Clever operators pay homage to Augusta’s par-three 12th hole
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but a striking resemblance is what the creators of America’s replica courses are after. Armed with aerial photographs, topographical maps and landscape software, not to mention bulldozers and azalea nurseries, copycat developers have most often taken dead aim at Augusta National, home of the Masters. Facsimile masters tend to zero in on Amen Corner, a legendary trio of holes (11, 12 and 13) known to produce high drama, especially in the final round.
The heart of this trinity is the short par-three 12th, a treacherous one-shotter once described by Jack Nicklaus as “the most demanding tournament hole in the world.” Like all things great, its conception is simple. A tee shot of 155 yards is played over Rae’s Creek to a shallow, well-bunkered green set in an amphitheater of towering pines with an understory of azaleas. The ball is at the mercy of swirling breezes. Short is wet; overshoot the green, and you’re left with a very delicate sand or chip shot back. Clones of No. 12, and there are dozens of renditions scattered across the Sun Belt, range from admirable to humdrum. Yet while their playing proportions may mirror the original, the trees are never as tall, the setting never as perfect, the greens never as glassy as Augusta’s. But muzzle your inner purist, squint real hard on any of the five replicas below (listed in descending order of excellence), and for a brief fleeting moment, it’s Sunday at the Masters.
Often imitated, never duplicated: Augusta’s one and only 12th
Bear’s Best Atlanta, Suwanee, GA
A compilation of Jack Nicklaus’s top holes from his temperate zone designs, Bear’s Best is located outside Atlanta 120 miles as the crow flies from Augusta. Among the feature holes is the sixth, an artful reproduction of the par-three 12th at Muirfield Village, itself inspired by the infamous 12th at Augusta. In other words, an imitation of an imitation. Thanks to Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, this third-generation clone is nearly as potent as the original. The tee shot is played from an elevated tee over the Chattahoochee River to a wafer-like green defended in front and behind by bunkers. As at Augusta the wind swirls here, so have your caddie choose the club. Not a Campbell soup can a la Andy Warhol in terms of replication, but this nice bit of legerdemain is located in Georgia, so it’s got that going for it. www.bearsbest.com
Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, Ocala, FL
One of the nation’s first replica courses, Golden Ocala, a private club tucked away in a hilly section of central Florida, offers eight replica holes, including two-thirds of Amen Corner. Crest the hill on the 10th fairway, and the par-three 11th, Golden Ocala’s take on Augusta’s dastardly 12th, looms into view. It’s all here: The bridge, the creek, the bean-shaped green, the well-placed bunkers fore and aft. All that’s missing is a capricious breeze and taller trees. The green isn’t as slick as the National’s marble-like surface, but a ball hit with too much spin to the front edge of the green will roll back down the bank into the water—unless you’re as charmed as Fred Couples. www.goldenocala.com
Renditions Golf Club, Davidsonville, MD
Renditions, among the more technically sophisticated replica courses, is set on a former sand and gravel quarry within an hour’s drive of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The layout boasts a convincing version of Amen Corner, here holes 6, 7 and 8. The mimicry at the seventh, patterned after Augusta’s 12th, is good. After gazing at the faux leaderboard beside the pond at the sixth (itself a replica of Augusta’s 11th), players stroll back to a squared-off tee box to do battle with this do-or-die one-shotter. The surroundings are a little bare–nothing can touch Augusta’s horticultural perfection–but the hole is accurately represented and does visual justice to the original. Backed by the tidal Patuxent River, this rendition plays into a breeze that frequently changes direction, complicating club selection. www.renditionsgolf.com.
World Tour Golf Links, Myrtle Beach, SC
A Myrtle Beach smorgasbord: 27 holes drawn from 23 courses in six countries, including four lifted from Augusta National. The Championship nine’s fifth was inspired by the National’s lethal 12th. The slim, raised green, a scant 14 yards deep, is realistically bunkered, a deep maw in front, two smaller pits in back. A simulation of Rae’s Creek purls in front of the green, while the arched stone bridge across the creek is a clever copy of the Hogan Bridge. On the downside, the striplings framing the green are a far cry from Augusta’s skyscraper pines, though the azaleas do burst with color in spring. Swirling winds? Only when a low pressure system moves in. www.worldtourmb.com
Tour 18 Houston, Humble, TX
Debuted in 1992, Tour 18 was the first public-access course to give golfers that déjà vu feeling all over again. Built on a former oil field east of Houston, Tour 18 offers the requisite simulation of Amen Corner–here holes 5, 6 and 7. Hundreds of transplanted dogwoods, azaleas and crepe myrtles create a nice stage set at the sixth, the layout’s take on Augusta’s 12th. The stone bridge crossing a bayou-like version of Rae’s Creek is true to form, but the scrubby Texas landscape is no match for the nation’s most beautiful parkland course. Also, the front of the green is not as steep or wide as Augusta’s. What’s more, Augusta’s grass varietals cannot be reproduced in steamy Houston: the Tifdwarf bermuda green is neither as subtly contoured nor as slick as the real thing. www.tour18golf.com