The Masters and First Major of the Year ~
A Little History
The Masters Golf Tournament is the only major U.S. golf tournament that is played on the same course each year. It originated in 1934 and was founded by Robert Tyre Jones Jr. one of the greatest golfers of all time. Mr. Jones purchased the land, an arboretum and indigo plantation from the Civil War days, where Augusta National now resides for a reported $70,000 in 1931. In 1933 the course design and construction was completed with the help of Alister MacKenzie, originally trained as a surgeon and later a British golf course architect, to play host to one of our nation’s greatest sporting events. After a cold hard winter the Masters, the first U.S. major golf championship of the year, is played in the spring when the azaleas are in full bloom and grass and trees are wonderfully green.
Originally the Masters was by invitation of the preceding year’s greatest players and through time has maintained a field of the best players in golf. To get an invitation today there are numerous criteria including former Masters champions, former U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA champions from the previous 5 years, and former winners of the Players Championship from the previous 3 years. Interestingly former amateur champions from the U.S. Amateur, British Amateur, Asia-Pacific Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur, and U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships from the prior year are also included. Bobby Jones of course played his entire competitive golfing career as an amateur. In addition the top 12 finishers (including ties) from the previous year’s Masters tournament are included as well as the top 4 finishers (including ties) from the previous year’s U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Finally winners from the previous year’s PGA tour events, golfers who qualified for the previous year’s Tour Championship, the top 50 golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings of the previous calendar year as well as the top 50 golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking from the week prior to the current Masters are included. Augusta National’s Masters Committee also reserves the right to invite any international player it feels appropriate who has not otherwise qualified under the above guidelines. The field is usually around 100 players.
The Augusta National Golf Course
The golf course at Augusta National is situated on 345 acres and has an elevation drop from its highest point, the first green, to its lowest point, Rae’s Creek along the 12th hole, of 175 feet. To put this in perspective Niagara Falls has a drop of 173 feet. Most of the fairways are lined with trees which require precision on both drives and approaches. Any wayward shot can immediately be gobbled up and either misdirected somewhere very unpleasant or buried in an untenable position. Rae’s creek meanders throughout the property and with the closely mown areas around the greens, sand, and water hazards errant strokes can also become disastrous. Unlike typical U.S. Open venues, which have impenetrable rough and narrow fairways, the Augusta National course is smooth, and frighteningly fast. The greens do not have collars and are usually domed so that misdirected approach shots will easily roll off and sometimes come to rest many yards from the hole. The Augusta National course and the Masters competition are unique in character and tradition. Since its inception, the Masters is arguable one of the most sought after trophies in this time honored game. The course was rated by Golf Digest in 2009 with a 78.1 course rating.
The Masters Golf Tournament is said to begin on the final nine holes of the final round of play on Sunday. The 10th hole, Camellia, was originally the first hole when designed and had a length of just over 400 yards. It has been stretched over the years and now plays a whopping 495 yards with a par of 4. This hole doglegs to the left off the tee and plays downhill until the approach which then plays again uphill to a green that is flanked on the right by a deep bunker and which is sloped from front to back and from right to left. Bubba Watson won his first Masters’ title on this hole with an unbelievable approach shot from deep in the trees on the right.
The 11th hole, White Dogwood, is the beginning of Amen Corner and plays 505 yards with a par of 4 and is relatively straight coming out of a narrow gap of trees. It plays rather flat on the tee shot but finding the fairway is at a premium. The approach to the green is usually a mid to long iron shot for most players and plays slightly downhill to a green fronted by a water. Nick Faldo defeated Ray Floyd in a playoff on this hole to win a second Masters’ title in 1990. Mr. Floyd found the water in front of the green with his second shot. Most players will play to the right side of the green to avoid the water hazard and take their chances of making par from there.
The 12th hole, Golden Bell, is a deceptively difficult hole and the second hole of Amen Corner. It plays only 155 yards, but is fronted with water and a sand bunker. The green is a sliver stretching from left to right providing only a narrow margin for error with a couple of bunkers in the back and a steep uphill slope directly behind the green. I have seen numerous golfers with a chance at the title loose it right here by dropping their tee shot in the dink.
Azalea, the 13th hole, is where golfers hope to make birdie or eagle and gain strokes on the field. This hole is a 510 yard par 5 and plays right to left off the tee. This is also the 3rd hole of Amen Corner and is flanked on the left by Rae’s Creek. This is one of the most exciting holes at Augusta. The championship has been won or lost over the years right here. In 2010, in route to his 3rd Masters’ title, Phil Mickelson’s approach to the green from the trees on the right is one of the most memorable. This 200 plus yard approach from the pine straw next to a tree landed just feet from the pin where he went on to make eagle.
The14th hole, Chinese Fir, is relatively straight with a tree lined fairway and plays slightly up hill. There are no bunkers or water hazards on this hole but the green is sloped severely from left to right. The hole plays 440 yards to a par of 4 and historically plays slightly over par.
Firethorn, the 15th hole, is the last par 5 on the back nine and plays 530 yards. This is the last realistic chance for birdie or eagle. Unfortunately this hole, also tree lined off the tee, has water in the front and the green is stretched from right to left and gives the golfer little to aim at. Gene Sarazen in 1935 astonished the world when he holed his second shot from 235 yards out. This hole averages under par when the wind is not a hindrance.
Redbud, the 16th hole, is another difficult par 3 playing 170 yards fronted and flanked by water with a green sloped severely from right to left. With Sunday’s pin placement usually back left, most golfers play a shot up to the right and allow the slope of the green to carry the ball down to the hole. If you can find the optimal spot to place your tee shot a short putt for birdie is a real possibility.
The 17th hole, Nandina, plays straight away uphill 440 yards with a par of 4. The fairway is lined with trees and the green is sloped in all directions. The hole historically plays slightly over par. The pressure is mounting at this point for the players in contention at the Masters.
The 18th hole, Holly, is a dog-leg right and is optimally played with a fade to avoid the bunkers on the left. The hole plays uphill and is par 4 playing 465 yards long. Obviously a good showing here is a must. Arnold Palmer lost the Masters on this hole by making double bogey to lose the championship to Gary Player in 1962.
Obviously the Masters is one of the most exciting and prestigious golf tournaments in existence. The tradition and lure come from its founder and all the great champions it has produced. The golf course is unique in nature and is a true test of one’s golfing ability. Thank you Mr. Jones for your inspiration and forethought.