Cadillac Days Leonard Kamsler Augusta

The World’s Finest Course

A deep dive into the design and strategy of Augusta National's 18 holes

Part 2 | The Making of the Masters | The World’s Finest Course The Golfer's Journal Podcast

Editor’s note: This is part two of a five-part TGJ Podcast series which chronicles the origin, evolution and inner-workings of The Masters. You can find previously published episodes here. The series is voiced by David Owen and based on his best-selling book, The Making of the Masters. Below you can find a transcript of this entire episode.

If The Masters seems older than it is, that’s largely because the tournament, alone among the majors, is conducted year after year on the same course. Every important shot is played against a backdrop that consists of every other important shot, all the way back to 1934. Every key drive, approach, chip, and putt is footnoted and cross-referenced across decades of championship play. Every swing—good or bad—has a context.

The history of the tournament is so vivid in the minds of the competitors and spectators that it almost has a physical reality on the course. The four-wood shot that Gene Sarazen holed in the second Masters is as much a part of the fifteenth hole as the pond in front of the green. Players standing by their drives can’t help but think about Sarazen’s two as they plan their second shots, whether they go for the green or not—and the same is true for ticket holders and television viewers. The double-eagle is more than just a notable moment in Masters history; it is woven into the fabric of the course.

At the eleventh, no player aims at the flag without recalling that Ben Hogan once said, “If you ever see me on the eleventh green in two, you’ll know I missed my second shot.” At the twelfth, no player watches a tee shot roll down the bank in front of the green and into Rae’s Creek without remembering the final round in 1992, when Fred Couples’s tee shot rolled down the bank in front of the green—and stopped. When the hole is cut on the back right of the sixteenth green, no player lines up a long putt from below without thinking of Seve Ballesteros’s four-putt in 1988. (Ballesteros, when asked what had happened, explained: “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.”)

When Tiger Woods turned a nine-stroke lead into a twelve-stroke victory on the final day of the Masters in 1997, he conquered not only Jack Nicklaus’s thirty-two-year-old scoring record but also his own knowledge that in 1996 Greg Norman had turned a six-stroke lead into a five-stroke loss over the same eighteen holes. For Woods, Nicklaus’s triumph and Norman’s collapse were both parts of the terrain. And now, for every other player who ever competes in the tournament, Woods’s record finish will be, too.

The original design work at Augusta National was done primarily by MacKenzie, who more than once referred to his creation as the “World’s Wonder Inland Golf Course.” He conceived the routing, positioned the bunkers, and blocked out the greens. Jones is sometimes given equal billing, or even first billing, but his role was more nearly that of a junior associate. (As Jones himself wrote, “No man learns to design a golf course simply by playing golf, no matter how well.”) Still, the two men had similar ideas about golf course architecture, and Jones’s contributions were significant.

Roberts was apt to emphasize Jones’s role in the early days, because he knew that in the minds of most people at that time Augusta National was Jones’s course, not MacKenzie’s. In October 1931, before construction began, MacKenzie wrote a lengthy description of the holes, and Roberts asked him to supplement it with “two or three paragraphs detailing the fact that Bob collaborated with you on all phases of the plans and due to the fact that Bob had studied civil engineering, and due also to the fact that he is of a studious nature and studies carefully each course that he plays on, he was of very genuine and very practical help to you. You might also add that he contributed several ideas that were distinctly original.” Roberts may genuinely have felt that MacKenzie hadn’t given Jones sufficient credit, but his first concern was probably that Jones’s name be firmly attached to any piece of publicity the club might generate. At any rate, MacKenzie happily—and effusively—complied, writing that Jones had made “most valuable suggestions in regard to almost every hole and I am convinced that from no one else in America or elsewhere could I have obtained such valuable help and collaboration.”

Roberts’s contributions to the original design were minimal, but he nonetheless played a real role in the creation of the course. In his critiques of MacKenzie’s plans, which were sometimes lengthy, he was observant and exacting. He noticed, for example, that a promised bunker on what is now the tenth hole had been left out of a subsequent drawing, and that particular clumps of trees did not appear to be accurately positioned. MacKenzie responded to such comments with varying degrees of good humor and alarm. One result of Roberts’s insistence on detailed explanations was that MacKenzie spelled out much more of his design philosophy than he might have if his employer had been more compliant. Regarding a plan for the short, treacherous par-three that was then the third and is now the twelfth, for example, Roberts had questioned whether the green had been drawn to scale, since it appeared to him to be disproportionately shallow and wide. MacKenzie, in his response, explained that the unconventional dimensions were the key to the hole’s design—as has been borne out in every Masters ever held. MacKenzie’s exchanges of letters with Roberts, along with Roberts’s correspondence and conversations with Jones, provided Roberts with an education in golf course architecture. He took those lessons to heart, and, as the years went by, he became an able guardian of the ideas of the two men who had first conceived the course.

The most important idea behind the Augusta National design—and one to which MacKenzie, Jones, and Roberts agreed from the beginning—was that the course should be demanding for the expert player yet not intimidating to the average golfer. It was to be, in MacKenzie’s words, “a course pleasurable to all.” Jones, in a 1931 interview with O.B. Keeler, said, “We are in perfect agreement that a good golf course can be designed and constructed which will be an exacting test for the best competition, and at the same time afford a pleasant and reasonably simple problem for the average player and the duffer …. Dr. MacKenzie and I believe that no good golf hole exists that does not afford a proper and convenient solution to the average golfer and the short player, as well as to the more powerful and accurate expert.” Jones addressed the same idea in his book Golf Is My Game: “We want to make bogies easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies, except on par 5’s, dearly bought.”

Leonard Kamsler Augusta National The Masters

Jones once said that one of the great strengths of Augusta National was that while pros there were always in danger of succumbing to disaster, average members and their guests might well shoot some of their best rounds ever—that an inveterate 90 shooter, for example, might have a good day and shoot 85. That is still true–even, surprisingly, when the course is in tournament condition. (Members and their guests are allowed to play through the Sunday before the tournament, and their scores at that time seldom differ very much from their scores during the rest of the playing season.) The reason for the seeming paradox is that the kind of trouble which tends to defeat an average player is less severely penalized at Augusta National than it is on other demanding courses: the fairways are generous, the trees are widely spaced, the bunkers are few, out-of-bounds is seldom a danger, and the short rough is (for an average player) as likely to be a comfort as a catastrophe, since it can cause a ball to sit up a little higher than it would on a closely mown fairway. (Average players sometimes have more trouble with Augusta’s fairways than with its greens. During the Masters, the fairways are cut to just 0.39 inch, and they are kept at close to that height all spring. For a golfer who occasionally makes less than perfect contact with the ball, such naked lies can lead to a discouraging number of fat shots. For the pros, Augusta’s short rough is more of a peril than it may appear, since it usually prevents players from generating enough backspin to hold the firm, undulating greens.) The greens are difficult, of course–but all greens are difficult for an average player. For a twenty-handicapper, three-putting is close to the norm on any course, and the particular perils of Augusta’s greens are offset by the reduced likelihood of losing a ball off the tee or hitting into an unplayable lie.

MacKenzie’s and Jones’s ideas about course design were revolutionary, and they were squarely opposed to the dominant American design philosophy of the time. That philosophy was perhaps most clearly embodied by Oakmont Country Club, near Pittsburgh, which had been built in 1903 and 1904 and was (and still is) viewed by many as the archetypal American championship course. The Oakmont ideal had been summed up neatly in a single sentence by William Fownes, whose father, Henry C. Fownes, had designed and built the course: “A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost.” The fairways were narrow, the rough was thick and deep, and every hole offered numerous unique opportunities for turning moderately wayward shots into disaster. When Tommy Armour won the Open at Oakmont in 1927, his score for seventy-two holes was 301—a total that has been beaten by every Open champion on every Open course since then. (Armour won his title by shooting 76 in an eighteen-hole playoff with Harry Cooper, who shot 79.)

