Every year in early April, after the Madness of March is over, and before any green in the northern tier of the United States, eyes are turned to that magical place in Georgia, Augusta National golf club and the Masters Golf Tournament. This is about the time that I begin reading and hearing about the Augusta Syndrome, the complaint that the absolute pristine and perfect conditions provided by Augusta are somehow supposed to be duplicated at the local golf course, and the fact that it drives local superintendents and Green Committee chairs crazy- and is bad for golf. In fact, in a 2013 issue of a National golf magazine, 6 of the game’s most prominent golf course architects asked what effect the Augusta Syndrome had on the game today. Five of them answered with quotes surmising around terrible and ruinous. Only one, not surprising, Pete Dye, said he thought the Augusta Syndrome was ‘Hog wash’. I could not agree more with Mr. Dye. Maybe not for the same reason, but the Augusta Syndrome has provided golfers many more benefits than headaches, by a long shot.
Augusta National is one of the two most hallowed pieces of turf grounds in the world (Wimbledon is the other). Every year, not once every ten, but every year, the WORLD turns its eyes on this event and the splendor of the golf course. It is truly a situation where perfect is average (and by definition, less than perfect is leaning toward a failing grade.) The pressure to maintain perfect is immense, and no question, the budgets and resources they receive go a long way to helping them achieve their goals. My argument is that their chase for perfection at Augusta has yielded many tools, products, and techniques that have become common, or at least very attainable for the local golf course. (I know more than one golf course superintendent who says every trip to Augusta makes his course better because of a new methodology or trick he picks up from their management schemes)
Before we get too far into this, understand that my operating premise is that there are very few new ideas in the world, just improving technology to carry the original ones forward. Places like Augusta (and Wimbledon, and NASA for that matter) have to get it right, and have room to chase the technology, and we get the spin offs.
Keep in mind that while the most outlandish of ideas at Augusta might not make it to your putting greens, if there is money to be made by companies it won’t be in selling to only the elite, it will be selling in volume (you can insert just about any communications technology here from 1990 to now and prove this point) to the 15,000 golf courses and other turf entities.
So specifically, what can we thank the Augusta Syndrome for in our world? Well, for starters, a couple of creeping bentgrass varieties that were pulled from the greens in the late 1980 by Dr. Joe Duich, Professor Emeritus from Penn State. The strains, now known as A-1 and A-4, came from the greens at Augusta after they were converted to bentgrass in 1981 (definitely a big deal then). These grasses came on strong at the end of the century and have propelled the use of bentgrass greens and conversions world-wide.
One constant at Augusta is there penchant for change to keep up with technology. During the summer when the course is closed, the construction season is in full swing. The beauty of these changes is how seamless and integrated they look almost instantly. These techniques are fully utilized all over the world today in some fashion.
You have probably noticed, and known, about the famous 12th green at Augusta, the tucked away green with all the shade and temperature issues. The devices used to heat and cool the soil temperatures, as well as the lighting to mitigate the shade have all advanced the technologies to use by a wider ray of turf entities, grower larger every year as competition increases and prices drop. As each of these has improved turf conditions by improving the environmental conditions, it has decreased the need for plant protectants.
If you study the maintenance operation at Augusta, you come to the conclusion that their part of their perfection is achieved by the sheer numbers of people completing the tasks. While the idea of more hands making the job easier is not rocket science, there are still only 24 hours in a day. This means that in order to get the course ready, the operation begins in the dark. The lights developed specifically due to this demand are almost standard equipment on mowers and other machines sold in the industry today.
My attempt to celebrate, rather than berate, the Augusta syndrome has likely left out many technological improvements, a few of which you may be thinking about right now. The point here is to remember that research and technology drive the bus when chasing perfection, regardless of the definition. We should be thankful for these sites charged with this task, as the annual memories of the tournament conditions are fleeting at best, but the contributions from the chase are everlasting.