TV guide: Augusta National, hole-by-hole

For perennial home viewers of the Masters on television, familiarity breeds contentment. The recognition factor of these holes never gets tiring. And yet a close look for those lucky enough to tread the grounds of Augusta National even once reveals a whole new ballgame out there – on a scale of width and vertical intensity that the TV camera simply can’t capture.

Especially on a large screen, there’s something so comforting about the look and feel of these holes as the round unfolds and you observe play on this 7,435-yard, par-72 tract. So here’s some help for the couch potato about what to watch for in the golf course.

For golf fans who love architecture, after all, Augusta National is always the most interesting character in the field. In fact, it has 18 compelling personalities.

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No. 1, Par 4, 445 yards

Historic avg.: 4.23 (6th hardest)

This hole used to be fairly friendly, but since length was added – the last extra yardage came in 2006 – this has regularly ranked among the hardest holes on the course. A massive bunker on the right used to be carry-able. Now at 330 yards to cover it’s not; with a deep belly to the bottom of that hazard, from which reaching the green is impossible, the play is to the left – frequently way left into the trees. The shorter hitters can’t even make it to the top of the fairway upslope, leaving them middle- or even long irons in, while the big hitters gain the downslope and have a short iron in. There’s no more revealing example of how length is a tremendous advantage on this course.

See a roundtable discussion of the best hole at Augusta National.

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No. 2, Par 5, 575 yards

Historic avg.: 4.79 (16th)

Even with the back tee added in 1999 to “Tiger-proof” the course, the longest hitters still bomb it past the crest of the hill and down the fairway, leaving long-irons into this wide open green. The greenside bunkers actually help the player as they are virtually no risk. It’s not a criticism of the golf course, just revealing of how fearless modern world-class golfers are from sand. The green, while downhill from the drive-landing area, feeds relentlessly back, especially to Sunday’s back-right hole location. Just ask Louis Oosthuizen, who bolted into the lead (momentarily) in the final round of 2012 by hitting a 4-iron from 253 yards out that landed at the front of the green and ran nearly 100 feet into the hole for a rare double eagle-2.

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No. 3, Par 4, 350 yards

Historic avg.: 4.08 (14th)

An easily overlooked hole, though with the most tightly bunkered fairway on the course. What used to be a standard lay-up has now become for some a tempting, drivable par 4, with a risk/reward tee shot past all of that fairway sand to an unusually elusive, deflective green. The anecdotal evidence is that laying back off the tee and coming at the hole with wedge in hand yields more birdies than bolder play off the tee with driver in hand. The Sunday pin is cut back left, to the narrowest shelf (when measured back-to-front) on the entire layout. It’s always amazing to watch Tour-quality players make 5 here from 40 yards out.

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No. 4, Par 3, 240 yards

Historic avg.: 3.28 (4th)

This hole is just (“just”) a long version of the 11th at St. Andrews. When played two days from the back tee it’s brutal. When they move it up to the old tee at 205-210 yards, it’s more manageable. The entire shot is dominated by a massive front bunker that tends to force players to hit long or left.

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No. 5, Par 4, 455 yards

Historic avg.: 4.27 (5th)

This hole still doesn’t get a lot of TV coverage and is not particularly telegenic anyway. The real issue here is a green that falls away from the approach zone in its second half, so playing the right “weight” from the fairway is crucial. Two big looming fairway bunkers on the left with Augusta National’s recognizable flash-white sand faces can also come into play on drives when there is a crosswind. But again, it’s the green here, which for decades has been about the hardest at Augusta National to read because it sits just ever so slightly above natural grade and seems to defy gravity. The first half of it rises, but at a little “muffin” in the middle it tips away and bleeds out the back. That makes a running approach very hard to hold, and if the approach isn’t flighted with perfect spin the ball will race away as well.

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No. 6, Par 3, 180 yards

Historic avg.: 3.14 (13th)

The dilemma here off the tee is that while all the trouble looks like it’s on the left, missing the green on the high side right makes for a very tough, downhill runaway recovery shot. This is a notoriously difficult green for long putting from the low left side, with many attempts coming up well short, especially when headed to Sunday’s traditional back-right placement.

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No. 7, Par 4, 450 yards

Historic avg.: 4.14 (11th)

This used to be a short, relatively simple drive-and-wedge hole. But since it was lengthened and tightened dramatically in 2006, it has proven much more demanding. Players need to power a drive through a narrow chicane of trees, then land a perfectly struck iron from 170 yards out to a green designed for a wedge. The green is the most elevated, most bunkered hole on the course and hard to hold – especially when approached from out in the woods with some sort of low, screaming cut or hook, which is often the case, since the fairway has been reduced to Barbie-doll width by pine trees.

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No. 8, Par 5, 570 yards

Historic avg.: 4.83 (15th)

There’s a massive bunker on the right that’s 330 yards to carry, which steers everyone left. From there what used to be hard to reach in two is now accessible to a good number of players, though there’s also a risk-free lay-up zone short right. Lovely asymmetrical mounds around the green deflect shots and make for interesting approaches into a narrow, multi-tiered green. The ground here offers lots of contours but not a lot of serious trouble.

