Date: November 27, 2015
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Augusta comparison is too shallow


I’ve heard people more than once this week equate The Australian with Augusta National by bringing out the tired cliché “Australia’s Augusta’

In the past Royal Canberra was the course most often associated with the famed Georgia masterpiece of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie.

Royal Canberra is hilly, it’s built on similar red clay and many of the fairways are lined with pine trees but that was where the comparisons ended.

The fairways in Canberra were much narrower and they were, in stark comparison to Augusta, lined with rough. The greens were likewise surrounded by long grass and both the design and playing characteristics of those greens bore absolutely no resemblance to Augusta.

It is the current redesign of the course which will make Royal Canberra more like Augusta because to be anything like it a course must do more than offer a passing and superficial resemblance made by pine trees, pure fairways, white sand in the bunkers and a par five with a pond in front of the green.

It must embrace the playing characteristics and it must ask similar questions.

The Australian, in comparison to Augusta, is a much narrower course from the tee because it is built on a much smaller and more confined property than the sprawling site MacKenzie was afforded in Georgia.

It is undulating in places, a result of the good fortune of being built in the sand dunes of Sydney’s sandbelt but Augusta is a downright hilly golf course. First time visitors never fail to be amazed by the severity of the hills and in Australia we just don’t have anything remotely close to anything resembling them. Certainly not on a course that’s any good.

What is amazing is so few ever refer to Royal Melbourne as ‘Australia’s Augusta’. Fewer still refer to Augusta as ‘Americas Royal Melbourne’ and given Royal Melbourne came first if there is going to be a comparison that is the way around it should be.

Royal Melbourne is the one course in Australia where the golf one is asked to play bears close comparison to what Adam Scott mastered a couple of years ago.

The Composite Course plays over an equally expansive piece of land. The fairways are similarly wide and ask players to decide for themselves where they aim their drives. Nothing is dictated to the golfer. You can play safely away from the trouble but the approach shot will be correspondingly more demanding and those far out of position may have a perfect lie but they will be confronted with a shot only a truly great player can execute. MacKenzie and Jones both well understood hacking the ball out of thick grass lining narrow fairways was a very dull and unsatisfying form of the game. They understood it because they studied the lessons of The Old Course.

All MacKenzie did was set about asking the same questions despite being confronted with remarkably different pieces of land.

The greens at both Augusta and Melbourne are generally very big and not so difficult to hit and it was Fred Couples who made the connection perfectly when, in 2012, he said,  ‘St Andrews, Augusta and Royal Melbourne are my three favourite courses in the world. Like St Andrews and Augusta you can almost slam it anywhere off the tee at Royal Melbourne and you can still get to the greens but the putting is going to be crazy if you play it that way. It is really so dangerous around the greens and you can make a bogey from anywhere.’

This week the exam is not much like the one set at Augusta. It is it’s own test asking its own questions and they are as demanding as any in the country but only those looking through a very superficial eye draw the Augusta comparison.

It is not a criticism in any way but it’s a reality and too much commentary on the art of golf course architecture in this country borders on the superficial.