Masters Countdown: Bobby Jones’s Father, the Great Flood, and the Eleventh Hole

Eleventh green, twelfth tee, twelfth green, Augusta National, early 1930s.

Eleventh green, twelfth tee, twelfth green, Augusta National, early 1930s.

The Masters tee on the eleventh hole was originally positioned above and to the right of the tenth green, not far from the seventeenth green. The hole ran downhill and played considerably shorter than its measured distance, which was a little over four hundred yards. In fact, until about a decade ago the green was at least theoretically drivable from the members’ tee, which was on the old line, although the shot was blind and called for a powerful fade.

Alister MacKenzie's original routing, showing the location of the eleventh tee, between the seventeenth green and the old tenth green. The modern tee is somewhere back near the red X in the upper right hand corner of the image.

Alister MacKenzie’s original routing, showing the location of the eleventh tee, between the seventeenth green and the old tenth green. The modern tee is somewhere back near the red X in the upper right hand corner of the image.

The hole was first changed in 1950, when the club built a new tournament tee, below and to the left of the tenth green. The change was suggested by Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder, and endorsed by Bobby Jones. The change was made both to lengthen the hole and to eliminate a gallery bottleneck between the tenth green and the eleventh tee. “Under the new arrangement,” Jones wrote at the time, “the spectators will have ample room on the high ground to the right of the fairway to observe play, all the way from tee to green, without going on to the fairway at all. It will be substantially the same arrangement as is provided at number 13, where everyone can get a clear view of all shots played without following the contestants down the fairway.” The Masters tee is even farther back today, and the fairway has been reshaped. The hole measures a little more that five hundred yards for the tournament, and when you stand on the tee it looks like a thousand.

Eleventh green, 1930s.

Eleventh green, 1930s. No pond yet.

The eleventh hole’s most conspicuous feature is the pond to the left of the green. Roberts, in his book about the club, which was published in 1976, wrote that the pond had been his idea; Byron Nelson told me in 1998 that it had been his own. “There was already water behind the green,” he said, “because Rae’s Creek ran back there. But not many people went over the green. So I told Cliff that I thought he ought to dam up the creek and let the water make a pond to the left of the green.” (Nelson’s memory that the creek passed only behind the green wasn’t not quite correct. The water also looped near the front left, almost as close to the green as the pond is today—as you can see in the photos above.) The dam was built in 1951.

There's that pond. Look out.

There’s that pond. Look out.

In mid-October 1990, Augusta got more than a foot of rain in just thirty-six hours. Rae’s Creek flooded, and took the eleventh green and much of the rest of Amen Corner with it:

amen corner flood 1990Hord Hardin, the club’s chairman at the time, said they were lucky the flood hadn’t occurred right before the Masters. “We probably would have had to play four sixteen-hole rounds,” he said. The green was rebuilt using data from a 1982 survey, and the bunker and the pond were recreated from photographs. The hole was back in play not just for the Masters but for the Thanksgiving member party, six weeks later.

The Colonel, Bobby Jones's father.

The Colonel, Bobby Jones’s father.

In the early years, there was a small pot bunker in the center of the fairway at roughly the distance of a reasonable drive, invisible from the tee. The bunker was Jones’s idea. He wanted the course to have a hazard that could be avoided only with good luck or local knowledge—the sort of seemingly arbitrary booby trap that is plentiful on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Jones’s father, Colonel Bob Jones (photo above), drove into it during his first round on the course, in 1932, and when he found his ball in the sand he shouted, “What goddamned fool put a goddamned bunker right in the goddamned center of the goddamned fairway?” or words to that effect. His son, who was playing with him (along with Roberts), had to answer, “I did.” The bunker was eventually filled in, though not till many years later.

Masters Countdown: Tenth Hole

ANGC early routing

In Alister MacKenzie’s original conception of the golf course at Augusta National (shown above), the holes were numbered as they are today. MacKenzie’s thinking changed in 1931, before construction began, and he switched the nines, so that the current first hole became the tenth. Several writers have attributed the change to Bobby Jones, who contributed to the design, but contemporary documents make it clear that the idea was MacKenzie’s. His intention was probably to provide a better view of the finishing green to members who might be lounging near the big picture windows in the locker room of the planned new clubhouse, which Jones and Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founders, intended to build as soon as they’d raised enough money to tear down the old plantation house. (Luckily, they never did. I’ll tell that story soon.)

