AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones collaborated to shape their masterpiece that became the Augusta National Golf Club, there was no way for the respected Scottish course designer and the legendary American player to predict how the game would change over the next 70 years.
Mackenzie, though, had a clue, given how much it had already grown, because those playing it at the highest level during the 1920s and early 1930s -- including some who would participate in the first Augusta Invitational in 1934 -- were hitting the ball a lot farther than their predecessors.
Given the technological advances that had taken over other aspects of society, would golf be any different?
"He (Mackenzie) had the vision to see that," said Tom Fazio, who in becoming one of the most respected golf course architects in the world studied the work of Mackenzie and others. "It made Augusta National unique in that it was built with a lot of room to grow."
As with the Augusta Invitational, the tournament that five years after inception became known as the Masters, the course on which it was played has gone through various growth spurts over the decades. But it is the one that took place for this year's Masters, which begins Thursday, that has generated the most debate.
In an age when high-tech equipment and more physically gifted players have turned a game of precision into one of power, Augusta National is trying not to fall the way of other celebrated courses that have gone from revered to irrelevant by becoming virtually obsolete as modern championship venues.
That is where Fazio and Masters chairman Hootie Johnson come in.
They are the Mackenzie and Jones of their day, having taken a course many considered the Mona Lisa of golf and doing something even da Vinci forgot -- they added teeth. Beginning less than a month after Tiger Woods won his second Masters last April, Fazio and Johnson have given a lot of substance -- and yardage -- to Augusta National.
By addressing the game's present controversy and thinking about the tournament's future, Fazio and Johnson are stepping back into the past.
"I think the changes they have made, as Hootie has tried to explain to me, they are trying to get the golf course back to how they used to play it," said Woods.
Though many of the changes might not be immediately visible to the fans who'll still be mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the place, the nine holes that have been lengthened and toughened will have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the 66th Masters.
In baseball vernacular, it is no longer just a hitter's park.
"What we've done is make it more strategic, more for shotmakers," Johnson said in a recent telephone interview. "It's not the swing-from-the-heels golf course that it was 10 years ago."
Those known for this approach, such as fan favorite John Daly, might find themselves in a heap of trouble that wasn't there before.
It begins at the first hole, where the tee box has been moved back 20 to 25 yards, making a fairway bunker some 300 yards out come into play. It ends at the 18th, where players will tee it up 55 to 60 yards back and five yards to the right, and where a bailout area on the left has become filled with seven 25-foot tall Georgia pines.
"It probably needed that," Johnson said of the changes on the 18th hole, which also included increasing the size of the fairway bunkers on what is now an uphill, 440-yard par-4. "It is a great finishing hole."
Overall, the changes were made on seven par-4s and two par-5s, adding some 285 yards and countless more club decisions. But some big hitters -- particularly those who hit it long and straight -- are looking forward to playing on what is now a 7,270-yard course from the tips.
"I think the longer guy that's on his game will definitely be more suited to that golf course than the guy that's really good around the greens," said Ernie Els, who finished second here two years ago to Vijay Singh and tied for sixth last year. "I think the guy that's really a long, high hitter will have a very good time if he's on his game."
Said Singh: "You've got to think about all your tee shots more than ever now. It used to be just tee it and hit it as far as you can. Now, you must put a lot of premium on your tee shots. You've got to hit the fairway."
Most believe it will make Woods an even more prohibitive favorite than before. Here's the reasoning: Nearly everyone else will have to hit mid-irons into some of the longer par-4s, while Woods, if accurate off the tee, will only have to gear down from a pitching wedge to a 7-iron or, if there is a stiff headwind, a 6-iron.
Woods has done his best to discount the theory that the changes will enhance his chance of winning a third green jacket.
"The changes are not for me," Woods said recently. "They're for the kids coming up in the future. I'm not that long anymore. There are a lot of kids out there in college golf and in high school that hit the ball farther than I do. So I guess they went ahead and took a step to prevent players in the future from shooting low scores."
Woods, who set the tournament scoring record when he shot an 18-under 270 during his history-making victory in 1997, said the alterations will result in a mind-set more prevalent at the U.S. Open.
"I think the fireworks will be different," said Woods. "Instead of making birdies and eagles on a lot of holes, what you're going to find is par can be a good score."
Though the changes made in recent years such as narrowing the fairways and growing rough were said to be part of Tiger-proofing the course, the impetus for last summer's renovation resulted from the technological advances that all the players seem to enjoy.
"It's not about Tiger-proofing," said Fazio, whose architectural gems include Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, site of this year's U.S. Senior Open. "That's just cocktail talk. They (Augusta National) wanted to provide the best test of major championship golf."
Has it been accomplished?
"We'll be able to answer that question on Monday (after the tournament)," said Fazio.
Depending on what happens this week, the debate might quiet for a while or heat up, to again include the topic of how the golf ball needs to be regulated so that longest players are not pumping out 320-yard drives and even little hitters are reaching the big 3-0-0.
Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, who won't play this year because of recurring hip problems, has long advocated scaling down the ball and went as far as to suggest last year that, if not, "we'll be teeing off somewhere downtown" at the Masters.
Johnson has already stirred the controversy by telling USA Today the tournament might consider standardizing equipment.
In a subsequent interview, Johnson said: "What I said was, 'If we have the same rate of change in golf over the next decade, Augusta National might have to consider making equipment specifications.' "
Fazio said he doesn't think that will happen.
"I think it's such a different era that we live in," he said. "No one would have thought 20 years ago that people could hit the ball 320 yards."
Not many people 70 years ago could envision what golf has become.
Even Alistair Mackenzie and Bobby Jones. Yet they did what was necessary to preserve the integrity of the course they designed for the tournament Jones, whose 100th birthday will be celebrated this year, conceived.
They gave Augusta National -- and the little tournament that became the Masters -- room to grow.
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