Nine things about Augusta National Golf Club
April 04, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Driving down Magnolia Lane
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
After the pandemic-delayed Masters Tournament was moved all the way to November in 2020, here we are back in April again, some five months later, for the 2021 iteration.
The azaleas will be back in bloom, the patrons will be back (in limited capacity), and the course will have a chance to play fast and bouncy – the usual stuff, with a few new wrinkles.
To get you ready for the Masters, here are Nine Things to Know about Augusta National Golf Club.
1. RETURN TO APRIL
With more heat necessitating more irrigation in the months leading up to it, and more rain, a November Masters was always going to play softer. Players suddenly had to worry about spinning shots off the fronts of the greens, and the bigger hitters had a bigger advantage than usual. You could see it all the way down the board, starting, of course, with Dustin Johnson, who won by five shots at a record 20 under par. He also set records for most greens in regulation (60) and fewest bogeys (four).
Also finishing in the top 20 were big hitters like Justin Thomas (solo fourth), Rory McIlroy (T5), Brooks Koepka (T7), Jon Rahm (T7), Cameron Champ (T19) and Sebastian Muñoz (T19). Meanwhile, modest to shorter hitters did well just to make the cut (past champs Zach Johnson, Mike Weir) or had the weekend off (Brendon Todd, Kevin Kisner, Graeme McDowell, Francesco Molinari).
At times – like when long-distance approaches landed on the green and actually stayed there – playing in November was so different that Rahm told Patrick Reed they were going to have to delete the whole experience from their hard drives, “because it’s never, ever going to play like this again.”
Thomas said course knowledge was less of a factor.
With no patrons on site, the Par 3 Contest was cancelled. So was the Drive, Chip & Putt, and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. With two hours less daylight, players were sent off the first and 10th tees.
This year the kids from the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals will return with limited fans, and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is back, too. The Par 3 Contest won’t happen for the second straight year.
2. ALWAYS INNOVATING
As Fenway Park or Wrigley Field are for baseball, Augusta National is a sort of cathedral of golf. There’s a timelessness about it. The towering Georgia pines, the spectacular canvas of flowers (azaleas, pink dogwood, etc.), the wildly undulating terrain – it never changes.
But it always changes. The club reversed the nines in 1935, the year after Horton Smith won the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament, which wasn’t called the Masters until ’39. The pond at the 16th hole was built after the damming of a stream at the 11th in ’50. And after Tiger Woods went 18 under to win by a dozen shots in 1997, the course gradually went from less than 7,000 yards to almost 7,500.
“Well, Augusta National has been at the forefront of trying to keep it competitive, keep it fair, keep it fun, and they have been at the forefront of lengthening the golf course,” Tiger Woods said last year. “Granted, they have the property; they can do virtually whatever they want. Complete autonomy. It's kind of nice.
“But also, they have been at the forefront of trying to keep it exciting,” he continued. “As the game has evolved, we have has gotten longer, equipment's changed, and they are trying to keep it so that the winning score is right around that 12- to 18-under par mark, and they have.”
3. PROUD AMATEUR TRADITIONBryson DeChambeau in 2016 at the Masters competing as an amateur. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Bobby Jones, the consummate amateur, co-founded the club (with Clifford Roberts). This year’s amateur contingent will feature U.S. Amateur Tyler Strafaci, whose grandfather also competed in the Masters, U.S. Amateur runner-up Ollie Osborne and British Amateur champ Joe Long.
Fun fact: Then-amateur Bryson DeChambeau was just one off the lead as he stood on the 18th tee Friday in 2016, but he triple-bogeyed the hole and ultimately finished 21st. He turned pro the next week.
The Masters started recognizing the low amateur in 1952. A player must make the 36-hole cut to receive the prize, which is now a silver cup.
The best finish by an amateur at Augusta National remains Ken Venturi’s second-place finish in 1956, when he entered the final round with a four-shot lead but shot 80 on Sunday.
Because of cancellations caused by COVID, there are just three amateurs in this year’s Masters, tying the fewest in tournament history. There were also just three in 2008 – when Colt Knost, winner of the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links, turned pro before the Masters – and 1942.
4. OLD AND NEW
Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will be the Honorary Starters this year as Augusta National honors its past champions. In a new twist, so will Lee Elder, who in 1975 received death threats when he became the first Black player to compete in the tournament.
Winners come back for life, spinning yarns about the old days at the Champions’ Dinner.
More history: The clubhouse dates to 1854 as a private home and is believed to be the first concrete house built in the South. Fruitland Nurseries, which was bought as the future Augusta National Golf Club site in 1931, billed itself as the “South’s oldest nursery,” dating to 1856. The course was closed and used to raise cattle and turkeys for three years during the war effort of World War II.
