The legacy behind No. 12
How Augusta National's iconic par 3 became such an important piece in Masters history
April 04, 2017
By Jim McCabe, Special to PGATOUR.COM
Orville and Wilbur likely experienced turbulence that day above Kitty Hawk. Chances are, a light bulb or two fizzled out on Edison. Ford? Surely, a Model T or two sputtered to a stall at some point.
So, it’s not hard to allow yourself some literary liberties and imagine Bobby Jones — champion golfer and creative mind behind all things Augusta National Golf Club — standing there in the third round of the first Masters in 1934 and wondering, “What have I wrought with this devilish par-3 third hole?”
OK, set off the red flares. You want to scream, “The third hole is a short and strategic par 4 at Augusta National.”
And you’d be right — except for when the Augusta National Invitation Tournament commenced in 1934 the course wasn’t routed the way we know it. The heralded second nine was the first nine and the first nine was the second nine, so in 1934, Jones indeed was on the par-3 third (now the 12th), befuddled and beside himself.
First, an explanation for why the nines were flipped in 1935 (and have remained that way), from Clifford Roberts in his book, “The Story of the National Golf Club,” published in 1976:
The change was made because we learned through experience that play could begin earlier after a frost on what is now the first nine, due to its being on higher ground. The first Masters Tournament, held in March 1934, was played under the original arrangement. The switch was made in time for the fall season club opening of the same year.
Now, returning to Jones and his troubles in 1934. Eight off the pace through 36 holes, Jones was still the people’s choice, still the one reporters focused on —no matter that he had not played competitively in four years. When he started with solid pars at the downhill par-4 first (now the 10th) and the demanding par-4 second where water guards the green (now the 11th), optimism bloomed brighter than azaleas.
“He was showing more of his old touch on the greens,” wrote the Associated Press’ Alan Gould.
Then, “a bad break,” put a halt to the momentum. Gould explained that Jones, as he stood over his tee shot “to the 150-yard third green, lying just across a small creek,” became distracted when a cameraman moved.
“(Jones) asked the cameraman to suspend activity for the moment, and then hurried his stroke,” wrote Gould. “The ball plumped into the middle of the water, cost him a penalty and he carded a disastrous five.”
Consider that “moment” — even if it was 83 years ago: An iconic golfer and experienced major winner, an uncharacteristic slip, and at a seemingly innocent little corner of the golf course, no less, to halt momentum.
Then, consider this: Doesn’t it sound like Jordan Spieth 2016?
Couldn’t Gould, who wrote “from there on it was all uphill” about Jones’ wet shot in 1934, have written those same words about Spieth last year? Jones in 1934 had merely showed how difficult the hole is and Spieth is the latest to learn that first hand.
Five ahead at the turn and seemingly in command for a second straight green jacket, Spieth stumbled with bogeys at 10 and 11. “But that didn’t cost me the tournament,” he would say later. “You can make bogeys there.”
But what happened at the 12th did cost him the tournament. He hit his tee ball in the water, took his drop, then hit that in the water. The quadruple-bogey dropped him three strokes behind Danny Willett, who was as stunned as everyone to see his name atop the leaderboard.
“It was a really-tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I never experience again,” said Spieth.
Imagine an impressive gathering of champion golfers listening to Spieth’s words, nodding their heads slowly, then moving around a table to make room for one more chair.
Jones: “Sit down, son.”
Arnold Palmer: “So, you experienced heartache at the 12th? We feel your pain.”
Ralph Guldahl: “Lord, don’t I know it.
Then, cordial nods of the heads from Payne Stewart, Tom Weiskopf, Greg Norman, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and even those grandest of the grand, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen.
“The greatest shock I ever had,” Sarazen might say, recalling the two water balls and the 8 he made there in 1952, a score that led him to withdraw right then and there, because, well, “I couldn’t take it.”
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It is the danger that lurks and the pain inflicted at Augusta National’s par-3 12th that generates the most conversation. But what precedes everything about the hole is this: When you start a conversation about great par 3s in the world, you start with Augusta’s 12th and go from there.
It is to Par 3s what Everest is to mountains.