ANGC tenth green

The club switched the nines again in 1934, between the first tournament and the second. This time, the reason was that the shady area near the current twelfth green, which lay at the lowest elevation on the property, was the last part of the course to thaw on frosty mornings. By playing the other nine first, golfers could tee off earlier. The new arrangement also made for more stirring Masters finishes, a fact that was recognized at the time.

Tenth hole, Augusta National. Looking back up the hill, toward the tee.

Tenth hole, Augusta National. Looking back up the hill, toward the tee.

It’s easy to understand why MacKenzie thought of the current tenth as a good starting hole. The view from the tee is one of the most enticing in golf—the sort that can coax a smooth swing from a hurried player who hasn’t had time to loosen up. The drop in elevation to the ideal landing area is more than a hundred feet—enough to make a thinly struck drive seem solidly launched. The fairway runs down and to the left and out of sight, through a bending corridor of pine trees. The slope rewards any player who can work the ball from right to left, yet there is room on the right for those who can’t. Golfers leave the tee feeling that they are descending into a different world—an appropriate emotion for players entering the most celebrated second nine in golf.

Early members playing the tenth hole.

Early Augusta members playing the tenth. In MacKenzie’s first drawing of the hole, there was a big fairway bunker not too far from the foreground of this photo. (See the plan at the top of this post.) When this hole became the opening hole, though, he removed the bunker, because he didn’t think a golfer should have to clear a large hazard with his first shot of the day. But when the ordering of the holes changed again the fairway bunker wasn’t put back.

The tenth hole was originally much shorter than it is today. (MacKenzie, in a note in the program for the first tournament, in 1934, called the hole “comparatively easy.”) Until 1937, the green was situated well in front of and below where it is today, in a damp hollow to the right of the sprawling fairway bunker. That bunker seems anomalous to modern players, because even well-struck drives don’t reach it and even poorly struck approach shots usually miss it. But in the early years the bunker (which at that time was really more of a waste area) guarded the left flank of a punchbowl green:

The original tenth green, on the right. The current green is well beyond it and to the left.

The original tenth green, on the right. The modern green is on the rise well beyond it and to the left.

Moving the green was the idea of Perry Maxwell, who one year later also redesigned the seventh hole. Maxwell pointed out that moving the tenth green to higher ground would not only solve a drainage problem but also markedly strengthen the hole. The change turned a breathtaking but mediocre short hole into one of the greatest par 4s in the world.

Why a Golf Course is Not a “Links”

Rosapenna, Ireland, 2011.

Most people think of the word “links” as a synonym for golf course, but it’s actually a geological term. Linksland is a specific type of sandy, wind-sculpted coastal terrain—the word comes from the Old English hlinc, “rising ground”—and in its authentic form it exists in only a few places on earth, the most famous of which are in Great Britain and Ireland. Linksland arose at the end of the most recent ice age, when the retreat of the northern glacial sheet, accompanied by changes in sea level, exposed sand deposits and what had once been coastal shelves. Wind pushed the sand into dunes and rippling plains; ocean storms added more sand; and coarse grasses covered everything. Early Britons used linksland mainly for livestock grazing, since the ground closest to the sea was usually too starved and too exposed for growing crops. When significant numbers of Scotsmen became interested in smacking small balls with curved wooden sticks, as they first did in 1400 or so, the links was where they went (or were sent), perhaps because there they were in no one’s way. In some parts of Scotland, linksland is called machair, a Gaelic word. It’s pronounced “mocker,” more or less, but with the two central consonants represented by what sounds like a clearing of the throat. (Machair is the root of Machrihanish, a legendary links course on the Kintyre Peninsula, in western Scotland.)

Askernish, South Uist, Scotland, 2007.

The major design elements of a modern golf course are the synthetic analogues of various existing features of those early Scottish playing fields, and the fact that golf arose so directly from a particular landscape helps explain why, more than any other mainstream sport, it remains a game with a Jerusalem: it was permanently shaped by the ground on which it was invented. Groomed fairways are the descendants of the well-grazed valleys between the old linksland dunes; bunkers began as sandy depressions worn through thin turf by livestock huddling against coastal gales; the first greens and teeing grounds were flattish, elevated areas whose relatively short grass—closely grazed by rabbits and other animals, and stunted by brutal weather—made them the logical places to begin and end holes. (“A rabbit’s jawbone allows it to graze grass lower than a sheep,” the Scottish links consultant Gordon Irvine told me, “and both those animals can graze grass lower than a cow.”)

