Could proposed alterations to Amen Corner be the mare's nest that forces the R&A and USGA to impose tighter restrictions on golf equipment?
It’s entirely possible.
Addressing the media on the eve of the 2019 Masters Tournament, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said the club would wait to see how the governing bodies address the thorny issue of hitting distances before it commits to a decision on pushing back the 13th tee.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Ridley also:
• Outlined plans for a new global broadcast village on the north of Washington Road;
• Provided an update on the club’s strict ‘no cell phones’ policy;
• Cooled talk of a professional event for women at Augusta National;
• Revealed how the club is tackling black market ticket sales
However, it was his comments on proposed changes to the 13th hole – and the implications thereof – that most stood out.
Together with the approach into 11 and the entire 12th hole, the 13th tee makes up arguably the most famous portion of any golf course in the world.
However, the hole has seen its challenge blunted somewhat in recent years, with players hitting it further off the tee than ever. Last year, for example, it was comfortably the easiest hole on the course, playing almost half a stroke below par, yielding nine eagles and 128 birdies in exchange for just 24 bogeys and seven doubles.
Naturally, for a club so steeped in tradition, the main men of Augusta National are keen to restore the hole to something of its former glory.
One possible solution is to push the tee back, utilising land purchased from the adjacent Augusta Country Club for a reported $25m in 2017. Another is to move the tee left, to create a sharper right-to-left dogleg. Option three? For the game’s governing bodies to draw in a definitive line in the sand on technology, effectively restricting how far players can hit it off the tee.
Whilst he didn’t explicitly say so, it appears Ridley would prefer the latter.
“Whilst there’s no hesitation on my part or, historically, on the part of Augusta National to make changes, Amen Corner is a sacred place in the world of golf and I am hesitant to move too quickly in that regard,” he said. "My preference is to see what the governing bodies decide is best for the game and then we will take appropriate action in response to that."
Ridley added that the hole now “doesn’t play as it was intended to play” by course co-designers Bobby Jones and Dr Alister MacKenzie.
“The momentous decision that I’ve spoken about, and that Bobby Jones often spoke about, of going for the green in two is, to a large extent, no longer relevant,” he said.
“Although we now have options to increase the length of this hole, we intend to wait to see how distance may be addressed by the governing bodies before we take any action.”
Ridley also announced that work will shortly begin on a multi-year development of a site owned by the club on the north side of Washington Road.
Accessed by a new tunnel that will go underneath the road, the area will become the site of a state-of-the-art television and digital compound. This 'Global Broadcast Village', said Ridley, will "greatly improve the environment and services for those who help tell the story of the Masters".
In the more immediate future, this week's Masters will break new ground for golf by allowing fans to watch virtually every shot, of every player, during every competitive round through all of the tournament's digital platforms.
"Within minutes of every shot, this added content will now allow our fans online to follow their favourite players from their drive off the first tee to their final putt on the 18th green," said Ridley.
"I think our patrons appreciate our cell phone policy"
Whilst unveiling a commitment to enhancing its overall digital output and footprint, one thing Ridley remains unmoved on is prohibiting patrons to carry mobile phones on the grounds of Augusta National.
On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy said that he liked the fact that spectators "don't constantly have their face in their devices" and called the club's bold ban on phones "refreshing".
"I think our patrons appreciate our cell phone policy," he said. "We’ve become an outlier – if not the only outlier – in golf in not allowing cell phones. I think it’s part of the ambiance of The Masters. I don’t believe that it's a policy anybody should expect to change in the future, if ever. I think that’s something we’ve got right."
He also noted the good behaviour of patrons at The Masters as compared with fans at other golf tournaments. Already this year, several players have voiced concerns over inappropriate comments from the other side of the ropes elsewhere on the PGA Tour. That's not something Ridley expects to see from anybody at Augusta National.
"We encourage our patrons to exhibit proper decorum," he said. "It’s on the pairing sheet. There’s something about Augusta National when somebody walks through the gates, they know it’s a place of beauty, respect and honouring the traditions of the game. It’s something I hope never changes."
One thing that has changed at Augusta National has been the club's inclusion of women, both as members and as competitors courtesy of last week's Augusta National Women's Amateur.
The event, won by Jennifer Kupcho, was widely acclaimed as a success and, in Ridley's view, vindicated the decision to create an event for female amateurs as opposed to female professionals.
"Augusta National was co-founded by the greatest amateur golfer of all time and, to date, all of our 'grow the game' initiatives have been focused on amateur golf and amteurs golfers," he explained.
"We elected to conduct a women’s amateur event really for that same reason. We wanted to continue in a 'grow the gam'e sort of mode. Having said that, I do think that what has happened is going to translate and be a benefit for professional golf and the LPGA.
"The LPGA is clearly the strongest women’s sports organisation in the world. They now have a group of women, two in particular, who were spotlighted on Saturday and who will be joining the LPGA after the collegiate season. They’re going to come out with a lot of fanfare and a lot of attention. So, I have to think that’s going to be good for women’s golf in general."
"It's not something we like"
Drive the roads surrounding Augusta National Golf Club and you will see scores of signs advertising tickets wanted and, in some instances, for sale.
The latter has become an increasingly lucrative market for touts, with single-day badges starting as high as $5,000 on some re-sale websites.
This is something that Ridley and his fellow Green Jackets are keen to clamp down on.
"Secondary markets are an issue in every sporting event and we're no exception," he said. "When we're aware of it, we take action. It's not something we like but to some extent it's inevitable in sports and we do try to be vigilant in enforcing our ticket policy.
"We like to think most of our patrons respect our ticket policy but we know some don't."