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No. 9, Par 4, 460 yards

Historic avg.: 4.14 (12th)

It’s all in the notoriously sloped green, with three tiers and well above the player in the approach zone. Judging distance, and pulling it off so that the ball finishes on the same level as the hole, is a very demanding moment during the round; Greg Norman found this out in 1996 when he initiated his infamous collapse in the final round after his approach came up short and almost rolled back to his feet.

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No. 10, Par 4, 495 yards

Historic avg.: 4.31 (1st)

Here’a big sweeping dogleg left that drops 105 feet from the tee. This stunning hole doesn’t really reveal itself until halfway down the fairway. It ultimately offers dramatic theater at the green, because the surface does not take well to low-slung approaches and tends to kick them far left into trouble below. The only remaining untouched bunker bearing Alister MacKenzie’s trademark sculpting sits 100 yards short of the green (it used to protect the old, original putting surface before it was moved) and looks great but goes basicaly untouched all week. The approach shot has to come in perfectly high and soft, and there’s no chance of run-up to the perched surface. Most spectators these days make a point of stopping deep in the woods on the far right, 150 yards from the green, to eye the place from which Bubba Watson hit his miraculous recovery with a wedge in the playoff against Louis Oosthuizen to win the 2012 Masters.

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No. 11, Par 4, 505 yards

Historic avg.: 4.29 (2nd)

No big deal. Blind tee shot through a narrow chute. The right rough closed off by newly planted pine trees. The green protected by a pond and everything sloping that way (left). The camera angle from behind the green doesn’t quite convey how small a target line the players have to deal with.

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No. 12, Par 3, 155 yards

Historic avg.: 3.28 (3rd)

It’s a testament to Augusta National’s genius that the shortest hole is so hard. It’s also the smallest green, set diagonally with the simple problem: If you’re right-handed and hit the right distance (measured to the center of the green) and tug it, you’re long left in the bunkers with an impossible up-and-down. If you hit the same center-of-the-green distance and push it to the right, you never get there and are in the creek. Here’s a green with no support, no definition from the tee. It takes skill and then some, including the luck to catch it right, before the wind changes – at is always does here.

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No. 13, Par 5, 510 yards

Historic avg.: 4.80 (17th)

Modern 3-metals that players can turn over from the tee and still hit 290 yards have taken a lot of the risk out of this hole – which has always been hitting it too far left into the creek. The contrary risk off the tee is to blow a driver through the corner of the dogleg right and wind up in the heavily planted pine trees. With a creek lapping the front and right of the putting surfce, the smart, safe play is often long or left, though that will leave one of the scariest recoveries on the course – to a green titling away and toward the water. No hole on the course more deftly combines the need for both power and grace than this one.

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No. 14, Par 4, 440 yards

Historic avg.: 4.17 (8th)

The only unbunkered hole on the course, and with a complex green that from front to-back (including the mounds behind) actually has more elevation change than all of Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina. Here’s a hole where the smart golfer feeds the ball in and, from the fairway, has to read the approach shot and roll-out as if it were a long putt. Misread or mishit the approach slightly and you’re left looking foolish and with a 10-footer or so for par – or worse.

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No. 15, Par 5, 530 yards

Historic avg.: 4.78 (18th)

Drive it in the fairway and you have a clear go at this green in two. Everyone focuses on the pond that guards the front, as well as the steep bank of the green in the front that means anything short or even on the front of the green will likely roll back down into the pond. But from the top of the fairway looking down upon the domed green, players also worry about hitting it long and having the ball run into a pond on the far side that’s part of the 16th hole. Given these issues, often the safe bailout is to hit a second shot into the greenside bunker on the right. It’s also a smart play here, if there’s any doubt about going for it, simply to lay back and leave a 90-yard pitch into the green. Though no one facing that shot from now on will forget the fate of Tiger Woods here in last year’s second round, when his third shot from 96 yards out hit the flagstick and kicked into the pond. What happened next – a wrong drop and a subsequent penalty – cost him a chance at his fifth green jacket. And with Tiger not in the field this year, the poignancy of that moment is all the more intense.

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No. 16, Par 3, 170 yards

Historic avg.: 3.15 (9th)

The hole is at its easiest Sunday when the hole is cut in a convex part of the left green. It’s at its toughest when the hole is way right, usually on Saturday, against the high-side bunker there.

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No. 17, Par 4, 440 yards

Historic avg.: 4.15 (10th)

Oh, will they be pining for this one. Back in February during a heavy storm, the historic 80-foot loblolly pine (the “Eisenhower Tree”) on the left side, 200 yards from the tee, got so badly damaged it had to be removed. The good lords of Augusta National could have replaced it – at a cost of $250,000 – in time for this year’s Masters, but opted not to. All week, we’ll be hearing TV chatterers analyze it as if a celebrity had died. The likelihood is that its loss will have no impact on scoring, other than making the hole more beautiful by revealing a better view of the hole. In fact, the wider vista of the tee might actually encourage bolder driving and more tee shots straying left than would have been the case had the tree stayed. Besides, the hole is all about the green, one which rolls over and away and feeds golf balls from the center.

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No. 18, Par 4, 465 yards

Historic avg.: 4.22 (7th)

Tight off the tee, and after hitting a series of draws all day you’re now asked to adjust to a slight fade. No wonder so many people block it dead right into the trees. It’s also one of those complex, multi-tiered greens where from above the hole it’s hard to stop it close to the cup.

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