Askernish, South Uist, Scotland, 2007.

On the great old courses in the British Isles, the most celebrated holes often owe more to serendipity and to the vicissitudes of animal husbandry than they do to picks and shovels, since in the early years course design was more nearly an act of imagination and discovery than of physical construction. One of Old Tom Morris’s best-known holes, the fifth at Lahinch, in southwestern Ireland, is a short par 3 whose green is concealed behind a tall dune, so that the golfer’s target is invisible from the tee—a feature that almost any modern architect would have eliminated with a bulldozer. The greatest hole on the Old Course is often said to be the seventeenth, a long par 4 called the Road Hole, which violates a long list of modern design rules: the tee shot not only is blind but must be hit over the top of a tall wooden structure that reproduces the silhouette of a cluster of nineteenth-century coal sheds; the green repels approach shots from every direction and is fronted by a vortex-like circular bunker, from which the most prudent escape is often backward; a paved road runs directly alongside the green and is treated as a part of the course, meaning that golfers who play their way onto it must also play their way off.

The Road Hole, 2008.

Over the centuries, every idiosyncratic inch of the Old Course has acquired, for the faithful, an almost numinous aura. Alister MacKenzie once wrote, “I believe the real reason St. Andrews Old Course is infinitely superior to anything else is owing to the fact that it was constructed when no-one knew anything about the subject at all, and since then it has been considered too sacred to be touched.”

Royal Aberdeen, Scotland, 2008.

Back-Roads Scotland: Moray Coast

Lossiemouth, Scotland, March 26, 2012. Photo by John Thomson.

The photo above was taken this past Monday evening in Lossiemouth, Scotland, about two hours’ drive northwest of Aberdeen. You are looking across a corner of the North Sea toward the Moray Golf Club, the Lossiemouth Lighthouse, and both the waxing crescent moon and Venus. The photo was taken by John Thomson, a Moray member, whose Uncle Alistair was the club’s professional for thirty-one years and whose father was responsible for the construction of the club’s second eighteen. I haven’t played Moray, but I’ve gazed longingly at both the course and the clubhouse from the Stotfield Hotel, across the street. Here’s what I saw from the hotel’s front door during a trip in 2007:

Moray Golf Club, Lossiemouth, Scotland, 2007.

Moray is one of a number of fine links courses along on the Moray Firth’s southern edge, a hundred-mile stretch of golf-friendly coastline that runs between Inverness and Fraserburgh. Traveling golfers are probably most familiar with two courses at the western end, Castle Stuart and Nairn, which are popular stops for Americans on their way to Royal Dornoch. But those aren’t the only worthy courses on the Moray coast. Others: Nairn DunbarHopeman, Spey Bay, Buckpool, Strathlene, my beloved Cullen, Duff House Royal (not a links course, but significant because it was redesigned, in 1923, by Alister MacKenzie), Royal Tarlair, Rosehearty, and Fraserburgh. And there are many good inland courses nearby as well.

Lossiemouth would make a convenient base camp for any golf trip to the Moray coast. John Thomson, who took the photograph at the top of this post, owns the Links Lodge, a guest house next to the Stotfield; he also owns an adjacent three-bedroom self-catering apartment, the Beach View, which sleeps six. (If there are four golfers in your group, you can do what three Golf Digest editors and I did during a trip to southwestern Ireland in 2006: play a match to determine who will have to double up.) The Links Lodge served as Moray’s clubhouse for the first three years of the club’s existence, between 1889 and 1892; it was then replaced by the building in the photograph below. (The building has been enlarged considerably since then.)

Moray Golf Club, first dedicated clubhouse, 1892.

Thomson told me, “We only found out the Links Lodge was the original clubhouse while replacing a window: we took out a piece of frame with the carpenters’ delivery note still stuck to it.” The first owner, Thomson said, must have been one of the gentlemen in this photograph:

Founding members, Moray Golf Club, 1893.

