PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- You wonder if Bobby Jones would recognize the place. The great amateur golfer who founded Augusta National more than 80 years ago was not around for the golf arms race of recent decades and surely would marvel at the updates made to his historic course.
To be sure, Augusta National has been a venue of abundant change even going back to Jones and the first Masters in 1934. Nines have been reversed, holes moved and lengthened, green complexes reworked. But nothing like what has occurred in the past 15 years -- both in and around the golf course.
Saturday came word that the home of the year's first major championship is in the process of making more, and quite expensive, land purchases that would allow the powers that be to lengthen the iconic 13th hole, if so desired.
Golfweek reported that the club is in the midst of a $27 million deal with neighboring Augusta Country Club to purchase land that is located behind Augusta National's 12th green and 13th tee. That is now the site of Augusta Country Club's 9th hole, a 388-yard par-4.
A golf course designer would reroute at Augusta Country Club -- founded in 1899 and designed by Donald Ross -- with a new ninth hole. In return, Augusta National would have the ability to move the tee on the 510-yard par-5 13th back, while also giving itself some infrastructure and more privacy.
And don't discount that last point. At various times, gazing out onto Amen Corner also means seeing golf carts on the ninth hole at Augusta Country Club. Years ago an errant shot from the hole landed near the 12th green as Tiger Woods was about to putt. You can bet that part of the reason for the purchase -- perhaps the biggest part -- is so Augusta National can have the land; and so Augusta Country Club can't.
Golfweek reported that there's been a long-time tussle over this purchase, with Augusta National first offering a low sum, and the country club holding out.
But as for its impact on the 13th, it would be a risky move to change the hole -- although it could just be that the club wants to have more options and doesn't much like the idea of Bubba Watson bombing drives over the trees and having just a 9-iron second shot to the green.
"If they moved the tee back any more, I may get kicked out of there, but it's the dumbest thing in the world," said Billy Horschel upon hearing of the possibility at the Honda Classic. "And I'm being nice about it. It's a great hole already. Golf is going in the wrong direction by adding length. It is still a great hole. And obviously they have plenty of money to do what they want."
Horschel's point is one often made in golf these days, that huge sums are spent to lengthen golf courses to combat the advancements in technology, specifically the golf ball.
Augusta National has already undergone significant change. Fifteen years ago, the course measured just less than 7,000 yards. It was lengthened to more than 7,250 in the early 2000s and now is more than 7,500. Holes such as the first, seventh, 11th, 15th and 18th have all had significant increases.
"If they moved the tee back any more, I may get kicked out of there -- but it's the dumbest thing in the world. And I'm being nice about it. It's a great hole already."Billy Horschel
But it is quite possible this reported purchase has nothing to do with the golf course but Augusta's desire to control as much as possible around its property.
For years, it has bought up land around the course, to the tune of hundreds of millions. It bought homes so that it could provide more parking; it bought businesses along Washington Road -- the club's entrance -- so it could better control access; it bought property along Berckmans Road so it could clear out space for more hospitality.
And it has long sought the land behind Amen Corner, to better manage things, to obscure the view and maybe, just maybe, lengthen one of the best holes in all of golf.
Phil Mickelson wasn't surprised to hear about the possible changes, though he noted that the 13th was already lengthened a good bit several years ago.
"They seem to have a pretty good grasp of what they're doing," said three-time Masters champion, who famously hit an approach shot from behind a tree on the 13th in 2010 to set up a birdie that helped him win the tournament.
"I think it's the best-run tournament in the world, best golf course in the world and the best place to host a major championship. I just love everything about it."
There's lots to consider here, not the least of which is the idea of spending nearly $30 million for essentially the rights to a single hole of golf.