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.)
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.
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.
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:
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.