But one could speculate on what might have happened had officials at Augusta National not flopped the nines. Would the par-4 11th, par-3 12th and par-5 13th as Nos. 2, 3 and 4 have generated the sort of “Amen Corner” romanticism that they have for decades? Would the 12th have made golfers shake in their spikes? Likely, no, not being that early in the course.
History being so rich at Augusta National, it’s worth noting that going from No. 3 to No. 12 wasn’t the only change for that hole. So, too, was it re-named. “Three Pines Hole” is what it was originally called and we’re granting ourselves some freedom here, but it’s tough to envision Ben Crenshaw breaking into a warm, teary-eyed smile over that name. But “Golden Bell,” which is what they changed it to, somehow rolls off the tongue — far more easily than its botanical name, Forsythia intermedia — and it beats Three Pines Hole by something like 9 and 8.
There was trouble in the 1936 Masters when torrential rain made for a near island-green at the 12th. “It may be unplayable this morning,” wrote Gould, “even if its isolation can be solved by using a rowboat.” In years that followed, the green has been extended on the right (1951) and the putting surface raised (1960), but it remains in 2017 what it has always been.
Brilliant to behold, frightening to play, and perhaps no one in Masters folklore had a history with the 12th like Palmer. Famously, he played two balls there in 1958, convinced he should have been granted relief from an embedded ball.
Told “no relief” by an official, Palmer played on and made double. Then he played a second ball, gave himself relief, and made par. Later, Palmer was ruled correct, so his par was recorded. It was crucial to his one-stroke win, the first of his four Green Jackets.
But Palmer never did feel comfortable at the 12th. In a practice round alongside Ben Hogan and Jack Burke Jr. in 1961, Palmer confessed of an inner turmoil every time he stepped to the tee of this hole. “All I ever want to do here is make 3, if I could figure out some way to do it,” Palmer told them.
Walking with that practice round, Augusta Chronicle sports editor Robert Eubanks reported that after Hogan and Burke hit splendid shots onto the putting green, Palmer chose 6-iron. As for Palmer’s caddie, Nathaniel “Iron Man” Avery, he grabbed a towel “and put it over his head and hid his face as Palmer swung.”
Avery was experienced and knew the “hit and pray” method worked best at 12. It makes one wonder if Roberts wasn’t on to something in his book when he wrote of the discovery of an Indian burial ground during construction of the 12th green. Referencing the number of times “a well-struck shot” had been caught by treacherous, swirling wind and deposited into Rae’s Creen, Roberts wrote that “players are wondering if the spiritual displeasures of an Indian chieftain are causing the trouble.”
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With so much noise being generated these days about golfers hitting it miles, how can a 155-yard tee shot generate so much respect?
“One of the hardest par-3s in the world,” Tiger Woods said.
“Probably the most dangerous par-3 around,” Fred Couples called it.
“The tee shot (at 12) is by far the scariest shot on the course,” Bernhard Langer said.
Yes, because of devilish, swirling winds that unexpectedly kick up and shockingly die down; but also because of what sits at the other end of the hole — a narrow green (at its widest point it is just 20 yards) on the other side of Rae’s creek, with one bunker in front and two more in the back. A steep bank in front means you must carry your shot onto the green, because there’s only one chance in infinity that a ball will stay on the slope — and that was already awarded to Couples in his 1992 victory.
It’s is as good a time as any to enter some literary gems, generated over the years by a line of heralded writers who were smitten with Golden Bell and the history made there. For instance, Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly, who chronicled Couples’ win and that ball that should have trickled into Rae’s Creek, but didn’t: “A ball has about as much chance of stopping on that bank as a marble does of stopping halfway down a drainpipe. Does not happen.”
Reilly was following in the footsteps of esteemed brethren who also offered some of their best words for the best of the par 3s.
In his eloquent essay, “The Call of the Masters,” that appeared in New Yorker in 1962, Herbert Warren Wind wrote of that phenomenon with Augusta National, how golf fans who had never been there knew intricacies about each hole. Such as “those gusts of wind that puff up on the short twelfth and give Palmer so much trouble every year.”
