America’s Greenkeeper: What the doctor ordered
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America’s Greenkeeper: What the doctor ordered

Matthew Wharton expresses appreciation for what a November Masters presented to the golf world.

November 16, 2020

I do not know about you, but watching Dustin Johnson win the Masters was just what the doctor ordered. It did not matter who won, the fact we were able to watch the Masters in 2020 would have been classified as good medicine in a year unlike any of us has ever endured.

It is hard to believe that at this time last year families were preparing for Thanksgiving celebrations with hopeful thoughts for what the new year would bring. Now, here we are one year later after enduring arguably — actually, I do not even think it is arguably — the most stressful year on the planet in our lifetimes.

Lockdowns, quarantines, self-isolation and closed businesses led to high numbers for unemployment and uncertainty. Mix that with civil unrest, peaceful protests and riots in parts of the country, followed by a contentious election and it felt like 2020 was guilty of piling on.

And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic surged again late in the year, leading to increased measures and more lockdowns and closures for parts of the country. As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!”

So, back to Augusta National Golf Club and the November Masters. For those who truly know me, it is no surprise the Masters is my favorite tournament and I binge on everything Augusta National each spring. Shoot, I wrote about the awesomeness of their impeccable attention to detail in these very pages shortly after the 2019 Masters, won by Tiger Woods.

Seeing Augusta National sprinkled with the golden hues of autumn was breathtaking. Seeing more of the golf course without patron stands and patrons certainly added an interesting element for those of us who geek over architecture. And seeing the golf course looking spectacular as expected, but simultaneously not its very best, was something else I believe the doctor ordered.

For those of you who abstain from social media, you are missing out four weeks a year (only three in 2020) when the majors are played. Golf/turf Twitter is an interesting place to hang out when the biggest prizes in golf are up for grabs. This November Masters was no different.

It started in September when pictures of a brown Augusta National surfaced on Instagram. Then, about three weeks later, it was green again. That’s the magic of Augusta National and perennial ryegrass. The Masters is played the second week of April because it is the optimum time of year for peak ryegrass, peak bentgrass performance, and peak spring blossoms and blooms.

The folks at Augusta National could have easily canceled this year’s tournament and not permitted a glimpse behind the curtain at a time of year when things are not yet up to typical Masters standards. But thank goodness they did not. Kudos to chairman Fred Ridley and the Augusta National membership for allowing the world to see the work of Brad Owen and his amazing staff and team of volunteers this year. We needed it.

Granted, no one would have predicted the first day of the tournament would be interrupted for three hours as tropical moisture from a storm named Eta would collide with an approaching cold front to kick off a torrential line of downpours in mid-November. But, hey, it’s 2020! That same line of storms hit my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, later that same morning, kicking off widespread flash flooding and setting a record for one-day rainfall. We saw 4.28 inches at Carolina Golf Club. “Good grief!”

So, the overseed at Augusta National was still juvenile, the warm fall temperatures kept the base Bermudagrass actively growing and areas of the course experiencing the severest of shade showed the signs of less than perfection. And not one player complained.

Personally, I thought the fact the overseed was thin in places and the 12th green was starving for sunlight showed the golfing world that the perfection we’re accustomed to in spring does not exist 52 weeks a year, and hopefully that in turn is a good thing.

Golfer expectations are a widely discussed topic in our world, and the conversation is rarely if ever positive. And Augusta National is widely criticized each year for creating the unrealistic expectations the rest of us try and live up to. Heck, it has even been named Augusta Syndrome by some.

But in this year of all years, we saw an Augusta National on a global stage unlike we have seen her in decades. I believe it was just what the doctor ordered.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, and past president of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.