came in 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2004. When Tiger Woods won in 1997 by a record 12 shots, the fear was that his ability to hit a wedge into most of the greens was undermining the majesty of the course. If the 1998 and 1999 alterations were an attempt at ‘Tiger-proofing’, it didn’t work. He won again in 2001 and 2002, albeit by tighter margins.

Today’s course plays 510 yards longer than in 1997, but the average winning score across the last five tournaments is -12.

No one who has watched a dramatic Masters Sunday unfold would ever say that it is easy. Augusta has no desire to create a challenge so unforgiving that the world’s best golfers are reduced to hacking through foot-high rough on their way to an over-par victory. It provides a fair test, as ready to reward fantastic shots as it is to punish errant ones. That’s what gives us those epic Sunday back nines. That’s what makes it Augusta – and this is how it’s evolved.

>> Click here to see how Augusta National has changed, hole by hole

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The fantastic hole illustrations you see on the following pages are courtesy of www.historyshots.com, which has produced a beautiful, framed wall chart of them. You can buy a 40”x18” print of the entire work, including a timeline of every change and when it was made, with your choice of paper and frame. TG readers can get an exclusive 20% discount by entering the code ‘TG2014’ when ordering online. We also have two to give away - click here to enter.