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Screen Monster
Jaime Diaz
April 16, 2001
The 180-foot-long, 105-foot-tall net at the end of the Augusta National practice range rises out of the Georgia pines like a giant. Though big and bold in scale, the clingy contraption can't claim to have a Christo-like effect on the landscape. It's an eyesore, but without it cars passing on Washington Road, which is 40 feet on the other side of the net, would face a hail of golf balls during Masters week.
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April 16, 2001

Screen Monster

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Numbers

In 1999, Augusta National added 25 yards to the 2nd and 17th holes, rebuilt the 11th green and planted a grove of trees right off the 15th fairway. Here's the stroke averages on those holes for the three years before and the three years after the modifications.

 

1996-98

1999-2001

2nd

4.82

4.84

11th

4.13

4.25

15th

4.94

4.89

17th

4.07

4.23

The 180-foot-long, 105-foot-tall net at the end of the Augusta National practice range rises out of the Georgia pines like a giant. Though big and bold in scale, the clingy contraption can't claim to have a Christo-like effect on the landscape. It's an eyesore, but without it cars passing on Washington Road, which is 40 feet on the other side of the net, would face a hail of golf balls during Masters week.

Before this year's tournament, the net, which is supported by 12 wooden poles that are painted green and spaced about five yards apart, was raised 10 feet in anticipation of the extra distance players have gained from high-tech balls and drivers. Set 255 yards from the tee, the net gently absorbed almost every big drive during the week. Bombers such as Tiger Woods and Davis Love III abided by Masters officials' wishes that they hit their drivers diagonally across the range to avoid breaking any windshields. Only amateur D.J. Trahan, pumped for his first Masters, gave in to the fans' goading and took the straight line over the middle of the net.

Trahan's blasts were a clear indication that the net will have to be raised again soon. In fact, the net's periodic growth spurts reflect the rapid advances in golf technology over the last two decades. For a half century after the tournament's inception in 1934, a low fence was enough to keep all but the biggest hitters in the ballpark. Players practiced with their own shag balls, and their caddies caught them with a baseball glove or a towel. When a long ball cleared the fence and headed toward the old Piggly Wiggly across Washington Road, the caddie twirled his towel overhead to signal a home run.

George Bayer and Jack Nicklaus set off plenty of towel waving in the 1950s and '60s, as did Tom Weiskopf and a few others in the '70s. By 1980 the quality of golf balls had improved to the point that dozens of players were reaching Washington Road, so in 1982 the screen, set at a height of 50 feet, was installed.

The Screen Monster didn't grow very fast in its early years, in part because a 250-yard drive was respectable, in part because showboating was frowned upon. "Sure, I could knock it over, but what was the point?" says Nicklaus. But in 1992 John Daly, playing in his first Masters, was prodded to swing for the fence by a throng of spectators in the driving-range grandstand. Daly responded by pelting a bevy of balls over the screen. Remarkably, no damage was reported. "It gives the crowd something to cheer about," Daly said at the time, "and I was trying like hell. It's a little bit of a thrill for me too."

The next year the screen was raised to 65 feet. When Woods played in his first Masters, as an amateur in 1995, he couldn't resist trying to hit one over the screen. The day before the first round, Woods was on the range practicing when Love prodded Tiger into an impromptu ball-bashing contest. After Love hit the top of the screen, Woods hit a rocket that got out in a hurry, drawing amazed laughter from Love and several other players who had stopped to watch.

The club raised the net to 85 feet in 1998, and tournament director Will Nicholson asked players to refrain from bombing balls over it. Eighty-six players obliged, while two others-Daly and Matt Kuchar—did not. The net reached 95 feet in '99 and was up to 105 feet last week. "I've seen more balls fly out in the last few years than ever before, but fewer this year," says Mason Clements, the driving-range supervisor at the Masters for the last six years. "I'm glad they keep raising it. I've never heard of anyone getting hit, but the club is making sure it doesn't push its luck."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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