He continued, “We boast not one but two prime ministers as members—and expelled one of them. We have one of the longest associations of any club in the world with our own labeled malt whiskey (since among the founders were some distillers). Dai Rees, Max Faulkner, and Fred Daly played exhibition matches here, and regular visitors included Ted Ray, Harry Vardon, J. H. Taylor, and James Braid.”

I’ll be in northeastern Scotland next month. My itinerary won’t take me to Lossiemouth, I’m sorry to say, although it will take me to Fraserburgh. I’ll report, eventually. In the meantime, here are a few photos of Hopeman, about four miles west of Moray. I took them in 2007. As you can see from the first, a breeze was blowing the day I played.



Masters Countdown: Seventh Hole


A not especially intelligible drawing of Augusta National's seventh green, from the program for the first Masters, in 1934, when the seventh had no bunkers.

The seventh wasn’t much of a hole in the early days. (The consensus, as described by Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, was that it was “the only weak hole out of the eighteen.”) Alister MacKenzie, who designed the course, likened it to the eighteenth at St. Andrews, but the resemblance was superficial. Both holes were short, and both had large greens and no bunkers, but in comparison with the venerable and surprisingly difficult closing hole of the Old Course, the seventh at Augusta was a pushover. Many players today would have been able to drive it.

In a letter to MacKenzie in 1933, Roberts wrote, “I think the real criticism . . . is that it lacks character. Ed Dudley [the club’s first professional] made a suggestion which appealed very much to me. He proposed putting a bunker in the middle of the face of the green and letting it wedge into the green. In other words, his thought is to partly develop this green into two sections, the same as is true of one of the greens at Lakeside, California. Bob [Bobby Jones] did not have very much to say about this proposal, but I do not think he was much impressed by it. I think, in truth, that Bob is really hesitant about making any alterations or incidental refinements till you can come here and see the layout.”

Perry Maxwell

Nothing significant happened until 1938, when Horton Smith—who had won the first and third tournaments—suggested elevating the green and fronting it with several deep bunkers. He also suggested moving the green twenty yards back and to the right. Jones and Roberts both approved. The design work was done by Perry
Maxwell, an Oklahoma banker-turned-architect, whose best-known course is probably Tulsa’s Southern Hills. Maxwell had been a partner of MacKenzie’s during the final years of MacKenzie’s life. (Their last joint project, completed in 1933, was Crystal Downs, in Frankfort, Michigan.) The transformation of the seventh green, which cost $2,500, was paid for by Lewis B. Maytag, who was one of the club’s earliest members and was the head of the Maytag Company. In addition, the driving area was tightened through the addition of a grove of pine trees on the left side of the fairway. (There were already trees on the right.)

Maxwell made several less dramatic changes in other greens—among them the first and the fourteenth, to which he added pronounced undulations. Such undulations were his trademark and were known as “Maxwell rolls.” MacKenzie was no longer alive at that time, but he undoubtedly would have approved: he loved dramatic contours. In The Spirit of St. Andrews, he wrote wistfully about the early greens at Machrihanish, a legendary links course, designed by Old Tom Morris, on the Kintyre peninsula in western Scotland: “Some of the natural greens were so undulating that at times one had to putt twenty or thirty yards round to lay dead at a hole only five yards away. These greens have all gone and today one loses all the joy of outwitting an opponent by making spectacular putts of this description.” For the disappearance of such features, MacKenzie blamed a preoccupation with the elimination of “unfairness”—a word that he scornfully placed in quotation marks.

Today, the seventh is 450 yards long—110 yards longer than it was for the first Masters—and the landing area is narrow. Just fifteen years ago, the seventh was considered a birdie hole, even by members. Now it’s a tough par for any player whose tee shot ends up in the pine straw.

Masters Countdown: Fifth Hole

Augusta National's fifth green in 1935.

The fifth hole is the centerpiece of what has sometimes been called Augusta National’s other Amen Corner. It’s ranked by more than a few players as the second best par-four on the course (after the tenth), and television cameras don’t do justice to its dramatic topography. Alister MacKenzie, who designed the course, felt that the fifth was descended in spirit from the Road Hole—the much feared seventeenth hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews. The main similarity may be in the difficulty of the approach shot, since balls that land short invariably stay short, while balls that are hit long occasionally disappear for good in the trees and shrubbery beyond the green. The perils of the green make Jack Nicklaus’s achievement during the 1996 Masters seem all the more astonishing: he eagled the fifth twice, in consecutive rounds.

