Gary Player, who won the Masters three times on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, once said of the famed Georgia course, "When I think of Augusta, I think of great beauty. I've always said if they have a golf course like this in heaven, I hope I'm the golf pro there one day."
Three factors separate great golf courses from good golf courses: property, design and resources.
The property in Georgia that Bobby Jones and a few other businessmen bought in 1931 for $15,000 is nothing short of spectacular.
The design by Alister MacKenzie, with more than a little help from Jones himself, is nothing shy of brilliant.
And the resources available for the upkeep of this unique golf course are unequaled.
Getting an A+ in any one of these three factors is impressive for a golf course. Two of them make you one of the best golf courses in the world. Scoring the highest grade in all three arguably puts you on the very top of the heap.
I recently had a chance to visit with one of the great former golf course superintendents of Augusta National, Billy Fuller. Billy was head man at Augusta from 1981 through 1986, and was the superintendent during the infamous 1986 Masters won by 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus.
One of the things Billy spoke to me about was how Augusta is, and always has been, at the forefront of golf course maintenance technology.
"Being a part of the conversion from Bermuda grass/over-seeded greens to bentgrass in 1981 (and push-up greens to USGA greens) was the beginning of a new era for the club and the tournament," Billy said.
"They allowed me to be as innovative as possible...We also designed and installed the first heat/air system underneath a golf green on hole No. 12. I also remember how enjoyable it was to be the recipient of so many innovations from others who wished to have you test their prototypes (whatever they might be). We were always knowledgeable of cutting edge technology for golf course maintenance."
And this fact has not changed over the years. Augusta National is still the template for all golf course maintenance in this country.
This can actually be a detrimental thing for many golf courses in the United States. In fact, term in golf course maintenance has been born in the last 10 years or so called "The Augusta Factor."
The perfect conditions of this golf course on high def TV's every April is a high bar indeed to try and equal, and of course impossible for every other golf course in the country. The Augusta Factor has cost more than a few superintendents their jobs, as golfers watch this perfect golf course on television, then they wonder why their local 18 can't be just as nice.
Never mind that Augusta has perhaps the highest maintenance budget of any golf course in the world and also has the ability to shut the golf course down for half the year. Never mind that Augusta peaks during the first week of April and is in full bloom. People see it, and people want it.
Whatever your feelings are about the politics of this particular golf club, which have been debated long and hard, there is no denying the end product is something truly incredible.
The club keeps its membership around 300 and is one of the few private clubs in the country with no application process. It's all who you know. The annual membership fee is believed to be relatively low for a club of this stature. They are able to do this because of the millions of dollars generated from the CBS broadcast of the Masters. A huge amount of this money goes right back into the golf course.
Tom Clavin, in his new book One For The Ages, about the '86 Masters, writes, "Today an available membership at Augusta National is more rare than a hole-in-one."
The Masters is the youngest of the four majors, and the only one played on the same golf course every year. This unique fact itself sets it apart from any other golf course in the world.
Although there are many great golf courses in the United States, including Winged Foot, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Oakmont and Bandon Dunes (my favorite newer course), nothing compares to the historic course that sits on the site of the former Indigo plantation.
The Masters will be played April 7 through the 10.
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