AUGUSTA, Ga. — Is it me, or did the 2024 Masters Tournament concluded last month exude a subtle-but-fascinating Antipodean vibe? I’m not talking about the field itself (though I do think ESPN and CBS could have done with an Aussie Cam, to track the progress of Mssrs. Davis and Smith), but rather the course itself. I came away convinced that the 2024 presentation at Augusta National Golf Club has subtly moved closer to the Sand Belt stylings of Royal Melbourne, as opposed to the iconic American parkland for which ANGC has for many decades served as standard-bearer.

The Good Doctor, Alister MacKenzie, laid out all 18 holes at ANGC (with Robert Tyre Jones) and all 36 at RMGC (with Alex Russell) some 90 years ago. In Georgia, architect George Cobb subsequently authored several changes during the 1950s and ’60s. Yet most golf fans recognize that, between major championships, this golf course is routinely renovated and tweaked. Last week’s telecast revealed a few new cupping areas, enabled by reworked contours on and around the putting surfaces. A few loblolly pines have also gone missing, some by design, some due to old age, and some out of an abundance of caution, due to the massive tree limb that fell to earth during last year’s tournament.

Augusta National rarely comments on any of these adjustments, as we’ve come to expect. What’s more, its broadcaster partners scrupulously (some would say obsequiously) follow the club’s lead in this regard. As do the course design and construction professionals who carry out this annual off-season adjustment work.

Still, I noticed a few things that felt new, and all of them struck me as rather Australian.

First, the bunker edges at Augusta National are looking more and more like something we’d see at Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath or Metropolitan. I’m not sure when this edging practice actually started, in Augusta, but this year I noticed for the first time just how much of the soil profile is visible at the top of the greenside bunkers especially. Either way, this is very much a stylistic flourish associated with the top courses in Australia, especially those in the famed Sand Belt region south of Melbourne.

The modifier design nerds like to deploy when describing this style of bunker edge is “sharp”. The definition of said edge is indeed very neat and clean, and balls don’t trickle down a collar or embankent into these bunkers: They drop in, directly. To be clear, I’m not about to claim that this style was instituted course-wide this past winter. More likely, it’s been introduced already, perhaps in a few spots, and expanded to include most every green complex, save 14, where no bunkers exist.

Aussie/Sand Belt bunkers and those at Augusta National have long shared two more qualities: steep faces and flat bottoms. This shared characteristic typically means a ball hits the face, doesn’t embed, and rolls back down to a fairly level bunker floor. This architectural choice has a competitive aspect (anything buried in the face would result in a terrifically difficult recovery shot) and an ease-of-maintenance aspect. It also looks smart.

We can agree Augusta National’s bunkers have presented and played this way for years. It seems to me the club has finally added this soil-forward edging presentation to fully complement the effect.

Because broadcasters don’t do anything at The Masters without first checking with the powers that be, we can assume the club also authorized the marked increase in drone imagery during this year’s telecast. Resultingly, these aerials served to emphasize how several green perimeters at ANGC are defined by these sharp, precipitous greenside bunker edges that rise up and form the very green perimeter itself.

This is another style we strongly associate with Australian green complexes. In this way, the bunker edge also shapes the green outline and contour. See an example directly above from Metropolitan GC, south of Melbourne. It almost looks as if these bunkers have each taken a bite out of the green itself. Overhead shots of the 9th and 18th greens at ANGC — especially B Roll images, i.e. those without galleries — reveal the extent to which the bunkers at Augusta National similarly cut into putting surface perimeters in this fashion.

None of these architectural details require uniformity. As you can see from the image I’ve included here from Kingston Heath GC, the “depth” of that visible soil profile can vary from bunker to bunker, or even within a single bunker.  It’s also true that Aussie tracks like Kingston Heath (below) and Royal Melbourne tend to frame their greenside bunkers with more shaggy vegetation. However, where the top bunker edge meets the putting surface or collar? That stays clean, in Augusta and Australia.

That scrubby, unkempt look has never gone over in Northeast Georgia, despite the club’s obvious attraction to other Antipodean bunker characteristics — and despite a North American design zeitgeist that, today, very much leans Aussie in its appreciation of off-color, linksy, sand-and-scrub environments. I’ve written elsewhere that there are two kinds of golfers out there: those who prefer this more “natural”, linksy St Andrews course model, and those who would rather play in the more lush, parkland model embodied by Augusta National. And I still believe that.

Ever so slightly, however, it seems to me that those who host The Masters Tournament are subtly hedging their bets when it comes to how the course presents — and here again, the advent of so much aerial/drone imagery helps us see it.

Augusta isn’t located in a sand belt, of course. Its soils are very much clay based (the club sits 100 miles north of Cobbtown, where the new Ohoopee Match Club does stand astride a large sandy deposit peculiar to the American southeast). At one point on Sunday, a drone lingered over Augusta’s 9th green and its approach. The putting surface, starved of moisture for going on four days, had lost much of its verdant hue. The approach area had similarly mottled up: greener in the lower spots, a bit browner in the higher ones.

While the soil in Augusta is clay, the footprint below ANGC has been sand-capped to a fare-thee-well. That’s what accounts for the layout’s superb drainage, bounce and roll — three more qualities that typically characterize Australian Sand Belt designs, not U.S. parkland courses.

Folks who visit Augusta National for the first time are routinely bowled over by the striking elevation changes there. Television tends to flatten out these inclines — but also the humps and hummocks that move through the fairways, especially all around the greens. For a moment, late on Masters Sunday 2024, I imagined all the loblollies and pine straw had been replaced by sand and scrub. In the mind’s eye, nothing looked out of place. Indeed, perhaps I saw what MacKenzie had envisioned nearly 100 years ago.