Happy Masters Week from all of us at Golf Vacation Insider!
Not only is Augusta National Golf Club one of the world's greatest golf courses, it's also one of its strangest courses.
Yes, I know that's an odd thing to say, but it's a good thing. See, Augusta is different because of something it lacks - or, is supposed to lack:
In fact, the original Augusta National layout had only two cuts of grass: the greens, and everything else at fairway-length.
Yes, they introduced the inch-long "first cut" in 1999, but Augusta National still stands in stark contrast to the majority of U.S. Open and PGA Championship venues, where narrow fairways give way to gnarly, ankle-deep rough. This year's Open and PGA sites, Oakmont and Baltusrol, will punish missed fairways with hack-out rough, no doubt.
This week's field, on the other hand, will instead worry more about which side of the fairway to attack from. Yes, the Green Jackets have added trees in recent years to slim down some corridors, but angles still matter, and always will.
While the chances of playing Augusta National are slim to none, there are many courses that you can play - all over the place - where you'll get a similar experience, based on three key principles:
- Fairways tend to be wide, but you need to play to the correct side in order to leave yourself the best angle into the green.
- If/when you miss greens, you have lots of options for shots you can play: lob, pitch, chip, bump-and-run, putt, etc.
- Lost golf balls and skyrocketing scores are not a huge concern, but going low is a massive undertaking.
The best news? Minimizing rough and expanding fairways is trendy, and there are many not-so-private courses where you can experience this Augusta-inspired philosophy of golf course design.
So if you enjoy watching the pros play Augusta National and want to visit courses where long rough is not a worry, here are our recommendations:
A Pinehurst Trio: Pinehurst No. 2, Mid Pines and Dormie Club
Given that the term for the terrain surrounding Pinehurst is "sandhills," it's no wonder that it is home to a close concentration of courses where long grass is kept to a minimum. But it wasn't always this way, as the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed Dormie Club only opened in the last decade and Donald Ross' No. 2 (recent work by Coore/Crenshaw) and Mid Pines (Kyle Frantz) underwent major renovations in the last five years that stripped them of their thick, round-killing Bermuda roughs.
In the 2014 U.S. Open at No. 2, the "rough" provided more uncertainty than brutality, as players were able to advance the ball quite far, but only after taking on some risk. Visitors and Pinehurst-area residents laud Dormie and Mid-Pines for the same sort of off-fairway sandy scrub.
True Blue Golf Club - Pawleys Island, South Carolina
True Blue opened in 1998, designed by the late Mike Strantz, who took inspiration from Pinehurst and another course without much "traditional" rough - Pine Valley in New Jersey - in crafting this design about a half hour south of Myrtle Beach. Its fairways are more than 80 yards wide in places, meaning that hitting every fairway on the golf course is an attainable feat, but getting the best angle into every green can be surprisingly tricky.
Poppy Hills Golf Course - Pebble Beach, California
To the untrained eye, the "old" Poppy Hills actually looked more like Augusta prior to its recent overhaul by Robert Trent Jones II. But there's no doubt that its wider fairways now give the marginal player more hope than before. And since risk and reward are part of why the back nine at Augusta National is so thrilling, any course that embraces that dramatic tension becomes more like this week's venue.
Tiburon Resort (Gold and Black Courses) - Naples, Florida
One of the more fascinating facts of modern golf course design is that Greg Norman, who suffered as much heartbreak at the Masters as any player who never donned a Green Jacket, tends to make his courses look like Augusta National. The 36-hole complex he laid out at Tiburon may not have Augusta's elevation changes, but its no-rough philosophy, paired with the presence of pine straw off most fairways, makes the comparison obvious.
Streamsong Resort (Blue and Red Courses) - Streamsong, Florida
Streamsong's terrain is alien and unique to the state of Florida, with the site for its two (and soon a third) golf courses consisting of pure sand. So naturally, long rough was not a consideration for Tom Doak, who designed its Blue course, or Coore & Crenshaw, who fashioned the Red. Like at True Blue, you can stray 30 yards from the center and still wind up in the fairway, but you may be blocked by obstacles like clever mounding or huge blowout bunkers that will keep you from making birdies. Or you can discover shortcuts that put you in prime position. Learning to play a course properly is half the fun at Augusta, and it's a reason why Streamsong visitors love to return.
Gamble Sands Golf Course - Brewster, Washington
David McLay Kidd designed the original Bandon Dunes Course, but then somewhat lost the plot of top-quality golf course design, according to some, as his subsequent layouts tended to levy extreme punishments for mediocre shots. He had an epiphany along the way, though, and Gamble Sands, despite its remote location in eastern Washington, is becoming known for its sense of adventure, accentuated by Kidd's liberal use of fairway-length chipping areas around the greens. This allows golfers to play to their strengths in pursuit of a cherished up-and-down, which calls to mind the short-game creativity that Masters champions like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have exhibited in their own victories.
What are your favorite no-rough (or almost-no-rough) golf courses? Be sure to share your own recommendations below!