MacKenzie and Jones both believed that such ruthlessly penal design made the game unpleasant for ordinary players and obscured the differences between great golfers and merely good ones. If a course’s perils are so severe as to leave no reasonable possibility of escape, the two men believed, then a skilled player’s advantage over a less skilled player is greatly reduced. One of the most famous shots Jones ever hit was a blind mashie to the green after driving his ball into sandy scrub to the left of the fairway on the seventeenth hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, during the British Open in 1926. Had Jones driven instead into one of Oakmont’s bunkers—which in the early years had deep, triangular furrows that were meant to prevent players from advancing their balls—he would have lost the chance to compensate for a poor drive by playing a spectacular recovery. MacKenzie and Jones both felt that Oakmont and other adamantly punitive courses rewarded straight, conservative shooting at the expense of the game’s most thrilling elements. A good golf course, they believed, is one that consistently supplies situations in which superior players can demonstrate their superiority. (Houdini thrilled his audiences by escaping, not by being trapped.) On Open courses today, the best players in the world sometimes feel compelled to leave the best parts of their games at home: They hit long irons instead of drivers from many tees, have few opportunities to demonstrate finesse around the greens, and can resort only to brute strength and good luck when they stray into the rough.

MacKenzie and Jones’s model, once again, was the Old Course at St. Andrews. In his book Golf Architecture, which was published in 1920, MacKenzie suggested that the one golf hole in the world that came closest to perfection was the Old Course’s eleventh—a par-three measuring just over a hundred and seventy yards. “Under certain conditions,” he wrote, “it is extremely difficult for even the best player that ever breathed, especially if he is attempting to get a two, but at the same time an inferior player may get a four if he plays his own game exceptionally well.” MacKenzie said that adding a cross bunker in front of the green—as had sometimes been suggested—would ruin it, by making the hole “impossible for the long handicap man” without increasing the challenge for the expert. This same philosophy guided the design of Augusta National, and it has guided alterations ever since. (It is eerily appropriate that MacKenzie should have chosen the Old Course’s eleventh as his epitome. On that hole in 1921–one year after Golf Architecture was published—Bobby Jones, who was then nineteen years old, took five shots to reach the green and angrily withdrew from his first British Open. Jones’s mature career is sometimes measured from that burst of temper.)

Another feature of the Old Course that appealed to MacKenzie was the absence of clearly defined boundaries between many of the holes. On the Old Course, the area potentially in play for a given shot is often enormous. Players almost always have distinct options to consider, depending on their level of skill and degree of ambition, and they can usually choose among very different routes to the green. MacKenzie’s original hope was that the divisions between fairways at Augusta would be similarly vague. The course as constructed did not quite satisfy him in that regard; while work was still under way, he objected (on the basis of photographs) that the boundaries defining some of the fairways had been cut “too straight.” But the lines were softened as construction proceeded. Many greens can be approached—either on purpose or by accident—from reasonable lies in very different parts of the course. The latitude isn’t nearly what it is on the Old Course—and never could be, since the two courses occupy entirely different pieces of terrain—but the theme is sustained. Indeed, first-time visitors to Augusta are often struck by the broad expanse of uninterrupted green that extends from the back of the clubhouse very nearly to Rae’s Creek, at the far end of the course. The property, when viewed from many vantage points, looks more like a vast park than like a succession of individual holes cut through trees. That is exactly what MacKenzie and Jones had in mind.

Identifying meaningful similarities between the Old Course and Augusta National may seem far-fetched, since on first consideration the two courses seem antithetical. The Old Course is ancient, ragged, treeless, and so irregular as to seem entirely undesigned, while Augusta National is young, manicured, and almost defiantly artificial. Still, the British golf correspondent Leonard Crawley, after playing at Augusta for the first time, in 1947, detected a powerful kinship and deduced correctly that MacKenzie and Jones had been deeply influenced by St. Andrews. “They have not copied one single hole on those maddeningly difficult and infinitely fascinating links,” Crawley wrote a few weeks after his round, “but they built eighteen great holes, every one of which is perfectly fair and provides a problem. It seems to me that each one demands that a player shall firstly and foremostly use his brains and not merely his physical and, in these days, his almost mechanical ability to hit a target from a particular range. It restores the ideas of some of the old original golf links which furnished the world with those great players upon whose methods and tremendous skill the modern game is now based.”

More than sixty years after the first tournament, MacKenzie’s and Jones’ s ideas about golf course design continue to define the Masters in ways that modern golf fans may not fully appreciate. During the closing holes of a U.S. Open, a player can often ride a narrow lead to victory by pursuing a conservative strategy based on avoiding disaster. The same approach has never worked at Augusta, where the final nine holes offer so many birdie and eagle chances that a bold player can make up a wide deficit with brilliant play—or self-destruct with a handful of poorly struck iron shots or miscalculated putts. That possibility has been an integral part of the course from the beginning. “We have always felt that the make-or-break character of many of the holes of our second nine has been largely responsible for rewarding our spectators with so many dramatic finishes,” Jones wrote in the early fifties. “It has always been a nine that could be played in the low thirties or the middle forties.” The dual nature of those holes increases the pressure on an early leader, who, with an eye over one shoulder, can begin to worry that no number of birdies could possibly be enough. As a result, the Masters seldom turns into a war of attrition; the winner is often the player who is bold enough to gamble at the very moment when human nature is urging him to protect what he already has.

That a course can be extraordinarily demanding while yielding tantalizing opportunities for scoring is an idea that many have found difficult to accept. But it is the essence of Augusta National. In 1998, Greg Norman was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying that the course was approaching obsolescence. (“It’s getting close,” he warned.) Yet Norman’s own performance in the Masters less than two years before had demonstrated the opposite. Over and over during the final round in 1996, which he had entered with a six-stroke lead, he failed to meet the challenge of the course and in doing so turned what had appeared to be an easy victory into the tournament’s most devastating defeat. He didn’t lose because of the speed of the greens—which sports page pundits often refer to as the course’s only remaining “defense.” He lost because under the pressure of the final round he mishit or misjudged a succession of crucial iron shots—virtually all of them struck from perfect lies—leading him to play Augusta National’s allegedly easy and outdated second nine in four strokes over par. (Two of his poorest shots—his tee shots on twelve and sixteen, both of which he put in the water—were hit under the most benign of circumstances: from tees, with short or medium irons.) Meanwhile, Nick Faldo was brilliantly managing both the course and Norman, who was playing with him, on the way to a virtually flawless 67 and a five-stroke win. It was exactly the sort of epic finish that the course had been designed to provide.

Augusta National is viewed as sacred ground by many golfers, who sometimes assume that the holes have remained inviolate for decades, if not since the beginning of time. But the course is not and never has been a museum. In fact, it has almost certainly undergone more significant changes over the years than any other important golf course in the world. Revenues from the Masters, along with substantial contributions from individual members, have financed a steady stream of alterations, some of them monumental. Almost every summer, greens are regraded or rebuilt, tees are moved, hazards are added or eliminated, new trees are planted in strategic positions, and mounds are reshaped, raised, flattened, moved, created, or carted away. Since the very earliest years of the club, the only thing sacred about the course has been a belief that it must continually be modified and improved. Roberts always viewed the course as a work in progress, and so did Jones. 

Changes to the course over the years have had numerous designers. From the beginning, the club has been receptive to—and has steadily solicited—suggestions from players, members, guests, spectators, sportswriters, television viewers, television commentators, distinguished architects, and others. Even as early as the early fifties, Jones could say with accuracy that the course was “truly of national design.” He viewed that miscellaneous heritage as one of the course’s greatest strengths, and his assessment became still more apt in subsequent years, as increases in tournament revenues expanded the scope of what the club could afford to try.

