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Things you can’t really appreciate about The Masters unless you’ve been there

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First-time visitors to the Masters are struck by a couple things. Those of you who have been there know what I’m referring to, and I welcome some of your own observations as well. Those of you who watch on TV, however, would be quite surprised at a few things.

  • As beautiful as the golf course looks on TV, it is even more beautiful when you’re there. A former nursery, with flowering shrubs everywhere (each hole is named after the plants that were cultivated on that part of the property), one simply cannot exaggerate the natural beauty of Augusta National. I say natural because that is what is so unique about the place. Many golf courses have trees and flowers, but somehow they appear… uh, contrived. Upon gazing out over Augusta, one is struck by the setting which, as Bobby Jones once said, “Had been there forever just waiting for someone to lay a golf course on it.”
  • Another thing that cannot be fully appreciated is the size and, for lack of a better word, the “hilliness” of the 365 acres. The slopes at Augusta National are so severe that it is difficult to imagine the number of uneven lies the players face during the week. The clubhouse sits some 150 feet above the 12th green, and when you’re there, the severity of those hills is palpable. If a 6-foot man stood in front of the 14th green, the back of the green would likely be above his head.
  •  Augusta National is an absolute clinic in turf grass management. Its teeing grounds are easily a 9 on the stimpmeter, and would be considered good putting surfaces on many courses! On my very first visit many years ago, I was mesmerized watching the committee select and cut hole locations for the day’s play. There was a group of perhaps 3-4 members rolling putts, while another 3-4 of them watched. And then suddenly one of them said, “STOP! RIGHT THERE!” Notice that on any given year, when the weather permits, the hole locations are not more than 1-2 feet from where they always have been on that particular day every year.
  • The fairway mowing simply has to be seen live to believe it. It’s as coordinated as a Navy Blue Angel’s air show.
  • The green complexes, and the approach shots into them, are unique in every sense of the word. When you watch the broadcast, look at how open the greens are. They are out there all alone, surrounded by nothing. It’s a links-style feature to an inland property — no trees, no bushes and very little rough anywhere near any of the greens.
  • One cannot help being struck by the civility of the tournament. And it’s not in a forced kind of way. It, too, seems so utterly natural (yeah, there’s that word again). It’s like babies know not to cry and dogs know not to bark. For that reason, there’s actually very little marshalling needed. Everyone enjoys the event because, well, that’s just what you do at the Masters.
  • The hospitality tents, famous for the pimento and cheese sandwiches and cheap draft beers, are actually quiet. And with some 30,000 patrons on the grounds, no one waits in line. How do they manage this when every other sporting event in the world struggles with it? The service attendants take such pride in what they’re doing.
  • Amen Corner has to be the most private place in all of tournament golf for the players. After leaving the No. 11 tee, golfers are playing all by themselves for the next hour or so.
  •  The pitch shots the players face into Nos. 13 and 15 would scare the living daylights out of the average golfer. It’s like pitching off a green that’s sloped seriously downhill. A 15-handicap might drop a bucket of balls there and not get one on either of those greens. I often think that’s why so many guys guys go for those greens in two; they dread that pitch.
  • If you go to the Masters one year, and go back the next year, you would NEVER know if they moved a tee or a green, which they do often. Every change looks like the green, tee or fairway, whatever was moved, has always been there. There’s not even a trace of the previous year’s placement. It is truly remarkable.
  • The famous “roars” you hear so much about are underplayed, if anything. They are even louder than you hear on TV, and when they stop there’s all of a sudden funereal silence.

If you haven’t been to the Masters and if you ever get an invite, stop all plans (quit your job if you must) and DO NOT pass up the opportunity. I’m lucky enough to have been to many of the best places in sports, but there’s nothing quite like a week at Augusta. Maybe I’m a little partial, and that’s OK, too.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. B Hock

    Apr 8, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Spot on!