The pair of large, steep bunkers on the left side of the fairway are a characteristic MacKenzie hazard. (Equally characteristically, Bobby Jones initially felt that the bunkers were superfluous, and they were not added until after the course had opened.) As originally positioned, they were more of a visual hazard than an actual one, since even in the early years players didn’t have much trouble driving over them or playing safely to the right. (The bunkers often aided less skilled players, by stopping pulled or hooked drives that might otherwise have run down the steep hill and out of play—as Wendell Miller, the contractor, predicted they would, in May, 1933, while making an unsuccessful attempt to interest Jones in adding the bunkers then.) MacKenzie, throughout his career as an architect, made frequent use of course features that were essentially optical illusions: seemingly narrow fairways that were ampler than they appeared from the tee; seemingly ample fairways on which the ideal landing areas were narrow and precise; large greens that seemed to provide huge targets but were contoured so that reasonably simple putts could be earned only with brilliant approaches—and bunkers that looked threatening from a distance but were easy to carry. He felt that easily avoided fairway bunkers were good for a player’s self-confidence and sense of achievement.

By 2002, the bunkers had long since ceased to serve even as visual hazards for the vast majority of Masters competitors. Under the direction of Tom Fazio, the tournament tees were moved back, the fairway was reconfigured, and the bunkers were reshaped, deepened, and moved closer to the green. The carry over the farther bunker from the Masters tees is now more than 315 yards, uphill, and both bunkers are so deep that reaching the green from either one is impossible, or nearly so. Each bunker has an almost vertical forward face, on which a thin layer of sand is held in place by a fabric liner, which also prevents balls from becoming embedded.

The fifth fairway caused problems for many years. Buried stones continually worked their way to the surface, where they were a threat to golf swings and mower blades. Finally, in 1962, the club resurfaced the fairway (and also the seventh) with new topsoil. When the job was complete, Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, devised a characteristically simple method of testing the results: he asked Phil Wahl, the club’s manager, to drive a golf cart up and down the fairway at full speed and report back on the smoothness of the ride.

Alister MacKenzie

Alister MacKenzie and his wife, Hilda, on the fifteenth green at Cypress Point.

Obsessive students of golf architecture should file away the latest revision of a comprehensive chronology of the life of Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, and a number of other courses worth scheming to play. The chronology is the work of Neil Crafter and the AM Research Team, in Adelaide, Australia, and it contains contributions from many people (including, in a very small way, me). Crafter, in a cover note, writes, “Sean Tully in San Francisco and Bob Beck in Santa Cruz have been most diligent in researching Mackenzie’s time in the USA, and Bob has unearthed records from Cypress Point that show when Mackenzie stayed overnight in the clubhouse and even what he ate for his meals! It is staggering that 80 or more years on we can get down to this level of detail about the life of Alister Mackenzie.” Even if you feel you already know everything you need to know about MacKenzie’s diet, the chronology contains many interesting facts.

Incidentally, the images above and below also appear in my book The Making of the Masters, which is now selling on Amazon for practically nothingBelow is MacKenzie’s original watercolor sketch of the routing of Augusta National. In it, the holes are numbered as they are today. MacKenzie later switched the nines; the club, after the first Masters, switched them back, because the current first nine thawed first on frosty mornings. Note the 90-yard 19th hole, near the clubhouse, squeezed between the 9th and 18th greens. MacKenzie explained the idea in a letter to Clifford Roberts, the club’s founding chairman: “Bobby Jones and some of the other directors thought it might be interesting to have a real 19th hole so that the loser could have the opportunity of getting his money back by playing double or quits. This 19th Hole will be an attractive plateau green, narrow at one end where the flag will usually be placed but wide at the other end so as to give a safety route to the player who has not the courage or the skill to pitch to the narrow end of the green.” The club, in those days, didn’t have the money to build it, and Jones and Roberts, in any event, worried that it would block the view of anyone in the clubhouse who was trying to watch whatever was happening on the 18th. Cool idea, though.