Two of the most notable early alterations cost no money at all: the ordering of the nines. In MacKenzie’s original conception, the holes were numbered as they are today. His thinking changed in 1931, before construction began, and in later drawings the nines were switched, so that the current first hole had become the tenth. Several writers have attributed the change to Jones, but contemporary documents make it clear that the idea was MacKenzie’s. (His intention was probably to provide a better view of the finishing green to members who might be lounging near the big picture windows in the locker room of the planned new clubhouse.) The club switched the nines again in 1934, between the first tournament and the second. This time, the reason was that the shady area near the current twelfth green, which lay at the lowest elevation on the property, was the last part of the course to thaw on frosty mornings. By playing the other side first, golfers could tee off earlier. The new arrangement also made for more stirring Masters finishes, a fact that was recognized at the time.

One way to get a sense of the evolution of the course is to consider some of the most significant ways in which each hole has changed over the years. The following account is drawn from club records, old correspondence, and the recollections of older members and players. The original yardages for each hole are taken from the first tournament program and should be viewed as approximations—in some cases, fairly wild ones. (Even at the time, the club had doubts about many of them.) Incidentally, yardages at Augusta National have always been represented in increments of five, because Roberts felt that to suggest a greater degree of precision was ridiculous, especially since the exact tee and hole positions changed from day to day.

St. Andrews in 1958
No. 13 in 1966. Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images

First Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 380 (Members) 400 (Masters)
Current Length: 365 (Members) 435 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Cherokee Rose
Current Name: Tea Olive

The first hole (which was the tenth when the course opened) is considerably longer for Masters competitors today than it was during the tournament’s early years. In addition, the tee has been moved closer to the clubhouse, making the slight dogleg more pronounced, and the fairway bunker has been reshaped, enlarged, and moved farther from the tee. A second large bunker, which used to sprawl across the left side of the fairway roughly a hundred yards from the green, has been removed. (Augusta National once had several such bunkers; in the thirties, they were sometimes likened to the sandy waste areas at Pine Valley.) In the early years, a small creek ran across the fairway at the bottom of the hill, less than a hundred yards from the tee. The carry over the ditch was so short that few players even noticed the hazard, but a member named Clarence J. Schoo—who ran a boxboard manufacturing company in Springfield, Massachusetts, and was a close friend of Roberts’s—drove into it so often that it came to be known as Schooie’s Gulch. After topping yet another drive into the creek one day, Schoo said to Roberts, “I wish you’d fill in that damn ditch.” Roberts did fill in the ditch, during the summer of 1951—and sent the bill to Schoo.

That, at any rate, is how the story is usually told. The real reason for eliminating the ditch was that the club wanted to replace its old press tent with a Quonset hut, on a site to the right of the first fairway, and the ditch was in the way of the planned foundation. The ditch also constituted a maintenance headache that Roberts wanted to do away with. To fill it, he used dirt from the northwest corner of the property, an area that had been leveled to create a parking lot for Masters patrons. Schoo, who later became a vice president of the club, did gladly pay for part of the alteration, but he almost certainly wasn’t surprised when he opened his bill.

Schoo was such a poor golfer that when he one day made a natural birdie, Roberts decreed that he should be paid the same cash pot that was ordinarily given to golfers who made a hole-in-one, on the theory that Schooie was never going to come any closer. Another time, while playing the seventh hole in a foursome that also included Roberts and Eisenhower, Schoo hit a dreadful drive that traveled just a few yards, into a clump of pampas grass to the left of the tee. Schoo said, “Well, in all the years I’ve been playing here, that’s the first time I’ve done that.” That summer, the grounds crew cut back the pampas grass and found several balls with his name imprinted on them. On another occasion, Schoo declared with exasperation that he must be the worst golfer in the club. His caddie, who had been around long enough to have heard stories but not long enough to recognize individual members, said, “No, sir. The worst golfer in this club is Mr. Schoo.”

Second Hole – Par Five

Original Length: 490 (Members) 525 (Masters)
Current Length: 500 (Members) 575 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Woodbine
Current Name: Pink Dogwood

In the earliest years, the second hole had a vast, ragged bunker in the fairway, not far from the tee. A more subdued version of the bunker survived into the mid-sixties, when it was replaced by a smaller bunker farther down the fairway and to the right. “The players all complained when Roberts put it in,” Gene Sarazen, who suggested the change, says. “But it didn’t mean a thing when you complained to Roberts. He had his own mind made up.” Among the players who complained was Ben Hogan, whose fade made the sand a genuine annoyance. According to Sam Snead, “Hogan said the bunker should have been placed on the other side, so you couldn’t cut the corner.” But the left side of the fairway was already well guarded, as it is today, by a grove of pines and a deep ravine with a creek at the bottom of it—one of the few spots on the course where a player can hit a truly unrecoverable drive. (Gardner Dickinson once suggested that the tournament’s airline office—a Roberts innovation that enables players and spectators to make last-minute changes in their travel plans without leaving the property—should be moved into the ravine, on the theory that any player unfortunate enough to drive his ball down there on Thursday or Friday might as well book a flight for Friday night.) During the summer of 1998, the Masters tee was moved back twenty-five yards in order to bring both the ravine and the bunker—which was reshaped and reoriented-back into play for long hitters. Four years later, part of the bunker was filled in, to widen the landing zone for players unable to drive beyond the bunker.

Third Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 335 (Members) 350 (Masters)
Current Length: 340 (Members) 350 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Flowering Peach
Current Name: Flowering Peach

The third hole has probably undergone fewer changes than any other hole on the course. Its principal feature today, as was true in the beginning, is a treacherously shaped green that sits on a tilted natural plateau. Dropping off from the shallow left end of the green is a deep bunker from which pars can be excruciatingly difficult to save. The green is hard to hit and harder to hold, and approaches to it are complicated by the fact that the putting surface is invisible from the fairway. 

In a letter to MacKenzie in 1933, Roberts raised the possibility of adding a deep cross bunker in the face of the plateau directly in front of the green. “It was my understanding,” Roberts wrote, “that the deep-face trap located in about the center would make this a definite drive and pitch hole; that is to say, a well struck pitch would be required in order to hold the green and the trap would make it impossible to play a run-up shot.” MacKenzie was vehement in vetoing that idea—which Roberts had admitted Jones didn’t support—and his response contains so much of his thinking about design that it is worth quoting at length:

“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.”

Jones did not think as highly of the third hole as MacKenzie did; his favorite par-fours almost all required long-iron or fairway-wood approaches, at which he excelled. But MacKenzie’s conviction has been borne out over the years. Of all the architects who have worked on the course, none has yet made a persuasive case for a major improvement. (The single original fairway bunker became a cluster of four fairway bunkers in 1983, but the impact on tee shots didn’t change.) For Masters competitors, the third hole remains the shortest par-four on the course, yet it was one of the few holes that consistently gave Tiger Woods trouble during his record victory in 1997. (On Friday, he hit a bullet-like drive to within fifteen yards of the green, yet made a bogey.) In fact, the experience of Woods and other long-hitting players suggests that one effective way to “Tiger-proof” a golf hole may be to shorten it.

Fourth Hole – Par Three

Original Length: 175 (Members) 190 (Masters)
Current Length: 170 (Members) 205 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Palm
Current Name: Flowering Crab Apple

One of the club’s first member committees was called the beautification committee. It consisted of Alfred Bourne, Henry Crowell, and Louis Alphonse Berckmans, who was one of the three sons of Prosper Berckmans, the late owner of Fruitland Nurseries. (Louis had joined the club, although he was in his seventies and didn’t play golf. His younger brother—Prosper Jr., who was known as Allie—served as the club’s first general manager.) The committee’s first report, which it presented to Jones in 1932, recommended “concentrating in the vicinity of each hole a massed profusion of a distinctive variety of trees or plants that bloom during the winter season.” That was probably Berckmans’s idea, and it was he who decided which plants should go with which holes. The featured plant on the fourth hole was originally the palm tree; five different varieties, among them three varieties of wild date palm, were planted on the hole. Just one of those trees remains today. (It is situated in front and to the right of the green.) The hole is now named Flowering Crab Apple.

