Golf: Augusta's very English inspiration

Hole at the heart of Amen Corner modelled on one in the heartland of Buckinghamshire; Tim Glover visits a Home Counties masterpiece which was a Masters template
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The Independent Online
ONE of the great features of Augusta National is that no hole bears a resemblance to any other on the course. However, the Golden Bell, the notorious par- three 12th, where it is possible to score anything from one to 10, is a ringer for the seventh at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire.

It is no coincidence that they are country cousins. Stoke Poges was designed by Harry Colt in 1908; Augusta National was created by Dr Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones in 1932. Colt and Mackenzie were collaborators and, with Charles Allison, formed the great triumvirate of golf course design. In 1930 Jones is believed to have played at Stoke Poges and was particularly taken with the seventh, a short par three to a long, narrow green with a stream in front and bunkers and banks to the rear.

Of the 12th at Augusta, which was built on an Indian burial ground, Mackenzie wrote: "This is somewhat similar to the best hole, the seventh, at Stoke Poges, England. It's probably better than the one at Stoke Poges as the green is more visible and the background more attractive." Maybe, but the seventh was there first, although over the years it has been modified to make it easier.

In other respects too, Stoke Poges can laud it over Augusta. The estate, which featured in the Domesday Book of 1086, was forfeited to the Crown in 1472 after the War of the Roses. The Earls of Huntingdon got their hands on it and the next lessee in 1598 was Sir Edward Coke. He was the first Lord Chief Justice of England at the time of Sir Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes and entertained Elizabeth I, who stayed at the manor in 1601.

Thomas Penn, son of William, the founder of Pennsylvania, bought the estate in 1761, despite the fact that the family was a bit strapped for cash. After the American War Of Independence they were paid a measly pounds 130,000 in compensation for losing millions of acres in Pennsylvania.

James Wyatt, architect to George III, was commissioned to build a Palladian mansion of more than 50,000 square feet and it was converted into a club house (Grade One) in 1908. That was when "Pa" Lane Jackson, who founded the Corinthian football club, formed the Stoke Poges Golf and Country Club.

When Colt got to work he had the finest parkland at his disposal, for the genius of Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton had already been employed to improve the landscape. Landseer painted The Monarch Of The Glen at Stoke Poges deer park and Thomas Gray penned his Elegy In A Country Churchyard there. What is more, it was here that James Bond put one over Goldfinger and Oddjob.

Against this rich tapestry, interwoven over 1,000 years, the history of Augusta National looks a bit threadbare. Originally an indigo plantation, the 365-acre Fruitlands Nurseries was purchased in 1857 by a Belgian horticulturist, Baron Louis Berckmans. Bobby Jones and his friends bought the property for $70,000 in 1930. The plantation mansion, which became the clubhouse, has an observation post on the roof from which the slaves, working in the fields, could be monitored.

OK, so Augusta could boast that General Eisenhower was a patron but Stoke Poges can point out that Charles I stayed at the house for a fortnight before meeting his demise.

When Jones, arguably the greatest player of all time, unarguably the most popular, stood on the Augusta site, he didn't see a nursery, he saw a golf course. Only one other course, Peachtree in his native Atlanta, bears his signature.

Colt and Mackenzie, on the other hand, are responsible for some evergreen classics: St Andrews, Royal Lytham, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Wentworth, Sunningdale, Royal Porthcawl, Swinley Forest, Royal Portrush and, in America, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. The common factor was an avoidance of artificiality.

What sets Augusta apart, aside from trying to double as the Chelsea Flower Show, is that outside Masters week, it is hardly used. The locker room is full of lifeless green jackets. When Stoke Poges suggested a match between the clubs, the reply from Georgia was no thank you.

From Thursday, the commentators will be waxing lyrical about the Cathedral in the pines and Amen Corner, the trinity of the 11th, 12th and 13th holes. At the heart is the Golden Bell, the inspiration for which was provided by Harry Shapland Colt's seventh heaven at Stoke Poges.

Tale of two clubs

Augusta National

Founded: 1932; Bobby Jones hosted the first Masters tournament, an annual invitation event, in 1934

Designed: Dr Alister Mackenzie, a partner of Colt's; built at a cost of $105,000

Number of bunkers: 29

Number of members: 260

Number of black members: 2

Stoke Poges

Founded: 1908

Designed: Harry Colt, built at a cost of pounds 5,000-pounds 7,000

Number of bunkers: 96

Number of members: 580

Number of black members: 0