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.

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.