The fourth hole today looks and plays much as it did in the early years, although the greenside bunker on the left is now closer to the putting surface. The biggest change has nothing to do with the hole itself. In the early years, some residential power lines were visible beyond the green. In 1966, Edwin Hatch, who was the chairman of Georgia Power Co., was asked to join the club. In one of his first rounds as a member, Roberts arranged for the two of them to play together. When they reached the fourth tee, Roberts commented that the hole’s only flaw was the unsightly power lines, which he said ruined the view. Hatch said nothing, but not long afterward a crew from the power company arrived to lower the wires.

Fifth Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 425 (Members) 440 (Masters)
Current Length: 400 (Members) 455 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Magnolia
Current Name: Magnolia

The fifth hole is the centerpiece of what has sometimes been called Augusta National’s other Amen Corner. It is seldom seen on television and when it is, the cameras can’t do justice to the dramatic topography of both the fairway and the green—but it is ranked by more than a few players as the second best par-four on the course (after the tenth). MacKenzie felt that the fifth was descended in spirit from the immortal Road Hole, the seventeenth at the Old Course. The main similarity may be in the difficulty of the approach shot, since balls hit short invariably stay short, while balls hit long occasionally disappear for good in the trees and shrubbery beyond the green. The perils of the green make Jack Nicklaus’s achievement during the 1996 Masters seem all the more astonishing: he eagled the fifth twice, in consecutive rounds.

MacKenzie’s design for the fifth hole included two fairway bunkers, but Jones initially felt they were superfluous, and they weren’t built until a few years after the course had opened. As originally positioned, the bunkers functioned mainly as visual hazards, since even in the early years players didn’t have much trouble driving over them or playing safely to the right. (The bunkers also often aided less skilled players, by stopping pulled or hooked drives, which might otherwise have run down the steep hill and out of play—as Wendell Miller, the contractor, predicted they would while making an unsuccessful attempt to interest Jones in adding bunkers in 1933.) MacKenzie, throughout his career, made frequent use of course features that were essentially optical illusions: seemingly narrow fairways that were ampler than they appeared; seemingly ample fairways on which the ideal landing areas were narrow and precise; large greens that seemed to provide huge targets but were contoured in such a way that reasonably simple putts could be earned only with brilliant approaches—and bunkers that looked threatening from a distance but were easy to carry. He felt that easily avoided fairway bunkers were good for a player’s self-confidence and sense of achievement.

By 2002, the bunkers had long since ceased to serve even as visual hazards for the vast majority of Masters competitors. Under the direction of Tom Fazio, the tournament tees were moved back, the fairway was reconfigured, and the bunkers were reshaped, deepened, and moved closer to the green. The carry over the farther bunker from the Masters tees is now more than 315 yards, and both bunkers are so deep that reaching the green from either one may be impossible. Each bunker has a nearly vertical forward face, on which a thin layer of sand is held in place by a fabric liner, and in which balls cannot become embedded. The fifth fairway caused problems for many years. Buried stones continually worked their way to the surface, where they were a threat to golf swings and mower blades. Finally, in 1962, the club resurfaced the fairway (and also the seventh) with new topsoil. When the job was complete, Roberts devised a characteristically simple method of testing the results: he asked Johnny Graves, a club employee, to drive a golf cart up and down at full speed and report back on the smoothness of the ride.

Sixth Hole – Par Three

Original Length: 160 (Members) 185 (Masters)
Current Length: 165 (Members) 180 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Juniper
Current Name: Juniper

The same tributary of Rae’s Creek that runs in front of the thirteenth green and along the left side of the thirteenth fairway used to run also between the sixth tee and sixth green. The stream ran so far short of the green, though, that it virtually never came into play. In 1955, the club dammed the stream to create a more formidable hazard. But the new pond was still thirty yards from the front of the putting surface, making the water a nearly irrelevant peril even for high-handicap players. (It couldn’t even be seen from the tournament tees.) In 1959, the pond was removed and the stream was buried.

Seventh Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 320 (Members) 340 (Masters)
Current Length: 320 (Members) 410 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Cedar
Current Name: Pampas

The seventh wasn’t much of a hole in the early days. (The consensus, as described by Roberts, was that it was “the only weak hole out of the eighteen.”) MacKenzie likened it to the eighteenth at St. Andrews, but the resemblance was superficial. Both holes were short, and both had large greens and no bunkers, but in comparison with the venerable and surprisingly difficult closing hole of the Old Course, the seventh at Augusta was a pushover. More than a few players today would have been able to drive it.

In a letter to MacKenzie in 1933, Roberts wrote, “I think the real criticism…is that it lacks character. Ed Dudley [the club’s first professional] made a suggestion which appealed very much to me. He proposed putting a bunker in the middle of the face of the green and letting it wedge into the green. In other words, his thought is to partly develop this green into two sections, the same as is true of one of the greens at Lakeside, California. Bob did not have very much to say about this proposal, but I do not think he was much impressed by it. I think, in truth, that Bob is really hesitant about making any alterations or incidental refinements till you can come here and see the layout.”

Nothing significant happened until 1938, when Horton Smith—who had won the first and third tournaments—suggested elevating the green and fronting it with several deep bunkers. He also suggested moving the green twenty yards back and to the right. Jones and Roberts both approved. The design work was done by Perry Maxwell, an Oklahoma banker-turned-architect, whose best-known course is probably Tulsa’s Southern Hills. Maxwell had been a partner of MacKenzie’s during the final years of MacKenzie’s life. (Their last joint project, completed in 1933, was Crystal Downs, in Frankfort, Michigan.) The transformation of the seventh green, which cost $2,500, was paid for by Lewis B. Maytag, who was one of the club’s earliest members and was the head of the Maytag Company. In addition, the driving area was tightened through the addition of a grove of pine trees on the left side of the fairway. (There were already trees on the right.)

Maxwell made several less dramatic changes in other greens—among them the first and the fourteenth, to which he added pronounced undulations. Such undulations were his trademark and were known as “Maxwell rolls.” MacKenzie was no longer alive at that time, but he undoubtedly would have approved: He loved dramatic contours. In The Spirit of St. Andrews, he wrote nostalgically about the early greens at Machrihanish, a legendary course, designed by Old Tom Morris, on the Kintyre peninsula in western Scotland: “Some of the natural greens were so undulating that at times one had to putt twenty or thirty yards round to lay dead at a hole only five yards away. These greens have all gone and today one loses all the joy of outwitting an opponent by making spectacular putts of this description.” For the disappearance of such features, MacKenzie blamed a preoccupation with the elimination of “unfairness”—a word that he also placed in quotation marks.

During the summer of 2001, the Masters tee on the seventh hole was moved back nearly fifty yards, making this one of the most challenging driving holes on the course. A year later, a sloping section of the fairway was regraded to prevent straight drives by shorter players from kicking into the trees on the right.

Eighth Hole – Par Five

Original Length: 475 (Members) 500 (Masters)
Current Length: 460 (Members) 570 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Yellow Jasmine
Current Name: Yellow Jasmine

When the eighth green was built, it looked very much the way it does today, with tall, steeply contoured mounds on either side. In 1956, though, Roberts had the mounds removed. “That’s the only time I can really remember Mr. Jones getting mad at Cliff,” Phil Harison, a longtime member, recalls. “But he removed the mounds for a reason. They blocked the view of the spectators at the tournament, and once they were gone the spectators could see a lot better. But Mr. Jones got awfully upset about that. He really did, because without the mounds the hole was much less interesting, and the green didn’t look like any other green on the golf course.” 