On the other hand, Augusta National has always been a place to identify the game’s next wave, from 21-year-old mega-talent Tiger Woods in ’97 – still the youngest ever to win – to Tianlang Guan, who was just 14 when he became the youngest to make the cut in 2013.
5. ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Longtime network partner CBS used just six cameras, covering only holes 15-18, in its first tournament broadcast in ’56. Nowadays the network uses 75-100 cameras to cover all 18 holes.
The ’66 Masters was the first tournament to use a stop-action technique seen only in football; 2001 gave us the first golf telecast to use HDTV; and the 2010 Masters was the first major sporting event produced and presented in 3D on television and the Internet. Ancillary feeds like “Masters on The Range” and “Amen Corner” broke ground, as did the club’s 2019 commitment to capture every shot on camera.
And speaking of innovations, the state-of-the-art press building, which opened in 2017, features white columns and gray stonework; a huge atrium with skylight; grand staircase; a wall of windows opening up to the driving range; 350 seats; and men’s and women’s locker rooms. It’s a far cry from the reporters’ old tent and Quonset hut, and even a far cry from the press building that one reporter dubbed it “our Taj Mahal” when it opened off the first fairway in 1990.
6. REVERED ARCHITECTURE
Dr. Alister Mackenzie of Scotland was the original architect and brought design concepts inspired by some of the classics in his home country, including the Old Course at St. Andrews. He would design masterpieces from coast to coast – Cypress Point in Monterey, California stands out – and spanning the globe. (This in an era in which globe-trotting was not easy.)
Tom Fazio helped the club add yardage and trees for the 2002 Masters, and more wrinkles arrive seemingly non-stop. The newly lengthened fifth hole played to nearly 500 yards and elicited copious bogeys last year. The par-5 13th will reportedly get a new back tee, although it may not be ready yet.
The club considers every detail – Bobby Jones, for example, initially disliked the fairway bunkers at the fifth hole – adjusting on the fly where needed. How it might adapt after DeChambeau makes his mark this year, assuming he does, is anybody’s guess and one of the dominant pretournament storylines.
7. EVERY HOLE HAS A STORYThe famous par-3 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
It was dubbed “the shot heard ’round the world” when Gene Sarazen made an albatross at the par-5 15th hole in 1935. He won a playoff the next day and said the shot wouldn’t have meant anything without the title. He’s probably right. Jeff Maggert made the first albatross at the 13th hole in 1994, and Louis Oosthuizen made an albatross at the second hole in 2012 to get in a playoff with eventual winner Bubba Watson.
Both shots were soon forgotten relative to Sarazen’s.
More storytelling: Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts and renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice hosted a private train party for the official opening of the club in 1933. Herbert Warren Wind, another sportswriter, coined the term “Amen Corner.”
Oh, and every hole is named in a sort of homage to the old nursery: Tea Olive for the first hole, Pink Dogwood for the second, Flowering Peach for the third, and so on. The most famous is arguably Golden Bell, the short, par-3 12th hole, where club selection is key and train wrecks are not uncommon, often separating the winners from the also-rans.
8. GUILE IS REWARDED
First-timer Fuzzy Zoeller won the tournament in 1979, but he’s the only newbie to don the green jacket. More often than not, players require seasoning to grasp the course’s intricacies. Veterans sometimes turn back the clock at Augusta National: Jack in ’86, Tiger in 2019. You also get compelling sidebars like Bernhard Langer making the cut last year at age 61. Don’t count out Phil Mickelson, 50.
The flip side is the near-misses that tug on the heartstrings, like 48-year-old Kenny Perry bogeying the last two holes to fall into a playoff, which he lost to Angel Cabrera, in 2009. More agonizing still was veteran Greg Norman’s collapse as he lost a six-shot lead and Nick Faldo won in 1996.
9. YOUTH IS IRREPRESSIBLE
Woods was 21 when he won in ’97. Jordan Spieth was a marginally older 21 when he won in 2015, tying Woods’ 72-hole scoring record of 18-under 270. They’re the two youngest winners ever.
It helps to be too young to have scar tissue.
Conversely, as with the oldies, the kids have suffered their own wipeouts.
A shellshocked Spieth made a quadruple-bogey 7 at the 12th hole and lost the ’16 Masters in his title defense. Brandt Snedeker, then 27, shot a final-round 77 to finish T3, four back of winner Trevor Immelman, in 2008. Rory McIlroy, then 21, shot a final-round 80 to lose in 2011.
Ah, well, maybe tears are inevitable at Augusta for both the winners and the losers. The trick is just being young enough to survive it and come back next year.