My favorite hole at the home of the Masters
The finest hole on America’s dreamiest, most telegenic inland course? Without a moment’s hesitation, I nominate Augusta National’s par-five 13th, the final leg (or prayer) of Amen Corner, an infamous trio of holes occupying the lower reaches of a course hewn from the hills and dales of a former nursery.
Bobby Jones, a Georgia native who had retired from competitive golf, and Alister Mackenzie, the Scottish physician turned architect who authored Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne and other masterful layouts, collaborated on the building of a course originally intended for seasonal play by members and their guests. Augusta National, after all, pre-dated the Masters, an invitational event that blossomed into one of golf’s four “majors” shortly after its debut in 1934. The shared goal of Jones the player and Mackenzie the designer was a flowing, strategic test that would give enjoyment to all types of golfers. According to Charles Price, “Jones wanted Augusta National…to be a course that would not overpower his 90-shooting members or be a push-over for his par-busting visitors.”
The first hole Jones and Mackenzie “discovered” while walking the splendid, hilly site in the early 1930s was the 13th. Golf historian Herbert Warren Wind wrote of the discovery, “It was there in its entirety—a 465-yard par five (since lengthened to 510 yards) whose green could be reached in two if the golfer put together two excellent shots.”
No. 13: An ideal hole on a perfect parkland course
Reachable, yes, but danger lurks from tee to green. The drive, played through a chute in the woods, must be rifled to a banked fairway that turns sharply left in the landing area. Tall trees define the perimeter of the fairway to the right, marking the safe route for the handicap player. Deep woods and a narrow tributary to Rae’s Creek guard the entire left side. Aggressive players who “turn the ball over” a little too much on their tee shots in their desire to sling the ball around the corner end up in the brook or in the woods. The serpentine creek eventually cuts across the fairway in front of the large raised green, which lies skewed to the line of play. Set into a grassy bank behind the green are four large bunkers, each filled with brilliant white sand. Close-mown hollows in front of these bunkers give players a chance to recover if they overshoot the putting surface, but a treacherous chip down a slippery slope awaits. A front pin placement can be especially worrisome. Nestled under the towering Georgia pines that frame the green are hundreds of pink, white, and magenta azaleas that usually burst into bloom the week of the Masters. (From tee to green, the 13th hole is flanked on its south side by approximately 1,600 azaleas, including many different species and cultivars). On a course renowned for its horticultural perfection, this lay-of-the-land gem is the most exquisite hole of all.
The strategic value of the 13th rivals its beauty. No less an authority than Robert Trent Jones described the 13th at Augusta National as “one of the world’s classic par-five holes, perhaps the best short par five ever built. It is a superb example of a strategic hole that does not require great length to be intimidating, penal and rewarding at the same time.”
As such, it has been the scene of both triumph and disaster in The Masters. There was Nick Faldo’s brilliant two-iron shot from a sidehill lie to the green in the 1996 Masters, a shot that crushed Greg Norman’s chances in their mano-a-mano duel. Fred Couples, seemingly in command, hooked his tee shot at the 13th into the woods during the final round of the 1998 Masters. He found his ball, pitched out to the fairway—and then dumped his third shot in the creek. On a hole he had eagled the previous day, he made a 7 on Sunday, opening the door for eventual winner Mark O’Meara.
According to Vijay Singh, winner of the 2000 Masters, “The thought process on this hole has really changed. It used to be if you made par you felt, ‘Oh, geez, I’ve fallen a shot behind everybody else.’ You still feel that way, but not as much. It’s a par-four hole now. You want to make birdie but don’t feel like you’ve lost as much if you don’t.”
Played with care and restraint by the bogey golfer—safe drive to the right, a lay-up short of the creek, short iron to the green, two putts–the 13th at Augusta National can be done in par. But experts seeking birdies or eagles on a par five that measures barely over 500 yards, a modest distance for today’s long-hitting pros, must carefully weigh risk versus reward on this seductive, hairpin-shaped hole. That is because only two perfectly executed shots will find the mark.
The distinctiveness of the 13th, the standout hole on a championship course that has become a national treasure, is best summed up by Mackenzie: “The ideal hole is surely one that affords the greatest pleasure to the greatest number, gives the fullest advantage for accurate play, stimulates players to improve their game, and which never becomes monotonous.” By this and any other definition, the 13th at Augusta National is ideal. To which legions of Masters invitees and patrons would say, “Amen.”
Speaking of telegenic: the Masters, always the most innovative of tournaments, will be produced and broadcast live in 3D this year. This innovative step, the first of its kind in golf, will feature multiple 3D cameras placed strategically throughout the course, resulting in perspectives never before seen at Augusta National. In 2000, it was a big deal when the Masters became the first golf tournament to be presented live in HD on network television. The 3D enhancement will be even more dramatic.
According to the club, the 3D production, to be distributed live to U.S. viewers with 3D-capable television sets and computers, will focus primarily on the back nine. Given the perfection of its setting, I could soak in as much of the 3D feed from the 13th hole as the green-jacketed committeemen are willing to allow. Go to www.masters.com.