Roberts never thought that removing the mounds improved the hole—and, indeed, the new green was dreadful. It was featureless and vaguely hourglass-shaped, and it could be approached without trepidation from almost any angle. But Roberts felt strongly that spectators ought to be able to see. Not long before he died, though, he decided that the sacrifice had been too great and that the mounds should be restored. The change was finally made in 1979, not quite two years after his death. Byron Nelson led the project, along with Joseph S. Finger, an architect who, among other accomplishments, had played golf at Rice University in the thirties on a team that was coached by Jimmy Demaret. In restoring the mounds, Nelson and Finger relied heavily on photographs taken during the thirties and forties. Harison—whose father was Montgomery Harison, the early member who built the house that used to stand just beyond the first green—consulted on the project as well. During the Second World War, when the course was closed, he had often ridden a motorbike over the mounds, and he says that he retained a sort of physical memory of their shape.

Harison has belonged to the club for more than fifty years, although he is only in his seventies. Jones and Roberts used to ask him to fill out groups in the Jamboree beginning when he was thirteen, and he and a partner won the event in 1941, when he was sixteen. He didn’t officially become a member until 1946, when he turned twenty-one, but at that time, he recalls, Jones and Roberts kidded him by saying, “Oh, you’ve been a member for years.” For more than fifty years, Harison has been the official starter of the Masters. It is he who announces each player on the first tee.

During the summer of 2001, the Masters tee on eight was moved back and to the players’ right—part of a course-wide effort, supervised primarily by Tom Fazio, to lengthen the course and increase the premium on accuracy and controlled shot shape off the tee. The single fairway bunker was doubled in size and stretched toward the green. (The old bunker ended roughly at the peninsula of turf near the left center of the new bunker.)

The eighth hole has had a fairway bunker in approximately the same position since the course opened. Changes in its size and in the location of the tournament tee—all of which were made, in part, to keep the bunker in play—provide a good indication of how much driving distance has increased since the early 1930s: the far edge of the bunker today is roughly a hundred yards farther from the tee than it was during the first Masters.

Ninth Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 390 (Members) 420 (Masters)
Current Length: 380 (Members) 460 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Carolina Cherry
Current Name: Carolina Cherry

Roberts liked to say that he made only one contribution to the original design of the course. During the construction of the ninth hole, he persuaded the contractor to create a level landing area in the steeply tilting fairway at the distance he normally drove the ball. “The engineer was not at all enthusiastic about accommodating me,” Roberts wrote in his book about the club, “but finally agreed to bring back a tractor and do the job.” Roberts later told friends that he had requested the change because he didn’t want any of his matches with Jones to be decided by his luck at hitting a fairway wood to an elevated green from a downhill, sidehill lie. (The current ninth hole was then the eighteenth). Jones customarily either gave Roberts nine strokes or allowed him to begin their matches with a nine-hole edge. Augusta National doesn’t use the U.S.G.A.’s handicapping method. It has its own simple system, devised by Roberts, which is based on the number of pars a player ordinarily shoots, with a small adjustment for birdies. If you make six pars, your handicap is twelve. The Roberts system works well, is easy to compute, and allows daily modification. The club also uses Roberts’s method, rather than the U.S.G.A.’s, for allocating handicap strokes: The sole criterion is yardage. Of course, Roberts’s difficulties with the second shot on the ninth hole were shared by most of the club’s other members, who, like him and unlike Jones, weren’t long enough off the tee to come close to the ideal driving area, at the bottom of the hill. Incidentally, neither Jones nor MacKenzie was at all disapproving of Roberts’s modification: In consultations among the three, Roberts’s role was to supply the viewpoint of an average golfer, and Jones and MacKenzie both solicited his views. Roberts’s landing area is still visible in the ninth fairway, and it still receives plentiful use from grateful members and their guests.

The ninth hole was significantly lengthened during the summer of 2001, when the Masters tee was moved back thirty yards. (A high stone wall was built to seclude it from a service road just beyond it.) Additional trees were planted on the left between the new tee and the members’ tee, to eliminate the possibility of tournament players’ using the first fairway as an alternate driving area. At the same time, new pine trees were added on the right side of the ninth fairway, to tighten the landing zone.

Tenth Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 410 (Members) 430 (Masters)
Current Length: 450 (Members) 495 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Camellia
Current Name: Camellia

It is easy to understand how Augusta National’s routing could once have begun at what is now the tenth hole. The view from the tee is one of the most enticing in golf—the sort that can coax a smooth swing from a hurried player who hasn’t taken time to loosen up. The drop in elevation to the ideal landing area is more than a hundred feet—enough to make a thinly struck drive seem solidly launched. The fairway runs down and left and out of sight through a bending corridor of pine trees. The slope rewards any player who can work the ball from right to left, yet there is ample room on the right for those who can’t. Golfers leave the tee feeling that they are descending into a different world—an appropriate emotion for players entering the most celebrated second nine in golf.

The tenth hole originally measured fifty or sixty yards shorter than it does today, and it seemed shorter still, since both shots played downhill. (MacKenzie, in a note in the program for the first tournament, called the hole “comparatively easy.”) The green until 1937 was situated well in front of and below where it is today, in the damp hollow to the right of the sprawling fairway bunker. That bunker seems anomalous to modern players, because even well-struck drives don’t reach it and even poorly struck approach shots usually miss it. But in the early years the bunker embraced an otherwise defenseless green. (Even without the green nearby, the bunker has remained a hazard that MacKenzie would have liked: it looks as though it’s in the way, even though it’s not.)

Moving the green was the idea of Perry Maxwell, the Oklahoma architect who one year later would also redesign the seventh hole. Maxwell pointed out that moving the tenth green to higher ground would not only solve its drainage problems but also markedly strengthen the hole. The change turned a breathtaking but mediocre short hole into one of the greatest par-fours in the world.

Eleventh Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 390 (Members) 415 (Masters)
Current Length: 375 (Members) 490 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Dogwood
Current Name: White Dogwood

The eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth holes—which are laid out near Rae’s Creek and one of its tributaries on the southeast side of the course—were sometimes referred to by early members as “the water loop.” In 1958, Herbert Warren Wind, writing about that year’s Masters in Sports Illustrated, called the same stretch Amen Corner. His inspiration was a jazz recording called “Shouting at Amen Corner,” by the band of a Chicago clarinetist named Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Wind felt that the decisive moments in that year’s tournament—which Arnold Palmer won by a single stroke over Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins—had taken place on those holes, and the nickname has been a part of American golf lore ever since.

The Masters tee on eleven was originally positioned above and to the right of the tenth green. The hole ran steadily downhill from tee to green and so played considerably shorter than its measured distance. The hole changed dramatically in 1950, when the club built a new tournament tee, positioned below and to the left of the tenth green. The change was suggested by Roberts and endorsed by Jones, and its purpose was both to lengthen the hole and to eliminate a gallery bottleneck between the tenth green and the eleventh tee. “Under the new arrangement,” Jones wrote at the time, “the spectators will have ample room on the high ground to the right of the fairway to observe play, all the way from tee to green, without going on to the fairway at all. It will be substantially the same arrangement as is provided at number 13, where everyone can get a clear view of all shots played without following the contestants down the fairway.” During the summer of 1997, the tournament tee was shifted a few yards to the right, a subtle change that made the hole play longer by preventing players from hitting hard, running hooks down the tree line on the right-hand side of the fairway, which had been made vulnerable by the death of a large pine. Before the 2002 Masters, the hole was lengthened again and the tee was shifted farther to the right.

The eleventh hole’s most conspicuous feature is the pond to the left of the green. Roberts, in his book, wrote that the pond was his idea; Byron Nelson remembers it as having been his own. “There was already water behind the green,” Nelson says today, “because Rae’s Creek ran back there. But not many people went over the green. So I told Cliff that I thought he ought to dam up the creek and let the water make a pond to the left of the green.” (Nelson’s memory that the creek passed only behind the green is not quite correct. The water also looped near the front left, almost as close to the green as the pond is today.) The dam was built in 1951, and it was rebuilt most recently in 1998. The slope and shape of the green, along with the precipitousness of the bank, make the little pond especially punishing. One measure of the treacherousness of the hole is that no sudden-death playoff in Masters history has lasted beyond it.

