<
>

What Augusta National might look and play like for a fall Masters

play
Will Augusta be ready for the Masters in November? (1:47)

Andy North has full faith the Augusta golf course will be ready for the Masters in November after being rescheduled. (1:47)

When everything was still seemingly right with the world, in the days before sports were put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic and the Masters Tournament was postponed, Ben Crenshaw was at Augusta National taking it all in.

It was roughly a month ago.

He had been invited to the club to partake in a two-day golf excursion with friends and other Augusta National members and was reveling in how good the place looked.

How to watch classic Masters coverage this week on ESPN

"We had two really nice days to play,'' the two-time Masters champion said. "And everybody was excited for the tournament.''

Then, just like that, it was gone, "postponed'' being the official word from Augusta National officials on March 13. Tuesday would have seen massive crowds attending a practice round for the Masters, which was scheduled to begin Thursday.

Now, the club is closed.

No sooner did that announcement come did speculation begin about when the Masters might be rescheduled, assuming medical officials deem it safe to do so in the wake of the crisis. On Monday, it was announced that the intended date is now Nov. 12-15.

Crenshaw, Masters champion in 1984 and 1995, golf historian and successful golf course architect and designer (along with partner Bill Coore), is like many who believe a fall tournament can be presented in typical top-notch Augusta National fashion.

"I don't think the turf conditions are going to be much different,'' Crenshaw said. "Penn State has a special blend of Bermuda and rye overseed that they prepare for them every year. And some summers, they take it all up [the Bermuda grass] and put it back down again. Don't know if that will happen this year.

"Whether it's October or November, the turf ought to be wonderful. If anything, the Bermuda would still be pretty healthy coming out of the summer. The rye grass may be a little thinner. It could provide a surface that would be firmer, which would be great. And the greens will be fine.

"It [Bermuda grass] certainly proliferates in warm weather. That's why I don't know for sure, so it could be a little leaner. In that respect, it could play fast if you have dry weather -- which would be great.''

Crenshaw, 68, was explaining the intricacies of agronomy and how Augusta National is not the same in the fall as it is in the spring.

Like most courses in the South, where summer temperatures are excessive, Augusta National has Bermuda fairways and rough, a common grass that can withstand extreme heat. In the fall and winter months when temperatures dip, it typically goes dormant and turns a shade of brown.

Augusta, which is a seasonal club and closes in late May, typically puts down rye grass in September prior to its mid-October reopening. By the time members return to play the course, it is green due to that overseeding process -- although it might not be quite as lush as we are used to seeing in April.

"It'll be fine,'' said Curtis Strange, two-time U.S. Open champion and an ESPN analyst. "I hear the chatter that it won't be the same golf course. That's a good thing. Golf courses change from season to season. The grasses change. The climate is different. Augusta will be immaculate like it always is if they choose to do that. I think it's an interesting idea and everybody will embrace it.''

The club has some history to draw on, even if fleeting, for playing an event at a different time of year.

Way back in 1992, a man named Billy Payne was part of a news conference in which he introduced the concept of playing the Olympic golf tournament at Augusta National in the summer of 1996. Payne was years from becoming an Augusta National member and later its chairman; at the time, he was the head of the Atlanta Olympics.

With then-Augusta chairman Jack Stephens, Payne unveiled the plan that later was ditched due to the club's then exclusionary membership practices. But Stephens pointed out the club's ambition to make it right in terms of the golf. He said the course might not be "in Masters condition, but they will see a golf course, in my opinion that will be competitive in beauty, etc., as any other golf course.''

All these years later, the club has a Sub-Air system underneath every green and several fairways; it has the resources to grow as much or little grass as it wants. It can't control the weather -- which is actually rainier in October/November than April -- but it will try.

"I've played there a lot in October and November,'' said Trevor Immelman, who won the 2008 Masters. "The temperature is not all that different. There could be more rain that time of year. The temperature can be very, very nice. From an aesthetic value, the flowers would be different colors, not like the springtime. But fall has colors that are breathtaking in their own right.

"For the most part, it's been pristine and exactly how you would expect it. In my mind, there is no reason why it couldn't be played in that fall period. Obviously it would be different. Spring and Augusta and the Masters signals the start of the golf season for a lot of America coming out of winter. From the pure standpoint of just playing the golf course and having a fantastic tournament, I don't know why it couldn't be done.

"And knowing Augusta National the way I know them, if they decide to go ahead and do this, there is no guessing there. They'll be 100 percent confident in the exact fashion they want to have it.''

In its 83 years of existence, only two Masters have not been played in April -- and they were both in March. The tournament has been a staple on the April calendar every year starting in 1946, when the Masters resumed after a three-year break due to World War II.

Certainly there are invitation issues to work through for the Masters, which has a qualification list that typically sees the field size in the 90-player range. Would the Masters potentially be played twice in the same PGA Tour season? What about the amateurs who qualified?

But those would be good problems to sort. It would mean the Masters is being played, and even if it comes at an odd time, producing different colors and conditions, isn't that better than the alternative?

"It could be important to signal some kind of normalcy,'' Immelman said. "As a player, imagine how cool that would be. That would likely be the only Masters ever played at that time. It would be extremely unique. If we are going to try and look at all the positives, wouldn't that be quite cool? As a trivia question 50 years from now. Who won the only Masters played in the fall? It'll be huge.''