AUGUSTA, Ga. — When Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley announced Wednesday that the club was creating a partnership with Augusta Municipal Golf Course, First Tee of Augusta and Augusta Tech to strengthen public golf in the community, he said it was “in its early stages.”
It was the first new topic of business that Ridley addressed in his annual State of the Masters news conference.
And it has led to much excitement and speculation as to when work would start at Augusta Municipal Golf Course, the public course fondly known as The Patch.
Augusta native Jim Dent, 83, knows the answer.
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“I asked when it was going to happen,” Dent said, referring to Ridley. “He said, ‘As quick as possible.’”
One of the city’s most famous golfers – 12 wins on the PGA Tour Champions and more than $9 million in earnings – was among the guests at Ridley’s news conference on Wednesday at Augusta National Golf Club.
He was invited to learn about the initiative first-hand because of his connection to the Patch. He learned the game there, caddied at Augusta National while in high school in the early 1960s and his son, Jim Dent Jr., is the pro at the Patch. The road leading into the course is named after the elder Dent.
A decade ago, Dent said an investor wanted to go in with him to buy the course, but it fell through. Dent visits the course regularly, and was there Thursday.
The plan also includes a renovation of the Patch and the adjacent First Tee of Augusta.
“That’s a plus,” Dent said. “I think it’s something that needed to be done a long time ago.”
The Patch is owned by the city of Augusta and managed by Cypress Golf Management. As is the case with many public courses, there are budget constraints and its conditioning leaves something to be desired. In particular, general manager Ira Miller said the greens need to be rebuilt and re-sodded because there are so many strains of grass on them.
“The tees boxes are in desperate need,” Miller said. “Some of the fairways need big work. It does need a renovation, to be honest.”
Can Miller picture the completed renovation in his mind?
“Oh, they could make it look like Augusta National,” Miller said. “They’ve got unlimited money, they could. Whether or not they go that far with it, I don’t think so.”
Longtime member Bob West welcomed the news.
“As far as Augusta National, when you hear that name, you can only think of good things,” West said. “But how far are they going? Are they just going to fund the money and leave it alone and let someone take care or are they going to oversee it?”
West, who said he has been a member at the Patch for more than 30 years, said members heard speculation in the past week that Augusta National – or even the state of Georgia – was going to get behind a renovation of the course. The official word came down on Wednesday.
“Last year Augusta National made a comment that they were going to make improvements at the First Tee and other facilities in Augusta,” West said. “We only speculated that it was going to be the Patch because it’s the municipal golf course. Augusta National and Augusta Municipal Golf Course at not so much synonymous but when you hear Augusta National and you come to Augusta Municipal Golf Course you expect excellence. Right now we need some renovation.”
Golfer Christopher Wright, who is 64 and has been playing at the Patch since he was 27, called the news “excellent. It’s going to definitely help. It’s going to make things a lot better. They’re doing an excellent job right now keeping it up. The funds will really help.”
As for now, there are still many more questions than answers: Will some holes be re-designed or moved? Could some even be moved and connected to the six holes at the neighboring First Tee of Augusta?
“I love (the way the course is designed now),” said West, who is 75. “There’s something I know for certain is that change is inevitable. Sometimes change is good, sometimes it’s not quite so good. I’m hoping to be around to see some of these changes.”
And what about the green fees change after a renovation?
During a non-Masters Week, it’s $28 for 18 holes and $37 on the weekend. Cart is included.
“My biggest question is what is affordable for the every day guy walking in,” Miller said. “Will it still stay in that range when you do an improvement. Everybody’s reaction is what’s going to really happen? Until they know something, they don’t know nothing. Just being in the dark, we’re not sure what’s going to happen.”
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