Golf at "distance crossroads" says Augusta chairman

Fred Ridley

The chairman of Augusta National has said that he believes that golf has reached a “crossroads” in the long-running distance debate.

Addressing the media on the eve of this year’s Masters Tournament, Fred Ridley reiterated his long-held views on the subject amid speculation over what Bryson DeChambeau, in particular, may do to the iconic course this week.

DeChambeau said earlier this week that he considers Augusta National a par-68 – four shots easier than its actual par – given the significant yardage he has added to his game over the last 18 months.

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The US Open champion has freely admitted to now being able to drive the par-4 third using his 3-wood and, in a practice round at the weekend, reportedly hit the green on the par-5 13th with a 7-iron after taking 3-wood off the tee. It has been suggested that he hasn’t had anything longer than a 6-iron for his second round in the build-up to the tournament.

Asked for his reaction to this, Ridley didn’t equivocate.

“I think we are at a crossroads as it relates to this issue,” he said. “We have always been very supportive of the governing bodies. We will continue to be supportive. We think that it's good that the game of golf is governed by the USGA and The R&A.  We think they are great stewards of the game. 

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“I'm hopeful that with the work and the studies that have been ongoing for some time, and I understand that in April there's to be some sort of publication of their conclusions, I do think that we're coming closer to a call to action.

“All I can say is that, as it relates to our golf course, we have options, and we will take the necessary action to make sure we stay relevant. “

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Ridley has addressed distance in his every press conference he has hosted since assuming the chairmanship of Augusta National.

Last year, he appeared to call for the R&A and USGA to make a decision on the issue when asked what further changes the green jackets may be required to make to the keep their golf course relevant.

"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,” said Ridley, adding that the par-5 13th hole in particular now “doesn’t play as it was intended to play” by course co-designers Bobby Jones and Dr Alister MacKenzie.

The year before that, in his first sit-down with the press, he described the game’s pattern of distance increases as “an issue that needs to be addressed”. He continued: “Like any difficult decision, it requires compromise. I’m confident there’s going to be a solution that will work for everyone.”

In all that time, his stance has neither changed nor softened, particularly as it relates to the 13th hole.

“It still provides a lot of drama, but its challenge is being diminished.,” added Ridley. “We don't think that's good for the Masters. We don't think it's good for the game. But the issue is a lot larger than Augusta National and the Masters.

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“We have options, as I said, we can make changes, but not every golf course can. Having said that, it's a balance because the next question is, obviously, or should be, well, you don't want to make the game harder. 

“On one hand we want to say we want to grow the game, and on the other hand we're saying we're worried about distance. I think everybody just has got to get their head together and figure it out.”

Speculation that the 13th hole will be lengthened by pushing the tee back has intensified following the emergence of aerial pictures that appear to show work being carried out on the ground behind the current teeing area.

That is, most likely, one of the options Ridley says the club has as its disposal. Just don’t expect it to happen in time for the next Masters in April.

“I can say no to that because our season is underway, and we would not make any changes in that time period,” he added. “Beyond that, I wouldn't speculate.”

As far as this year’s tournament is concerned, Ridley also announced the introduction of some new digital innovations.

Users of the Masters website and app will be able to take advantage of a new feature called My Group, which will enable online fans to create their own personalised featured group. This customised feed will allow them to see every shot from their favourite players, plus updates from the leaders on the course and other ‘must see’ shots from the field, all delivered in near real-time.    

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On top of that, there will be a new ‘fly cam’ on the par-3 16th hole and two drones providing sweeping aerial views never seen before during live Masters telecasts. 

Augusta National Golf Club has also underlined its commitment to supporting its local community with the gift of $10million – $2.5m from the club and three of its partners, AT&T, the Bank of America and IBM – for ‘transformational’ projects in the Harrisburg and Laney Walker neighborhoods. 

These, according to Ridley, will help to “build bridges out of poverty and make Augusta, Georgia, an even better place to live”.

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