  2. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 7, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Google a map of Augusta National, put it in earth mode, and pull out to notice the course right next to it… that’s Augusta Golf Club. In fact, one of their holes parallels Amen Corner on the more famous course. But mostly, notice the incredible differences in courses from an aerial view!

    • Dennis clark

      Apr 7, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Augusta Country Club, there’s talk of Augusta National buying that place to increase their acreage.

  3. Deano

    Apr 6, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    I went in 2005 to a practice round, and brought my stepdad who was visiting from up North. Get this – we got the tickets off of eBay for like $75/ea. I thought I was going to get ripped off but lo and behold, they were legit. Pretty cool. I searched all day for a weed and I finally found one near a drain by the 13th fairway. Place is pretty immaculate. My biggest ‘ah ha’ moment was how close some of the holes are to each other. On TV they look like every hole is isolated but not so. Was also amazed at the elevation change from 9 fairway to 9 green (made me feel even worse for Norman in ’96). You look out to the right of 9 at the bottom of the fairway, and you could probably fit a full carnival in the green space. I don’t know what they use that real estate for but it’s pretty expansive.

    Side note – practice rounds are the way to go to PGA tourneys. The players are so much more relaxed and conversational when they aren’t playing for their livelihood. Whether it’s Augusta (DiMarco taunting the Georgia fans with his Gator calls) or East Lake (noticing Ernie’s pro-am team is trailing by like 10, and hearing him say ‘we’ve got ’em rrright where we want ’em!), to spending 5 mins 1:1 with Fred Funk as tells you why 17 at Sawgrass is way tougher than the 230 yder at East Lake, it’s just a different experience. I highly recommend it.

  4. Big Bri

    Apr 6, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    This was a great read. I have been lucky enough to win the lottery for practice round tickets a couple times. It is absolutely fantastic, and something EVERY golfer, regardless of skill level, would thoroughly enjoy. I disagree about the comment that it’s not for the common man. They keep ticket prices and food and beverage prices well below what other similar sporting events charge, and they don’t charge for parking. I enter the lottery every year, and every year anxiously await whether or not I win! This article was spot on!

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 6, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      I agree, especially on practice rounds. The public does have some access and prices are CHEAP. The tickets for the event itself are spoken for pretty much for life! As a PGA member, I can go anytime but I CANNOT bring a family member or anyone but a fellow PGA buddy. Glad you enjoyed the observations and enjoy the event.

    • MarkB A

      Apr 6, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      +1 About the free parking and relatively low cost food and drink prices. They treat the patrons better than most sports venues.

      I appreciate that the patrons are well behaved and do not act like idiots.

      I know the place is totally pristine but is the water in the lakes and creeks stagnant? The only thing I sort of don’t like about Augusta is the lakes look like little fake ponds.

  5. birdy

    Apr 6, 2016 at 11:40 am

    unless you’re lucky enough to be one of the few chosen ones who win the lottery, the masters isn’t for the common man. ticket prices for single day going in the thousands. the masters loves to pretend they are a tournament for the average golf fan, when in reality its a tournament for only those with large wallets.

    • Bart

      Apr 6, 2016 at 12:04 pm

      Where on Earth did you get the impression the Masters pretends it’s for the average golf fan? Everything about the event screams exclusivity.

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Birds, nothing common about Augusta… It is exclusive, exclusive(er) and exclusive(est). no doubt; i was only commenting about the grounds and the event. Thx

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 6, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      Meant to write Birdy…sorry

  6. Jordan G

    Apr 6, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Great article! i was there for the practice round on monday and all of these are completely true!

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It’s not something that is widely explored. When it comes to the golf ball, we typically prioritize driver numbers, wedge numbers, and feel. In actuality, however, it’s a player’s irons that need to be optimized more than anything. Full shots, 3/4, fades, draws—the shot varietal with irons is all over the map.

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I had a chance to speak with Callaway Golf Ball R&D specialist Nick Yontz and Director of Tour Operations Jacob Davidson on dialing in the ball and the irons to match up with the best players in the world.