A small pot bunker was originally positioned in the center of the eleventh fairway at roughly the distance of a reasonable drive. The bunker, which could not be seen from the tee, was Jones’s idea. He had wanted the course to have a hazard that could be avoided only with good luck or local knowledge—the sort of seemingly arbitrary booby trap that is plentiful on the Old Course. Jones’s father, Colonel Bob Jones, drove into the hidden hazard during his first round on the course, in 1932. When the Colonel found his ball in the sand, he shouted, “What goddamned fool put a goddamned bunker right in the goddamned center of the goddamned fairway?” or words to that effect. His son, who was playing with him (along with Roberts), had to answer, “I did.” The bunker was eventually filled in, though not till many years later.

The Colonel was one of the club’s most colorful personages. Roberts, in his book, wrote, “When I first knew the Colonel, he could play to a handicap of about eight. When he played worse than that it was the fault of the ball, the way some green had been mowed, a divot hole, an unraked bunker, or some bad luck demon. On such days he was prone to express his feelings with swearwords; not just the usual kind of swearing, but original, lengthy, and complex imprecations that were classics. Numbers of people who were regular companions felt disappointed when the Colonel played well, as they always looked forward to a prolonged blast of cussing that they had never previously heard.” On a trip to Philadelphia for the 1934 U.S. Open, Roberts and Bobby Jones lost track of the Colonel in the hotel where they were staying. After a lengthy search, they found him in the ballroom. Roberts wrote, “The Colonel, baton in hand, was directing the orchestra, and at the same time singing the words for the music that he was conducting.” The Colonel died in 1956.

Augusta National Archive
Cary Middlecoff tees off on No. 12 at the 1958 Masters. It was a pivotal year: Arnold Palmer claimed the first of his four green jackets, and, in his Sports Illustrated review, Herbert Warren Wind coined the term “Amen Corner.” Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images

Twelfth Hole – Par Three

Original Length: 130 (Members) 150 (Masters)
Current Length: 145 (Members) 155 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Three Pines
Current Name: Golden Bell

The twelfth hole is a one-hundred-and-fifty-five-yard par-three that has just about the closest thing on the course to a flat green. Depending on the wind, the tee shot can call for anything from a pitching wedge to a six-iron. Nevertheless, Jack Nicklaus once called it “the toughest tournament hole in golf”; Lloyd Mangrum once called it “the meanest little par-three in the world”; and Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated once called it “a hellacious, wonderful, terrifying, simple, treacherous, impossible, perfect molar-knocker.” During the first two rounds of the Masters in 1980, Tom Weiskopf played the twelfth in twenty strokes—fourteen over par. 

The twelfth was the hardest hole on the course to build. When an engineer saw that the plans called for a bunker in front of the green, he thought that the drawing must be in error, because the slope was so steep. The green was created by covering an exposed rock ledge with five thousand cubic yards of earth, which had been excavated on the opposite side of the creek. During that process, two tractors and eight mules became stuck in the mire and had to be pulled out with long ropes drawn by all the other tractors.

The twelfth green has always been shallow and treacherous; in the early years it was even more so. The right side of the green, where the hole is usually cut for the final round of the Masters, was enlarged in 1951 because, Jones explained, the hole had been “possibly a little too exacting.” (The front right corner of the green had settled toward the creek, exacerbating the problem.) “I think we should build this up so as to provide the maximum level putting surface,” Roberts explained in a letter at the time. “To do it right, logs should be used the same as when we extended the front of the left side of the green. While we are about it, we might provide another yard or two of depth. When the pin is on the right the hole is too damn tricky for fair tournament play especially since that area is subject to gusty winds. Also, we can never eliminate the bad feature of the damp bank back of the green in which a ball will bury. A good shot that is only a shade too short or too strong means a 2-stroke penalty—not one. Now that #11 is exacting such a surprising toll [because of the new pond] I wouldn’t mind easing up a trifle on the boys at #12 green.”

The creek in front of the twelfth green was a factor in a match played by Roberts, Ed Dudley (the club’s pro), Jerome Franklin (a local member), and Dwight Eisenhower shortly after Eisenhower had been elected president. Eisenhower’s tee shot landed short of the green, and his ball ended up on a sand bar next to the water. “You can play that ball off the sand bar,” Roberts said as they walked to the green. Eisenhower climbed down the bank to his ball and sank past his knees in what turned out to be quicksand. Two Secret Service agents jumped in after him and pulled him out by the arms. The match was delayed while the president went back to his cottage to change clothes. When he returned, he told Roberts that he would never again take his advice on any matter concerning golf.

The twelfth hole was also the site of a memorable ruling. In the early years of the Masters, the club sometimes had trouble finding knowledgeable volunteers to serve as rules officials. “On one occasion,” Roberts wrote in 1970 in a letter to Lincoln Werden of the New York Times, “the shortage was such that we appealed to Bob Jones for suggestions as to whom we might enlist. Bob said that we might in a pinch request his dad.” The Colonel was accordingly posted to the twelfth hole on the final day of the tournament. There had been a great deal of rain during the night, and the course was very wet. One player hit a poor shot that landed in a soggy area near the creek. The player spotted the Colonel, called him over, and asked whether he was entitled to relief from casual water. The Colonel asked him where he stood in relation to par. “Eighteen over,” the player said. The Colonel demanded, “Then what in the goddamn hell difference does it make? Tee the thing up on a peg for all I give a hoot!”

Thirteenth Hole – Par Five

Original Length: 455 (Members) 480 (Masters)
Current Length: 455 (Members) 510 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Azalea
Current Name: Azalea

The thirteenth hole is one that MacKenzie more nearly discovered than designed. When he first walked the Fruitland property in 1931, he found a field where much of the fairway is today and immediately recognized the makings of a great hole. Virtually all that had to be done was to build a green at the appropriate distance on the far side of the stream. He later said that the thirteenth bore a strong resemblance to a hypothetical ideal hole described by Charles Blair Macdonald in his book Scotland’s Gift: Golf (Macdonald’s best-known courses include National Golf Links of America, on Long Island, and the Greenbrier Golf Club, in West Virginia.) 

For many years, a tributary of Rae’s Creek ran directly across the thirteenth fairway roughly a hundred and fifty yards from the tee. An often told story (with several dozen versions and a shifting cast of participants) is that Roberts ordered the stream to be buried after one day driving into it. Something like that may have happened, although the change was undertaken with greater deliberation than most versions of the story suggest. That portion of the stream had long annoyed older members, and getting rid of it had no effect on the way the hole played during the tournament.

During the summer of 2001, Augusta National bought a small parcel of land just behind the thirteenth tee from Augusta Country Club, which borders the course on the far side of Amen Corner (and can be glimpsed through the trees). The purchase enabled Augusta National to move the Masters tee straight back roughly twenty-five yards and to widen it slightly.

Fourteenth Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 405 (Members) 425 (Masters)
Current Length: 380 (Members) 440 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Spanish Dagger
Current Name: Chinese Fir

Today, the fourteenth is the only hole on the course without a bunker. (The current fifth, seventh, fifteenth, and seventeenth were bunkerless when the course was first built.) Through the Masters in 1952, the fourteenth had a large bunker, which sprawled along the right-hand side of the fairway. It was so close to the tee, though, that its effect—like that of the original fairway bunkers on the fifth hole and the later abandoned left-hand fairway bunker on the second—was primarily visual (except for older members, who hated it). The bunker caused players to favor the left side of the fairway with their drives, even though the green usually was (and is) more easily approached from the right. After the Masters in 1997, a large mound just short and to the left of the green was also removed. Four years later, the Masters tee was moved back thirty-five yards.

