[This story was originally published prior to the 2016 Masters.]
The 13th hole at Augusta National is one of the best and most beautiful holes in the world. It starts in the intimacy of a tee box deep in the woods that, on Masters Sunday, is reserved for two players and two caddies and no one else, and ends at a green framed by a dark creek and alert fans. In between, players negotiate its banked fairway and tight lies and swaying pines, to say nothing of their own jangling nerves. Augusta National prides itself on making not changes but improvements, and when the hole was lengthened in 2002, the world continued to spin. But it should not be lengthened again, even if the freak show known as Bubba Watson is able to traverse its lush 510 yards with a driver and a wedge now and again. Now is the time to leave perfection alone.
Of course, as Jordan Spieth noted last week, the club is not looking for insight into this delicate question from the reigning champion. Over the past 40 years, Jack Nicklaus has often been consulted on proposed course changes, but that hasn’t happened here. Nicklaus learned about the lengthening possibility from reporters, and he supports the idea. This is a question ultimately for the club’s chairman, Billy Payne, who has done little to the course in his 10-year reign.
It is a par-5 that the best players in the world play, on average, in about 4.5 shots most years in the Masters. And so what? Par is just a name, anyhow, and holes that are effectively par-4½ are among the best in the world, including the 17th at the Old Course (a par-4 on the scorecard) and the 18th at Pebble Beach (when the wind is not hurting). At Augusta’s 13th, all manner of good and heartbreaking things can happen on the tee shot, on a second shot that brings Rae’s Creek into play and on a green that is both beguiling and gorgeous.
Recent history alone—encompassing the 2 that Jeff Maggert made there in 1994; the second-round 3 that Tiger Woods made during his historic win in 1997; the 11 shots that Curtis Strange took on 13 on the weekend of the 1985 Masters when he tied for second, two strokes back; the Sunday 4 that Nicklaus made in his ’86 Masters victory—should persuade the club to leave it as is. The Masters is the ultimate continuum. But if the club added another 35 yards to the hole, it would still be a short par-5 for Bubba & Co. Meanwhile, fewer players would be tempted to go for the green in two. That won’t serve the tournament. Moreover, this is an opportunity for the club to show the golfing world that longer is not better. The arms race of course-lengthening has a poor history. All it has done is make the game slower, more expensive and more difficult.
Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, was asked if the 13th was one of the best par-4½ holes in the world. “It’s one of the best par-5s in the world,” the mild-mannered Aussie said. “It’s beautiful, strategic, challenging, all the things you want in a golf hole. It’s just a great hole the way it is.”
There will be many hallelujahs to Scott’s testament to this third leg of Amen Corner. They won’t matter. If the chairman decides longer is better—an improvement—it’s going to happen.