Augusta National attempts to maintain risk-reward balance of No. 13

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Augusta National attempts to maintain risk-reward balance of No. 13

PGA Tour

Augusta National attempts to maintain risk-reward balance of No. 13

When Augusta Country Club sold more property to the neighboring Augusta National Golf Club, logic assumed this was another piece of the course-modernizing puzzle carried out since 1998. The home of the Masters had previously extended the 13th hole up against their neighboring property and recently filed plans for a change to its western flank, where a long-expected extension to the fifth hole could someday end up on Old Berckmans Road. However, expecting that the prized No. 13 will be lengthened in the coming year discounts how sensitive the current club leadership is to not altering the brilliance of golf’s most dynamic risk-reward par 5.

Members and longtime Masters observers queried by Golfweek – most requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the subject – believe the interest in acquiring Augusta Country Club land started when Tiger Woods was on the 12th green during an early-century Masters and a bright-colored ball came sailing over the trees. Couple that peculiar moment with Augusta National’s expansion of their campus on all sides, and the move seems consistent with past acquisitions. Most believe there is a strong desire to create a service road surrounding the property to make for a safer, quieter golf course during tournament week, with an option to someday build cabins near Rae’s Creek. And there is the continued theme of pouring Masters profits into overall enhancement of the event and club.

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 07: Charley Hoffman of the United States jogs up the 13th fairway during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Still, there has been the recent spectacle of Bubba Watson robbing the masterful risk-reward hole of its dignity by teeing off over the trees, leaving short irons into the green. And last year there was the sight of noted-draw-artist Sergio Garcia hitting a high cut over the pines to shorten the hole in his 2017 win. The challenge facing new Masters chairman Fred Ridley: maintain the balance of the tempting par 5 in the face of increasingly longer tee shots. The task is made slightly less difficult by the club’s 2002 lengthening of the hole from 485 yards to 510 yards. That move caused concern among purists and ended up preserving the tempting qualities as driving distances and launch angles changed rapidly. There is also a clear description by club founder Bobby Jones that Ridley is said to hold as his guiding principle in studying what to do.

“The player is first tempted to dare the creek on his tee shot by playing close to the corner, because if he attains this position he has not only shortened the hole but obtained a more level lie for his second shot,” Jones wrote in “Golf Is My Game” in 1960. “Driving out to the right not only increases the length of the second, but encounters an annoying sidehill lie. The second shot as well entails a momentous decision whether or not to try for the green. A player who dares the creek on either his first or second shot may very easily encounter a six or seven on this hole. Yet reward of successful, bold play is most enticing.”

Dating to the club’s opening in early 1933, the 13th hole remains remarkably similar to what Jones and Alister MacKenzie initially sketched out in multiple renderings. Bunkers behind the green were changed in 1954, the swale behind the putting surface deepened at Jack Nicklaus’ urging in 1988 and, in 2002, the 13th was lengthened. One controversial 1995 change was later remedied: the tributary to Rae’s Creek was altered to free up more water, eliminating the possibility of balls ending up on sand bars for the occasional bold recovery shot. That change was undone after much hand-wringing from former champions.

But such a slight alteration speaks to how quickly a small change can shift the dynamics of a hole asking players to take chances. It’s something Ridley is well aware of as an elite amateur golfer who has spent a decade running the competition committees.

For 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, the severe dogleg-left par 5 still poses many of the challenges outlined by Jones, with a few exceptions.

“If you can draw it off the tee, then it’s quite a short hole now,” he said. “But it feels like the trees are encroaching more or they’ve grown a bit, so I don’t find it that easy to get it around the corner. And then you don’t want to run through the rough. So I think it’s quite a tricky tee shot at the moment, because if you hit driver it’s enough to go through the fairway, so you have to hit a draw, but obviously you don’t want to hit it left (in the creek).”

Scott notes one risk-reward scenario that could lead to a tee extension.

“It’s gotten to where you can tee up the driver and smack it as high as you can and go over the trees,” he said. “Some long guys can really bite it off, and when I mis-hit that shot and flare it out to the right, it’s still manageable.”

After rattling off some key moments on the hole when players used a long iron or wood to go for the green, Scott said the landing area’s steep pitch remains an equalizer.

“If you leave it on that severe upslope and have 3- or 4-iron, it’s a really tricky golf shot, and perhaps if they were to lengthen it, that’s the shot they’d like to face instead of a 7- or 8-iron.”

But change?

“I don’t want them messing with the course too much any more,” Scott said.

For now, he will get his wish.

(Note: This story appeared in the March 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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