The USGA and the R&A have friends in Augusta

“You know Augusta National will be the real kingpin when it comes to distance, right?”

I’ve heard this phrase, or at least a version of it, repeatedly in conversations with equipment manufacturers after the US Golf Association and R&A announced that they wanted to explore new model local rules. that could narrow the distance at elite levels. Both of these organizations also want to change the way they test golf balls.

The USGA and the R&A are the governing bodies of golf. They make the rules, set the equipment standards and oversee the handicap system. They study soil and grass sustainability, report on the environmental impacts of the game, investigate ways to improve the pace of play, and run tournaments around the world, including the US Open and British Open.

But the Augusta National Golf Club will also play a vital role as its reach has expanded beyond Washington Road and Old Berckmans Road. These days, Augusta National issues invitations to the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship Masters and Latin American Amateur Championship winners, so its influence is felt in those regions. It hosts the Augusta Women’s National Amateur Championship, which has quickly become one of the most coveted amateur titles in golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on the Sunday before the Masters begins.

The club is also home to the most influential golf course in the world. With all due respect to the Old Course in St. Andrews, the universally recognized birthplace of golf in Scotland, the most influential course in the world is in Georgia. Ever since Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones turned Fruitland Nurseries into an open golf course in 1932, it’s been revered.

Only a select few can play on the hallowed ground, but tens of millions of people see it on TV every year and think, “This is what a great golf course is supposed to look like.” The green fairways are lush and weed free, the edges of the bunkers are razor sharp, the flowers are bursting with color, while the sand is pearly white. Even the new trees seem to have been there for generations.

When it comes to altering the course and ensuring it continues to challenge the best players in the game, whether it’s adding length, adding or removing trees or adjust the position of the fairway bunkers, no obstacle is too big. Augusta National has a state-of-the-art secondary air system that can suck water through the ground and pump it out to make fairways and greens drier, dozens of lawn mowers to cut the grass and lots of fertilizers are used to make the plants. , vibrant bushes and trees. Unlike many golf facilities, money is not an issue at Augusta.

So if there’s one course in the world that could afford to follow the distance trend, it’s Augusta National.

Augusta National President Fred Ridley speaks during the trophy presentation after the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

If the USGA and R&A decide to create model local rules that allow tournaments to require players to use distance-reducing equipment, they will put those rules into play at events they control, including the ‘US Open and the British Open. It would then be up to the Augusta National Tournament Committee to decide whether or not to apply the Model Local Rules to the Masters and the PGA of America to decide what to do at the PGA Championship.

If Augusta chose not to implement the model local distance reduction rules, it would be a potentially fatal blow to the distance debate. But, if you’ve listened to Augusta National President Fred Ridley over the past year, it sounds like that’s not going to happen.

Ahead of the start of the 2021 Masters, Ridley said: “We have had a position of supporting the governing bodies for a long time. I was very encouraged when I saw the areas of interest published by the USGA and the R&A [in 2021].” He went on to add: “The growth of the game is a big issue, but our position would be to support the governing bodies, then if there is no action taken, for whatever reason, then we have to look at other options with respect to our golf course and what we can do to continue to challenge these great golfers and maintain the integrity of the design that was originally adopted by Mr. Jones and Mr. MacKenzie.

This year, after discussing the changes to the 11th and 15th holes, Ridley said: “We look forward to further discussions during the comment period this summer, as well as future recommendations and ultimately their implementation.

Ridley won a national championship while playing at the University of Florida in the early 1970s, won the 1975 US Amateur (beating Curtis Strange and Andy Bean), appeared in five majors, and played in the Walker Cup in 1977. He was heavily involved in the USGA, served as Chairman of the USGA Championship Committee and was elected President of the USGA in 2004. People call him “President Ridley” everywhere he goes Augusta National Golf Club, but in the offices of the USGA, it’s Fred.

So it’s safe to assume that if Augusta National Golf Club is going to play a role in the distance debate and the USGA and R&A decide to create model local rules that could require golfers to use distance-reducing equipment distance in an elite tournament, the Masters is going to adopt these model local rules if Fred Ridley has a say in the matter. And as president, he has the biggest vote of all.

Michael C. Ford