Red Smith in 1966: “This is the watery sweetheart which the nature lovers who laid out the course names Golden Bell and the pros who attack it call the Little Monster . . . It is a pretty suburb of purgatory.”
As only he could, the iconic Jim Murray offered a hole-by-hole assessment of Augusta National, and when he got to the 12th he wrote: “Do I use a 7-iron here or a St. Christopher’s medal? Help.”
Witnessing an epic fourth-round meltdown in 1996, the New York Times’ Dave Anderson offered this lead: “When Greg Norman’s tee shot on the 12th hole splashed in Rae’s Creek yesterday, the ball could be seen in the blue-dyed water, but his dorsal fin had disappeared.”
Norman started the fourth round with a six-shot lead, but shot 78 to Nick Faldo’s 67 and lost by five. Many will recall a series of other mishaps by the Aussie, yet it was the double-bogey at the 12th that assured his stunning defeat.
Likewise, it cemented his name onto a dubious list of Masters competitors done in by Golden Bell:
* In the 1937 Masters, Guldahl had the fourth-round lead when he deposited his tee ball into Rae’s Creek and doubled the 12th. He then bogeyed the 13th and lost to Byron Nelson, who went 2-3 at those holes to pick up six strokes.
* Palmer had visions of a second straight Green Jacket in 1959 when he took the lead to the 12th tee. Promptly, he hit into the water, then hit over the green. A triple-bogey. “My first majors catastrophe,” said Palmer, who finished two behind the winner, Art Wall Jr.
* In 1985, Stewart made a rare birdie at the 11th on Sunday and, at 2 under, was in the thick of things. But he hit his tee ball into the back bunker, blasted out into the water, took a drop and hit that in the water, and wound up with a nine that sent him reeling.
* Five years after his stunning win in the 1986 Masters, Jack Nicklaus was again in the second-round hunt — at least until he hit not one, but two balls into the water at 12 and made a quad. “I committed the sin I’ve always tried to avoid,” said Nicklaus.
* In 1993, Dan Forsman was just one off the lead in the final round when he hit two in the water and made 7.
* Ten years later, Jeff Maggert saw his hopes ruined when he made an 8 in the final round when he hit a bunker shot into the water, then chunked another into Rae’s Creek. Of course, that may not have been his worst break of the day. On the third hole, his approach shot from a fairway bunker bounced off the lip and hit him in the chest, resulting in a two-shot penalty.
* His collapse in 2011 started with a shot miles left at the par-4 10th, but the four-putt double-bogey that McIlroy made at the 12th sealed his fate.
* Bubba Watson was the defending champion in 2013 when he hit three balls into Rae’s Creek and needed a 15-foot putt to make a 10.
For all the miscues and misfires, none of those mentioned above stand as the worst score made at Golden Bell. Instead, that distinction rests with Weiskopf, whose 13 remains the most glowing testimony that this 155-yard hole has teeth that can scar you.
“To be honest, it’s extremely embarrassing — and more than that, it’s disappointing,” Weiskopf said to reporters after his opening round of 85 in 1980 included this at the 12th: A tee shot hit the bank and trickled in, followed by four more water balls, one of which was chunked so bad it rolled into the water.
As the crowd agonized with every shot, the focus was clearly on Weiskopf, so over at the 11th green Tom Watson held off on his birdie try. “I waited until he finished. It took quite a while,” Watson said later.
This was not just any golfer, either. Weiskopf had won an Open Championship at Royal Troon and if not for a guy named Nicklaus he might have been a two-time Masters winner. But Weiskopf had finished second to Nicklaus in 1972 and 1975, the most memorable of his four runner-ups at Augusta. So, he clearly knew how to play the course and beyond that, on that infamous day in 1980 the wind wasn’t even a factor.
Weiskopf simply was no match for Golden Bell.
Thirty-six years later, neither was Spieth, at least not in Round 4. The young man, saturated in humility and perspective, takes stock that “historically, I had played the hole really well,” and numbers support him. (His first 11 times playing the hole he went 1 under, with three birdies, six pars, two bogeys.) But his challenge going forward will be to erase the memory of what happened at Golden Bell the 12th time he played it.
History tells us, it won’t be easy.
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