Sportswriters and television commentators often describe Augusta National as a course that favors players who typically draw the ball, or work it from right to left, over those who fade the ball, or work it from left to right. Like many pieces of conventional wisdom about the course and the club, this one does not stand up to examination. Although it is true that several holes on the course have fairways that bend to the left and therefore seemingly favor players who can draw the ball off the tee—the second, fifth, ninth, tenth, thirteenth, and fourteenth holes immediately come to mind—The matter is not so simple as it may at first appear. (And it doesn’t help to explain the Masters success of Hogan, Nicklaus, Faldo, and Woods, to name four notable faders.) One usually overlooked fact about Augusta National is that all of its notable right-to-left holes, including the fourteenth, have wide-open landing areas on the right but severely punish shots that are hit too far to the left. In the final round at the Masters in 1998, Fred Couples derailed his round by hooking his drive on the thirteenth hole into the trees to the left of the creek that runs along the fairway. Had he played his customary fade from the tee, rather than trying to shorten his second shot by drawing his drive around the corner, he would have been far less likely to get into a position from which he had little chance of making par. He violated a cherished piece of local knowledge: Play away from the doglegs. On all the holes that seemingly favor players who can work the ball to the left, the only sure way to get into hopeless trouble off the tee is to hit a hook. 

On holes where draws are seemingly favored from the tee, the greens often demand approach shots that move in the opposite direction. On the second and tenth holes, for example, right-to-left approaches that land to the left of the center of the green are unlikely to hold. In fact, many pin positions on many greens are most accessible to players who can hit high, soft fades. More than anything else, Augusta National requires careful positioning off the tee and a high degree of ball control on approaches. The most successful players tend to work backward from each day’s pin positions in the hope of setting up approach shots that will leave reasonable chances of making birdie. A hole that calls for a draw on one day may favor a fade the next, and the actual target is always smaller than the entire green. As Roberts said in the fifties, “From the edge of some of our greens, three putts is par.”

Fifteenth Hole – Par Five

Original Length: 465 (Members) 485 (Masters)
Current Length: 465 (Members) 500 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Fire Thorn
Current Name: Fire Thorn

It is often said that the par-fives at Augusta National are in danger of becoming obsolete, since all four of them can be reached in two shots by players who hit good drives. But critics seldom realize that the holes were designed from the beginning to play relatively short. In 1933, Wendell Miller, the contractor who built the course, told Jones in a letter that golfers were telling him that the fifteenth hole was too easy to reach in two, and he added that by moving the tee he could lengthen the hole by ten yards. Jones’s reaction is preserved in a marginal notation: “Bob say no.” The possibility of having a relatively short second shot to the green was a feature of the original design, and Jones insisted that it be retained. 

Jones had explained his ideas about par-fives to O.B. Keeler in 1931, before construction of the course began. “I am not among those who believe that a par-5 hole, so called, must be so extremely long, or must have some peculiarity of design or construction, that it cannot be reached in two shots,” he said. “There are a good many of these holes in our championship courses nowadays, and some people appear quite proud of them. But in competition, it means simply that the man who can hit two really great shots is no better off than the man who can hit two good shots; his third is a bit shorter; that is all. Not by any means a fair chance for the expert to invest his superior skill and range in the picking up of a stroke.” Over the years, all the par-fives at Augusta have been lengthened and otherwise tinkered with in order to make them play longer—but they have never been altered with the intention of making them impossible for the longest players to reach in two. The idea has always been to keep them current while preserving the defining feature that MacKenzie and Jones built into them: a tantalizing scoring opportunity for better players.

Of course, most golfers’ perceptions of length and difficulty are determined almost entirely by par designations. If the thirteenth and fifteenth holes were called par-fours, players would perceive both holes—and probably the course itself-as brutally long and excessively difficult, even though no feature of either hole would have changed. MacKenzie was never overly concerned about par designations. He was far more interested in shot values and strategic possibilities. The true measure of a hole, he felt, is the golf that it inspires in those who play it. 

The bunker to the right of the green was added in 1957 (at the suggestion of Ben Hogan) and enlarged seven years later. At around the same time, a couple of good-sized mounds were added just beyond the green; they were removed in 1963. Removing the mounds made the green look from the fairway almost like an island, since their absence brought the pond on the sixteenth hole into play for approach shots hit long. The change also effectively lengthened the hole, by introducing a new level of risk into second shots played at the flag. In fact, in the final round that year, Jack Nicklaus hit a fairway wood approach that most likely would have ended up in the water if the slope beyond the green hadn’t been soggy from the previous night’s rain. He received relief from casual water, made a somewhat wobbly par, and went on to beat Tony Lema by a stroke.

Mounds were added to the right side of the fairway in 1969. Charles Yates recalls, “Cliff got hold of me, Jack Stephens, and several other members, and said he was thinking about putting in some mounds, because the pros were playing the ball with a big hook and getting a tremendous roll down that hill. He didn’t want the hole to become too easy, so he called a meeting and asked us to come down and see whether he ought to put in the mounds or not. When we got there, a bulldozer was just topping off one of them. Jack said, ‘Cliff, I thought you wanted us to help you decide whether these mounds would be a good thing to have.’ And Cliff said, ‘I just wanted you boys to be here so that if it didn’t work out I’d have somebody to blame.'” The fairway mounds were removed in 1998, after a consensus had developed among the membership that they no longer served a purpose in the tournament—the longest pros were simply driving over them—and that they looked out of keeping with the rest of the course. In addition, new trees were planted on both sides of the fairway in order to narrow the ideal landing area.

Sixteenth Hole – Par Three

Original Length: 120 (Members) 145 (Masters)
Current Length: 145 (Members) 170 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Red Bud
Current Name: Red Bud

MacKenzie modeled the original version of the sixteenth hole on a short par-three that he believed to be the best hole on one of his favorite courses, Stoke Poges, in England. The early members liked the sixteenth, and MacKenzie felt that it was “probably a better hole” than its British inspiration. But the hole was far too easy for Masters competitors, who were more likely to view it as a feeble imitation of the incomparable twelfth, which it superficially resembled.

As the sixteenth was originally designed, the tee was situated directly beyond and to the right of the fifteenth green. Players hit across a tributary of Rae’s Creek to a green at the base of the steep slope below the sixth tee. In 1947, Bobby Jones suggested moving the tee well to the left and the green well to the right, and damming the creek to create a pond between them. The architect Robert Trent Jones (no relation) executed that conception. The result is a demanding short hole that has produced nearly as many thrilling and decisive Masters moments as the twelfth.

Even at its new length, the sixteenth—like the sixth and the twelfth—is still relatively short by modern tournament standards. That has been true of Augusta National’s par-threes since the beginning. “None of these one-shotters [calls] for brassie or driver,” Jones told O.B. Keeler. “My idea of the proper place for the display of talent with the brassie or the spoon primarily is on a second shot—not from a tee.” A par-three, Jones felt, should be a test of precision, not of strength. MacKenzie agreed.

Seventeenth Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 380 (Members) 400 (Masters)
Current Length: 350 (Members) 425 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Nandina
Current Name: Nandina

In the program for the first tournament MacKenzie wrote, “Until players have learned to play the desired shot this will undoubtedly be one of the most fiercely criticized holes.” At that time, the hole had no bunkers. “It will be necessary to attack the green from the right,” MacKenzie wrote, “and it will be essential to play a run-up shot if par figures are desired. We hope to make the turf of such a character that an indifferent pitch will not stop on the green.”

Run-up shots are no longer feasible. The green is defended today by two large bunkers. For most pin positions, the best angle of approach is still probably from the right. The green looks easy to hit from head-on, but the putting surface slopes away so severely on the left that many perfect-looking shots end up running long. 

