For perennial home viewers of the Masters on television, familiarity breeds contentment. The recognition factor of these holes never gets tiring. And yet a close look for those lucky enough to tread the grounds of Augusta National even once reveals a whole new ballgame out there – on a scale of width and vertical intensity that the TV camera simply can’t capture.
Especially on a large screen, there’s something so comforting about the look and feel of these holes as the round unfolds and you observe play on this 7,435-yard, par-72 tract. So here’s some help for the couch potato about what to watch for in the golf course.
For golf fans who love architecture, after all, Augusta National is always the most interesting character in the field. In fact, it has 18 compelling personalities.
This hole used to be fairly friendly, but since length was added – the last extra yardage came in 2006 – this has regularly ranked among the hardest holes on the course. A massive bunker on the right used to be carry-able. Now at 330 yards to cover it’s not; with a deep belly to the bottom of that hazard, from which reaching the green is impossible, the play is to the left – frequently way left into the trees. The shorter hitters can’t even make it to the top of the fairway upslope, leaving them middle- or even long irons in, while the big hitters gain the downslope and have a short iron in. There’s no more revealing example of how length is a tremendous advantage on this course.
Even with the back tee added in 1999 to “Tiger-proof” the course, the longest hitters still bomb it past the crest of the hill and down the fairway, leaving long-irons into this wide open green. The greenside bunkers actually help the player as they are virtually no risk. It’s not a criticism of the golf course, just revealing of how fearless modern world-class golfers are from sand. The green, while downhill from the drive-landing area, feeds relentlessly back, especially to Sunday’s back-right hole location. Just ask Louis Oosthuizen, who bolted into the lead (momentarily) in the final round of 2012 by hitting a 4-iron from 253 yards out that landed at the front of the green and ran nearly 100 feet into the hole for a rare double eagle-2.
Historic avg.: 4.08 (14th)
An easily overlooked hole, though with the most tightly bunkered fairway on the course. What used to be a standard lay-up has now become for some a tempting, drivable par 4, with a risk/reward tee shot past all of that fairway sand to an unusually elusive, deflective green. The anecdotal evidence is that laying back off the tee and coming at the hole with wedge in hand yields more birdies than bolder play off the tee with driver in hand. The Sunday pin is cut back left, to the narrowest shelf (when measured back-to-front) on the entire layout. It’s always amazing to watch Tour-quality players make 5 here from 40 yards out.
Historic avg.: 3.28 (4th)
This hole is just (“just”) a long version of the 11th at St. Andrews. When played two days from the back tee it’s brutal. When they move it up to the old tee at 205-210 yards, it’s more manageable. The entire shot is dominated by a massive front bunker that tends to force players to hit long or left.
Historic avg.: 4.27 (5th)
This hole still doesn’t get a lot of TV coverage and is not particularly telegenic anyway. The real issue here is a green that falls away from the approach zone in its second half, so playing the right “weight” from the fairway is crucial. Two big looming fairway bunkers on the left with Augusta National’s recognizable flash-white sand faces can also come into play on drives when there is a crosswind. But again, it’s the green here, which for decades has been about the hardest at Augusta National to read because it sits just ever so slightly above natural grade and seems to defy gravity. The first half of it rises, but at a little “muffin” in the middle it tips away and bleeds out the back. That makes a running approach very hard to hold, and if the approach isn’t flighted with perfect spin the ball will race away as well.
Historic avg.: 3.14 (13th)
The dilemma here off the tee is that while all the trouble looks like it’s on the left, missing the green on the high side right makes for a very tough, downhill runaway recovery shot. This is a notoriously difficult green for long putting from the low left side, with many attempts coming up well short, especially when headed to Sunday’s traditional back-right placement.
Historic avg.: 4.14 (11th)
This used to be a short, relatively simple drive-and-wedge hole. But since it was lengthened and tightened dramatically in 2006, it has proven much more demanding. Players need to power a drive through a narrow chicane of trees, then land a perfectly struck iron from 170 yards out to a green designed for a wedge. The green is the most elevated, most bunkered hole on the course and hard to hold – especially when approached from out in the woods with some sort of low, screaming cut or hook, which is often the case, since the fairway has been reduced to Barbie-doll width by pine trees.
Historic avg.: 4.83 (15th)
There’s a massive bunker on the right that’s 330 yards to carry, which steers everyone left. From there what used to be hard to reach in two is now accessible to a good number of players, though there’s also a risk-free lay-up zone short right. Lovely asymmetrical mounds around the green deflect shots and make for interesting approaches into a narrow, multi-tiered green. The ground here offers lots of contours but not a lot of serious trouble.
Historic avg.: 4.14 (12th)
It’s all in the notoriously sloped green, with three tiers and well above the player in the approach zone. Judging distance, and pulling it off so that the ball finishes on the same level as the hole, is a very demanding moment during the round; Greg Norman found this out in 1996 when he initiated his infamous collapse in the final round after his approach came up short and almost rolled back to his feet.