JW: How much do you depend on Nick’s expertise throughout the season, especially with new irons (X Forged and Apex MB) having just hit the market?

JD: Any time we launch a new product, it’s essential for the tour team to know how the new product will perform. Nick provides in-depth data on how our golf ball will perform with the new products. When you look at the golf bag, there is one constant variable and that’s the golf ball. Our ultimate goal is to collaborate with the iron engineers and golf ball engineers to design a product that works together to help golfers play better. Nick Yontz is a tremendous resource for our tour team and has worked closely with several major winners in his career. We lean on him weekly for insight into in-depth product performance and future prototype products.

JW: When considering the spin off of the irons for a player like Xander, is he working around one number or are the multiple spin windows to hit?

JD: Spin rates can vary from player to player depending on clubhead delivery and launch numbers. Currently, we’ve worked hard to get Xander’s iron spin rates into a range that we feel allows him to hit a variety of shots to play his best golf.

JW: Let’s look at an LPGA profile for a player like Anne van Dam. Where does Chrome Soft X benefit her the most? 

NY: The Chrome Soft X has blended with Anne’s club set up in a way that she can be an excellent driver of the golf ball, while better controlling iron and wedge spin rates compared to her previous golf ball.

JW: If a player is looking for a higher launch window with the irons, what tweaks are you making, all while honoring the specific DNA of a player’s bag?

JD: There are several different levers we can move in order to raise the launch window. However, in order to determine which lever makes the most sense you have to fully understand the player’s bag. In order to do this, each club has to be studied deeply to know the cause and effects of a change. After we have completed this process, we will look at what options will best fit the player.

JW: As you look at the numbers, where do you see the improvements (gains) with the CS X vs what you saw with previous balls?

NY: Across the board, we’ve seen measurable ball-speed gains on the launch monitor during player testing sessions. It’s exciting for them and us when they reach driver ball speeds (and distances) that they couldn’t before!

JW: On the PGA Tour, is there an overall RPM profile that all players chase or is it player specific?

*question based on general rule of number on club x 1000 RPM IE 7 iron spins at 7000 RPM

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JW: In regards to working with a Champions Tour Player that has gone from Balata into CSX. Is that player still playing out of the same launch windows that he has for years or is he having to adjust for new technology?

NY: There are some differences in modern equipment that we hear from players that have played over multiple decades. The shape of the trajectory is an example. Current trajectories can look flatter or may get up higher sooner in the flight than a balata did. Players who have experienced balata and modern balls also talk about the amount of lateral movement being less today.

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NY: Jacob and the entire tour team knows each tour player at the deepest level. For example, knowing each player’s swing tendencies and look preferences enhances the raw numbers we collect. Tour players are the best product testers in the world that push us to make better equipment.

JW: Can you both talk to me about the importance of spin with your irons?

JD: It’s much easier to take spin off than to add it from the fairway. The majority of shots that a tour player hits during a round of golf will be off-speed. When you reduce speed, spin also reduces. We’ve found that when we are fitting a player to a golf ball and irons, it’s imperative to pay close attention to how much reduction in spin comes from off-speed shots.

NY: Completely agree with Jacob. While we will do work on the driving range with a player, we need to see how it performs on the golf course in different situations as well (fairway/first-cut/rough, headwind/downwind/morning dew…)

Opinion

It may seem trivial, but to me, this is the secret sauce of really making a bag and fitting work for you. Pay attention to ball speed and launch but mostly spin rates. If the ball doesn’t spin you can’t control it—I don’t care how high it goes or steep it lands.

In the past year, I have focused way more on proper spin with my irons than ever before. What I have found is when 4-PW are in the right spin windows, which for me is around 6,800 RPM with a 7 iron, my iron play has improved dramatically.

See the PGA and LPGA TrackMan averages from 2019 below. At my age and speed, I actually strive to stay right in between the averages for both tours. It’s not only realistic for me but also has actually helped.

 

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