“The course is perfection and it asks for perfection” is how legendary golfer and three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo summed up the Augusta National Golf Course.
First timers hesitate putting, past champions still misjudge yardages, and the slopes of the greens have spoiled many dreams.
Television coverage has improved significantly over the years but it still doesn’t do justice or put into perspective the elevation changes and the tricky undulations.
Each hole has its own traits and difficulty. I have described each hole and the challenges associated with it.
Hole 1: Par 4, 445 yards
The hole shapes slightly left to right. It starts narrow by the tee but expands to the bunker on the right-hand side of the fairway. It has an elevation drop of ten feet from the tee to the middle of the fairway before rising again 12 feet to the green.
Short of the fairway bunker on the right-hand side is the ideal landing area for most of the players while anything to the left will be in the trees. Most players will just shape the ball left to right or lay it shorter but then have a longer iron into the green.
This green is not designed to hold ball with low trajectories (five or six iron). It simply cannot be long or to the left. There is false slope at the front, so if the second shot is short it will trickle back down to the fairway.
Hole 2: Par 5, 575 yards
The hole shapes right to left to right. There is an elevation drop of 80 feet from the tee to the green. There is bunker on the right-hand side something the players need to stay left of but if they push it too far left then there is plenty of trouble in the trees.
Most will shape the ball left to right and if you can carry the bunker the slope will ensure the ball trickles down a lot further, presenting an opportunity to reach the green in two shots.
If the pin is on the left, you want to play way right, and if the pin is on the right, you want to play way left. Hitting a golf ball from a downhill lie is always a difficult proposition.
The green is canted so severely left-to-right and runs across the fairway. You have to leave yourself an uphill putt depending on the position of the flag.
Hole 3: Par 4, 350 yards
This is a short par four and the big hitters will attempt to reach it from the tee. The wind plays a crucial role as behind the green is a high part of the course so if the wind picks up then it becomes difficult to judge the yardage.
The yardage on the second shot is so important because it is a severely sloped green from the back to the front with not much width.
Spin control for the second shot is so important because of the slope of the green to the front. You don’t want to be long but anything short can roll off the green. And playing too safe over to the right-hand side where the green is wider leaves a difficult downhill putt.
Hole 4: Par 3, 240 yards
This is a long par three with an elevation drop of 40 feet. The bunkers that guard the green are massive and are constantly in the eye-line.
The green tilts from back to front and right to left. Ideally, you will want to be hitting a high cut (shape the ball left to right), but the distance makes it hard to execute that shot with a high trajectory.
Most players will be hitting anything from a two iron to a four iron depending on the wind and the pin position. You simply can’t miss right. Hit it long and right and it is certain bogey.
Hole 5: Par 4, 495 yards
It is a long hole and can play longer depending on the wind. It is a long tee shot up the elevated fairway, which has deep fairway bunkers around 300 yards.
The fairway bunkers here are deep. It is almost impossible to reach the green if you end up in the fairway bunker. If a player can carry the bunker the ground is flatter and you get a better look at the green.
There’s a little sharp drop in front of the green that rejects the balls to the left and right. And if your approach shot is short right or left it is almost impossible to go up and down for par.
Hole 6: Par 3, 180 yards
A downhill par three with an elevation drop of 20 feet makes it difficult to judge the distance. The wind can be extremely swirly in this part of the course so selecting the right club is so important.
You simply don’t want to be putting downhill on this green from any position. The green is designed that you either have to land it on back right or back left depending on the pin position.
Hole 7: Par 4, 450 yards
The hole is relatively straight but the fairway gets narrower in the most common landing areas. There are pine trees to the left and right of the fairway meaning the tee shot becomes so pivotal.
Block it slightly to the left or right and the second shot will be obstructed. Find the fairway and there is a strong chance to make a birdie.
The green is one of the narrowest on the golf course with a depth of 11-13 yards on the left-hand side. It is also guarded by five bunkers.
Hole 8: Par 5, 570 yards
The first section of the hole is relatively straight but there is an elevation of close to 60 feet from the tee to the green. There is a bunker on the right-hand side on the driving distance and the players need to be on the left side of the bunker.
The sharp rise in the elevation means the second shot is blind. The uphill setting on the second shot leads to many players losing their balance, causing miscues.
Most players will get there in two, but just cannot be afford to be long as the green is skinny and slopes back to the end.
Hole 9: Par 4, 460 yards
The hole shapes right to left. The fairway slopes from left to right. Players that can shape the ball right to left (draw the ball) will be benefited as the ball can carry beyond the tree lines on either side of the fairway.
The longer you drive it, the easier the hole is. Generally, you want to take the drive as close to the trees on the right as possible.
Television pictures don’t do justice to the elevation change for the second shot to the green. Players will be hitting from a downhill lie to an elevated green (one of the toughest shot in golf).
The green is angled from back left to front right. The green has two distinct tiers. If you’re on the wrong tier it is a difficult two putt.
