On the second Sunday of every April, and the few days that precede it, just about all golfers come down with spring fever. They see the shimmering colors from the Masters on TV and they just want to go play. And then, for the rest of the season, they want their courses to be somewhat as green and pristine as Augusta National.
In golf circles, there is a term for it: "Augusta Syndrome." Courses everywhere have become much more eye catching because of those four days in April, broadening the game's appeal. The syndrome also is measured, though, in headaches. It has ramped up the stress on superintendents and golf course budgets, especially now, when the golf economy already is stretched thin.
"I think everybody is entitled to spend money the way they see fit. I don't think Augusta should be blamed for raising the bar," said Richard Spear, a former pro who has been a superintendent at Long Island courses for 38 years and is the author of a recent article on this subject for trade publications. "But things have gotten crazy."
He said he wrote the piece, "for no particular reason, I had no agenda, other than I thought golf has begun to cost too much and takes too long to play." In it, he wrote that "Augusta and other high profile tournament sites helped to show clubs and superintendents what you can do with a little imagination and an unlimited amount of money."
Technology helps, too. Advancements in growing and cutting grass have been dramatic, making fairways greener and greens faster. Masters highlights from the 1960s and '70s show many spotty sections and brown spots. That would seem scruffy today, even at a local public course.
So lots of luck trying to implement the sacrifices urged by a U.S. Golf Association official at a seminar this winter, at which he told industry leaders that clubs can't afford "to try to look like Augusta."
"There is tremendous pressure," said Steve Matuza, a second generation Long Island superintendent who recently retired. He loves the look of Augusta National and believes that the setup - generous target areas, no thick rough - makes for an exciting tournament. But he knows that it has come to stand for what American golf is supposed to look like. "Most golfers don't understand that, down there, they can get out and mow four or five times a day."
Spear pointed out that some Long Island clubs have either closed or been on the verge of it. "I think what we need to figure out is what we can afford, what's in the best interest of golf, and then price this product so people can enjoy it," he said. In his article, he said courses should switch their goals "from short-term perfection to long-term sustainability . . . and not be afraid of bare spots" if they reflect a transition to stronger turf. He also pushed for less slick greens, which would be healthier, and less manicuring of bunkers, "They are supposed to be hazards anyway," he wrote.
Scaling back expectations won't be easy, especially after people have seen Augusta on TV and witnessed Long Island in person in recent years. "No matter where you play, public or private," Matuza said, "I think the conditions are phenomenal."