Perfecting Augusta

Augusta National is more than the beautiful flowers and verdant green fairways we see on our television screens each year.

Just as the SubAir system hums away unseen beneath those pristine, Daliesqe greens, there are many other unseen activities going on that simply add to the aura of Augusta, the mystique of the Masters.

 A volunteer plots driving distance on the ninth

A volunteer plots driving distance on the ninth

The list of little known Masters facts is a long one and like those secret passageways and the myriad green outbuildings that are out of bounds to guests, or the exact make up of the mysterious membership list, they tempt you to investigate further.

Quite apart from Augusta’s lone palm tree (it’s short and right of the green at the par-3 fourth) or the fact that all the azaleas and other plants are watered by hand to limit run off, the club pays so much attention to detail that it is mind boggling.

For instance, the location of all the old championship tee boxes, which were wiped out and blended into the landscape during course-lengthening revisions, have been mapped precisely for posterity.

When the Wifi system in the press building went down a few year ago, the entire building was hard-wired with ethernet overnight to avoid further problems.

As Augusta National member and former Captain of the Royal and Ancient Pierre Bechmann told me as we casually walked up the ninth yesterday, every aspect of the tournament is looked at each year and improvements made from the press facilities and the handling of the rules to the conditioning of the golf course, the parking or the experience in the merchandising pavilion.

In short, everything is enhanced each year and the same goes for the way they set up the golf course to gain maximum control over scoring.

Nothing, it appears, happens by chance and it was fascinating to watch data gatherers work their way around the course on Monday and Tuesday to better discover players played a particular hole.

Behind the seventh tee, one of Augusta’s toughest par-fours, a man with a clipboard sat on a small camp stool behind the player ticking boxed on an elaborate chart.

Each player in the field was listed and every move noted. 

Did he hit driver, three wood, hybrid or iron? Which side of the tee did he use - left, centre or right? How did he align himself? What effect did his alignment have on his short shape? Left to right, right to left or straight? Were was the wind coming from?

The amount of data generated is vast and entire process was duplicated by a two-man team in a tower behind the seventh green, cataloging how success players were from the trees, their proximity from sand, their putting.

“We’re just gathering information,”  one of them said rather mysteriously. 

At the landing area on the downhill ninth, another pair of unpaid volunteers manned a laser measuring device mounted on a tripod and mapped every tee shot down to the millimetre. 

The measuring system is a staple at every PGA Tour event where Shot-tracker is used to tell give fans where players are on the course and how they are plotting their way around.

But, of course, the Masters has always been a the forefront of innovation. It was, after all, the first to introduce 72-hole golf over four days and the first to give fans the under/over par scoreboard with red numbers that are now standard at all events.

The undersoil system SubAir was also invented at Augusta National in the mid 1990s by Marsh Benson, the club's senior director of golf course and grounds, by attaching a pump to the existing network of drainage pipes beneath the putting surfaces.

Its original purpose, according to Kevin Crowe at SubAir HQ just 15 miles from Augusta National, was not to suck rain water out of the course but to pump air to the root zone to promote optimal growth.

But that’s not al that’s buried in the greens.

Two years ago, the club have placed four sensors on each green to monitor temperature, soil moisture and salinity, all controlled by iPad.

So while all is greenery and flowering plants, beneath the surface and lurking in the trees and on camouflaged towers are an army of men and women with iPads, clipboards, gadgets and weird sensors, making sure the season’s first major is as perfect as perfect can be.