The hole’s most conspicuous feature is a large pine tree that grows on the left side of the fairway a hundred and twenty-five yards from the members’ tee. (A small creek used to cross the fairway between the tee and the tree; it was buried in 1951.) Eisenhower hated the tree, because it invariably interfered with his slice. At the governors meeting in 1956—after Eisenhower had introduced, at Roberts’s request, a resolution in memory of Colonel Jones, who had just died—Eisenhower took the floor to propose cutting it down. Roberts immediately ruled him out of order and adjourned the meeting, and the pine has been known ever since as the Eisenhower Tree. Philip Reed, the chairman of the General Electric Co., was present at the meeting and later told Roberts that he had learned a great deal from his handling of Eisenhower’s proposal. “Whenever anyone voices criticism at a General Electric meeting in the future,” he said, “I’ll just declare it adjourned.” The Eisenhower tree posed much more of an obstacle for members than for Masters competitors (many of whom would simply drive over it) until 1998, when the tournament tee was moved back twenty-five yards.

Leonard Kamsler Augusta National The Masters aerial 18
The 18th in 1964. Photo by Leonard Kamsler

Eighteenth Hole – Par Four

Original Length: 395 (Members) 420 (Masters)
Current Length: 375 (Members) 465 (Masters)
Earliest Name: Holly
Current Name: Holly

To Roberts, the eighteenth green was always more than a putting surface; it was also the stage on which the final scene of the Masters was enacted. He wanted the maximum number of spectators to have a clear view of the drama, and over the years he repeatedly reshaped the surrounding terrain in order to accommodate them. To improve sight lines, he had greenside mounds built, moved, and recontoured, and he had both the practice putting green and the tenth tee shifted farther away, to create more standing room. He implemented what he called the Big Circle method of roping greens, in which the ropes were placed not close to the putting surface, as was done elsewhere, but at such a substantial distance that the number of front-row seats was quadrupled. For the same reason, he made sure that the hole was cut in the front part of the eighteenth green on Saturdays and Sundays. “We have followed this practice for many years,” he explained in a letter to the television commentator Jim McKay in 1960, “because we know by experience and observation that more people can see the pin location in the front than can see it when it is on the upper level at the back.”

In order to determine whether these efforts and others had been successful, Roberts twice asked the Augusta photographer Frank Christian to estimate the number of spectators surrounding the green while the final pair of Masters contestants were putting out on Sunday. Christian did so by taking wide-angle photographs in three directions, combining them into a panoramic picture, placing a grid on top of the composite image, and counting the heads within each square of the grid. Doing that was so time-consuming that when Roberts, in jest, raised the possibility of making a third such census, Christian replied, “The hell you say,” and left the room.

The most conspicuous change to the eighteenth hole was the construction in 1966 of a pair of large bunkers in a popular driving area on the left side of the fairway. (Roberts always preferred to think of these bunkers as one bunker with two sections, perhaps because one of Augusta National’s distinguishing characteristics had always been its limited reliance on sand: One bunker was only half as many as two.) The eighteenth had had a large fairway bunker from the beginning, but that bunker was positioned more nearly in the center of the fairway and not much more than a hundred or a hundred and twenty yards from the green. It was removed when the new bunkers were built.

It is often said that the addition of the new bunkers was a response to the length of Jack Nicklaus, who treated the eighteenth as a drive-and-pitch hole in the course of winning the Masters in both 1965 and 1966. Nicklaus was certainly a factor in the decision, but other players were nearly as long as he was, and the change had been contemplated for some time. During the summer of 2001, those bunkers were taken virtually out of play for all but the longest drivers, when the Masters tee was moved back sixty yards and shifted slightly to the right. The bunkers were also enlarged at that time, although the near edge of the first bunker was left in the same place—now roughly three hundred yards from the tournament tee.

Nineteenth Hole – Par Three

The course as originally conceived was to have had one more than the regulation number of holes. MacKenzie explained the idea in a letter to Roberts: “Bobby Jones and some of the other directors thought it might be interesting to have a real 19th hole so that the loser could have the opportunity of getting his money back by playing double or quits. This 19th Hole will be an attractive plateau green, narrow at one end where the flag will usually be placed but wide at the other end so as to give a safety route to the player who has not the courage or the skill to pitch to the narrow end of the green.”

The hole was to have been ninety yards long. It would have played uphill, toward the clubhouse, between the ninth and eighteenth greens, from a tee near the top of the old practice area. The idea had plenty of supporters (among them Roberts and Grantland Rice) but was dropped partly for the sake of economy and partly because the hole would have impeded the view of anyone in the clubhouse who was trying to watch the action on what was then the eighteenth green—a view that Jones, Roberts, and MacKenzie all wanted to protect.

A local newspaper account of the opening of the course in January 1933 suggested that the hole had actually been built: “Outstanding is the 19th hole—actually—where ties are played off. Some wag has dubbed the locker room of the club house the ’20th hole.'” But no other contemporary source or document refers to the hole as anything but an abandoned idea. It seems likely that the reporter’s description was based not on firsthand observation but on a printed plan of the course, which still showed the hole, and that “some wag” was himself.

Par Three Course

MacKenzie initially wanted to supplement the main golf course with what he called an “approach and putt” course-a nine-hole short course, which could be played with short irons and a putter. The course was to be four hundred to five hundred yards long. “There is, as far as I know, no interesting approach and putt course in America,” MacKenzie wrote in 1932 in a letter to Wendell Miller, the engineer who was then in the process of building the big course. “A really good one requires as much thought and planning as a full course. All those I have seen are terrible. I am just constructing one here [near San Francisco] which I hope will be most fascinating.” Roberts shared MacKenzie’s enthusiasm for the idea, but Jones was skeptical. After walking the proposed site with an engineer late in 1932, Jones asked that the short course not be included on the site plan hut that the area instead be labeled “Reserved for Park.” The plan died, not only because of Jones’s lack of interest, but also because there was no money to pay for it. Still, in 1933, MacKenzie drew plans for an eighteen-hole, 2,460-yard short course. (The longest hole was to have been one hundred and ninety yards; the shortest was to have been sixty.) It was never built, either.

The club today does have an approach-and-putt course—the par three course, which was built in 1958 and is a little more than twice as long as the nine-hole course MacKenzie originally envisioned. It was designed by George W. Cobb with help from Roberts, who referred to it in his book as “my pet project.” A number of members were initially skeptical about the short course—viewing it, Roberts said, as a waste of money and referring to it derisively as a “Tom Thumb course.” But it was popular as soon as it was built, and it remains popular today—both among older members, who sometimes play it as a less demanding alternative to the big course, and among those who use it either as a warmup or as a place to squeeze a few more holes while there’s just enough light to play. The course today actually has eleven holes. Two new holes, designed by Tom Fazio, were added during the summer of 1986, so that the original first and second holes could be used for spectator seating during the Par 3 Contest, which takes place the Wednesday before the Masters. The old holes are still maintained and can still be played, though they seldom are.

The Par 3 Contest was first held in 1960 (and won by Sam Snead) after enthusiastic lobbying by Roberts. “I am really rather bullish on the idea of making use of the Par-3 course as a distinctive pre-tournament event,” he had written the year before. “If so, it can be quite a feather in the cap of the Masters Tournament. I say this because no other club holding a tournament could duplicate what I am proposing we do at Augusta. So far as I know, no other club has a Par-3 layout and, even if they do, I am sure they don’t have anything to compare with ours.” The event has always drawn a huge and enthusiastic crowd. It is also popular with the players—even though no winner of the par three event has ever gone on to win the Masters.

The par three course served as a laboratory for the big course in 1978, when its greens were converted to bent grass from a hybrid of Bermuda. The experiment was judged a success, and the greens on the main course were converted two years later. Some players still debate whether the new greens are faster than the old greens—which in 1960 and 1961 had been converted from an older strain of Bermuda—and even whether the original greens might not have been the fastest of all. Jones in 1931 had specifically promised that the putting surfaces at Augusta National would never be kept “saturated.” Sam Snead said in 1951 that Augusta was “the only course I ever played where you can hear the ball rolling on the greens,” adding, “They’re so slick the ball sounds like it’s frying.” That speed has been a feature of the greens since the earliest years. It is one part of the course that is unlikely ever to change.

What Happens When You're High Augusta National