Tiger Woods - No. 3 at Augusta National

The Hole Augusta Hasn’t Changed (Much)

Despite nearly a century of innovation, No. 3 stands the test of time

AUGUSTA, GA—To millions worldwide, the Masters and Augusta National are beacons of stability. Other sports may constantly be changing, but every spring, the azaleas bloom in southern Georgia and a comforting, familiar scene unfolds where patrons are never on their phones and members never take their green jackets off property. True golf fans, however, know that the club’s willingness to adapt is a major reason why it remains atop its perch.

From creating an unrivaled fan experience on the ground to launching the ANWA to becoming a leader in digital coverage, Augusta National is always working ahead. Then there is the golf course. The perfect hue of every fairway may look the same every year to casual watchers, but the club is forever tinkering with the course. Most famously after Tiger Woods’ dominant victory in 1997, Augusta embarked on a series of measures to lengthen and “Tiger-proof” the place. More recently, the second and 13th have been further lengthened, the right side of No. 11 has been expanded, and Nos. 4 and 6 have been resurfaced.

In his Tuesday press conference this week, Tiger Woods, who played in his first Masters 29 years ago, took notice.

“Every tee box has been changed since the first time I played,” he said. “Every green has been changed. But the overall configuration of how they roll and how they move and the angles you take, that hasn’t changed.”

The five-time champion isn’t wrong. Every hole has been modified in some way since Dr. Alister MacKenzie packed up his tools in 1933. But one hole has avoided the knife more than the others: The short, unassuming par-4 third.

“Flowering Peaches,” as it’s called on the card, has measured between 350-360 yards since 1935. The green site hasn’t moved. The only significant change of note was turning the single fairway bunker to a cluster of four smaller ones in 1983. According to David Owen’s book, The Making of The Masters, Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts wrote a letter to MacKenzie in 1933 and proposed adding a front greenside bunker to guard the green. Both MacKenzie and Jones firmly opposed it.

In his response to Roberts, MacKenzie wrote:

“I am delighted that Bob agrees that the [third] with the one trap is all right. This confirms my impression that Bob knows more about golf and its sound principles than any man I have ever come across.

My own opinion is that a cross bunker would convert it into an ordinary stereotyped hole and would nullify all the subtleties of the undulations of the approach to which we gave so much time and thought.

Consider the many problems which face a golfer approaching the hole. In the first place he can play safely to the right and rely on a long putt going dead to get his four. If he elects to go straight at the flag he must play a perfect pitch or else his ball would hit the bank and come back or run over the green. On the other hand if he tries to run up from the right his shot must be played perfectly as a half hearted run up shot will inevitably run into the bunker on the left, which appears to me to be absolutely perfect both in regard to its position and its construction.

At this hole the super golfer, like Bob, has a most fascinating problem, as to have a reasonable chance of three he will have to attack the hole from the left, where all the slopes help him towards the hole. It is here that the tee-shot bunker comes in as he must make up his mind to play round it with a pulled shot from right to left or a fade from left to right, or, when a strong wind is in his favour, to play over it.

If the approach to this hole is maintained as hard and as true as the green it will make the most perfect hole of its length in the world of golf and any additional bunker would ruin it. It is holes of this description that keep up one’s interest in golf year after year, stimulate players to improve their game and prevent golf becoming stale.”

The good doctor has once again proven to be wise. Since the Masters began, the field has averaged slightly over par on Flowering Peach (4.076). In 2023, it averaged 4.036. With all the advancements in golf-ball technology, driver distance and short-game technique, this 350-yard hole without any water, rough, tricks or trees has stood strong for the last 90-plus years.

One of the favorite pastimes of veteran Masters patrons is telling first-timers all of the shocking things they’re about to see. And like any place where legends are born, the truth can often be stretched.

“You won’t believe the elevation drop on No. 10.” 

“It’s insane how far up the hill No. 18 plays.” 

“Clifford Roberts demanded that an actual whale he caught with his bare hands be buried underneath the fifth green.” 

When I happened upon a Friday ticket to the 2023 tournament—my first pilgrimage to golf’s Mecca—I was prepared for everything. And guess what? Everyone was right! No. 10 is unbelievable, 18 is insane, and there’s definitely an orca under 5 green. But as I made my way across the patron crosswalk on the third fairway, a shiver went up my spine. What the hell are you supposed to do there? I thought. As it turned out, MacKenzie’s letter to Roberts remained true.

For those who have not seen the hole in person, please allow me to do that annoying thing your friends who have been to Masters do and patron-splain what you are missing. First, you cannot see the green from the fairway. Second, the false front is more like a wall. From its base, you can only see a portion of the flagstick. And finally, the left bunker is horrifying.

One fortunate thing for the pros: Since the hole hasn’t changed much over the decades, neither has the strategy to attack it. Option No. 1 is to lay back to a full wedge and hope to control the spin. Charl Schawartzel did this to perfection on Sunday in 2011 when he holed his wedge from 108 yards to the classic left-hand pin position. Do yourself a favor and YouTube where that shot landed. You’ll get a feel for the green’s severe right-to-left tilt and immediately understand there’s no such thing as going right at it on No. 3.

The second option is to bomb it down as far as possible to leave a shorter approach. Over the years, this has become the primary strategy. From below the green, players are faced with an option to bump it into the hill (and risk it coming back to their feet), or try to hold the green with a 40-yard floaty spinner. This choice played out during the final round of the 2022 edition after Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith both drove it left of the fairway and came up short on their approach shots. From the base of the hill, Scheffler bumped it into the face and crashed it off the stick for a tournament-defining birdie. Smith landed it on top, but his ball rocketed forward and he made 5 from the back of the green.

Fascinated by this stubborn hole, I camped out there during the early practice rounds this week. Virtually everyone dropped small buckets and hit from the same two spots: 100 yards out from the center of the fairway, and from short left of the green. When Peter Malnati and Matt Fitzpatrick came through, their shots from the fairway ended up closer than their pitches. Rory McIlory hit both driver and 5 iron off the tee and then spent over 10 minutes experimenting with different trajectories and clubs around the green. Every player and caddie duo spent extra time pacing off the front edge to every angle of the green, rolling balls down the false front, and shrugging their shoulders. Walking to the fourth tee, it was clear they were no closer to a definitive answer on how to attack it come tournament time.

It was time for me to leave as well. As I got up, a mother and son walked past. “Not much going on here,” she said to her teenage boy. “Kind of a boring hole.”

Maybe for her. But Dr. MacKenzie and I quite like it.

Lead photo by by Jamie Squire/Getty Images, 2018