Hole 10: Par 4, 495 yards
Historically, it is the most difficult hole on the golf course. It is a steep downhill dogleg left. If a right-hand golfer can shape the ball from right to left it enables them to trickle the ball to an area from which it’s possibly a seven iron.
If you shape it too far left you are in the trees or the creek. The elevation drop from the tee to the green is close to 100 feet.
The second shot is hitting downhill into a green that is a hard-sloping right-to-left green. It is protected by a bunker right and a huge slope to the left. Hitting the centre of the green is actually a really good option.
Hole 11: Par 4, 505 yards
It is the start of the amen corner. The hole is long but straight. Distance is very important as chances are even the big hitters will be hitting a five iron into a green.
The second shot is downhill, but you simply cannot go to the left or land it on the left side of the green as it slopes towards the pond. Most will play it safe and aim to the right or slightly short.
But there are a few mounds short and right of the green that can affect your shot. There is a bit of luck involved off the mounds. Get a good bounce and it is on the green, a bad bounce and you can be in the pond.
The green slopes towards the pond. If the flag is up the front or right, a birdie is a chance, but notoriously the pin is back or centre on the weekend, making par a good score.
Hole 12: Par 3, 155 yards
The green is so narrow and the wind is impossible to judge. The wind can bounce off the high trees at the back and the fact that most players hit a pitch or a nine iron means the wind has a huge impact on the ball flight.
The green is across the tee and is only 12 feet deep and is guarded by the creek up front and the bunker at the back. The flag is usually on the right-hand side on Sunday.
The slope on the right-hand side is prone to push the back into the creek, so attacking the flag is next to impossible.
Hole 13: Par 5, 510 yards
The distance is not the issue on this hole as most players can get home in two. The fairway shapes from right to left and is extremely narrow at a point around the 300-yard mark.
Players either hit a straight shot to 300 yards or the big hitters need to carry the high trees around 280 yards. If you can clear the trees the second shot is slightly easier as the fairway opens up.
The problem is the open fairway means the wind can play havoc and the creek that guards the green at the front has to be cleared. A player can lay it up and wedge the third shot, but it is a hole that has high rewards if you can get on in two shots.
The green is really steep from back left to front right so players have to be mindful of the spin as it can easily trickle back down to the creek.
Players that prefer to lay-up prefer to be very close to the creek rather than 80 or 90 yards back, as the further the shot the more spin on the ball.
Hole 14: Par 4, 440 yards
It is one of the straightest holes on the course and there is no bunker or water. The fairway is sloped left to right, so ideally you want to be on the left-hand side of the fairway. There is a 25-foot rise in the elevation, but the second shot is not blinded if the players are long enough.
It’s like a three-tiered green running from left to right. There is a false front that will pull the ball back down off the green. The ridge in the middle of green feeds the ball either side of the green. Downhill putts and the undulations on this green make it difficult.
Hole 15: Par 5, 530 yards
The tee shot is from flat ground and the fairway is relatively straight. The trees however over hang onto the fairway and players need to be aware of not clipping them.
But if you want to attack the pin the second shot needs to be from the right side of the fairway, so a right-hand player will prefer to shape the ball slightly right to left (baby fade).
The second shot can be long and tricky because the green is not that deep and is guarded at the front by water. The slope on the green is such that if you land it few paces on the green it will trickle back into water.
If you decide to hit it safe and long there is slope at the back of the green that will push the ball towards the water at the back of the green.
Those who decide to lay-up have a wedge shot that is from a downhill slope into a green that slopes back towards the water.
Hole 16: Par 3, 170 yards
Most players will use a seven iron or nine iron depending on the tee position. The green has a ridge slanting right across from the top left to bottom right.
The ridge either feeds the ball to left or right of the green. The trick is to ensure the ball lands on the correct side of the ridge so it is fed to the side the hole is on.
The back right position is a difficult spot to get the ball to while the typical Sunday position is back left where the ball just feeds down towards the hole.
Hole 17: Par 4, 440 yards
This is a relatively straight tee shot up the hill from the tee. There are trees to the right of the fairway so players will want to hit on the left-hand side of the fairway. The long hitters can clear the hill, making it easier to hit the ball from flat ground rather than uphill.
If you are stuck back on the upslope with a mid-iron it can be difficult to judge the depth of the green. The green is split into four distinct sections and players simply cannot afford to be long and right.
Hole 18: Par 4, 465 yards
The tee shot is so narrow and uphill. The elevation change from the tee to the green is over 50 feet. The hole shapes slightly to the right and has a bunker on the left-hand side. The fairway bunker is not that deep, but the green is elevated so trying to hit a bunker shot onto the green is treacherous.
Ideally, players want to lay the ball short of the bunker. The wind also plays a role, as a head wind almost forces players to use a driver otherwise most will be content with a three wood.
There are trees to the right of the fairway that can impede if the trajectory is low. The big hitters will try to carry the tree line and the fairway bunkers, but the shot has to be dead straight.
The green is two-tiered. When the pin is back, players want to ensure that they are not overly aggressive as you don’t want to be at the back. On Sunday the pin is in the front and shots will funnel down the slope and toward the hole.