One of the big talking points coming into this year’s Masters will be the new tee-box sure to transform the test provided by Augusta National’s 13th hole, known as ‘Azalea’.
In recent years, the third leg of Amen Corner has required less prayer and more power as the modern player went about dismantling the relatively diminutive 510-yard par-5, sometimes with as little as a drive and a wedge.
The hole regularly plays as the easiest obstacle on tournament week and in 2022, it ranked the 16th most difficult with a scoring average of 4.852.
The essence of the hole’s original design had been lost to the game’s bombers, able to render the boomerang-shaped dogleg from right-to-left redundant by cutting the corner over the trees.
However, in 2023, courtesy of a 35-yard extension, that line should no longer be available, and it’s hoped the par-5 can return to a playing style in line with Bobby Jones’ and Alister MacKenzie’s original intentions.
“I think it will be very similar to what happened in 2002 with the changes,” says five-time champion Tiger Woods. “They were so dramatic on some of the holes, the dramatic lengthening that we were all kind of astounded by just how far this golf course was now playing, but then as years passed, it became a moot point. Guys with more athleticism, technology, and the average number of carry has gone up dramatically. So from 2002 to present day, those changes, it seemed like a moot point.
“13 is kind of what that dramatic change was in 2002. It seems dramatic to us right now, but if these guys keep getting longer, they keep getting taller and more athletic and keep hitting the ball further; that hole is going to play I think with a driver and a mid-iron.
“But again, I think similar to 2002, that changed there, and like the change at 11, pushing the hole back, or 18, I think there would be more — there would be less 3s and 7s on 13 and there will be more 4s and 5s. I think that’s probably the best way to describe the hole.
“Especially with the forecast coming up here, with the rain and the wind, and if it happens to blow north, it’s right in our faces. So I know they were trying to push the tee up maybe a little bit, but still we’re not going to be able to hit it around the corner and get it down there. The days of me hitting a 3-wood and an 8-iron there are long gone.”
For too long, Azalea has promised too much reward and too little risk. Where at one time Augusta’s Committee only had to worry about Tiger-proofing their layout, advancing technology means most courses lie vulnerable to the modern pro.
Recognising this, in 2017 Augusta National purchased land from the neighbouring Augusta Country Club located just behind the 13th hole. Rumours abound that work would soon commence and while the new land sat idle for years, in February 2023, overhead images from Eureka Earth confirmed that the much-anticipated renovation had been complete.
By significantly extending the last leg of Amen Corner, now only the longest hitters will have the luxury of pulling three-wood and hitting the green in two. Of course, right-handers may be tempted to draw a driver around the corner, but anything overcooked will bring the tributary to Rae’s Creek into play, while anything blocked right will nestle you amongst the pines that Phil Mickelson made famous with his surgical approach en route to victory in 2010.
Shane Lowry is one player who’s been unable to cut the corner on 13 to date and he sees the challenge of the hole stiffening significantly off the back of the construction of the new tee.
“It does look like the hole is going to play longer, especially if you’re deciding to lay-up,” Lowry says.
“Surely there will be a round or two where they will have the tee forward but really, it doesn’t make any difference to me as I can’t cut the corner off the tee anyway, and if I do hit a good drive off the 13th, I will still be going for it for the most part with a long-iron into the green.
“The thing is though, the 13th is still a hard hole to play but if you’re out first on a Sunday morning, it’s easy golf, isn’t it?”
One of the many things Augusta National is famous for is the distribution of commemorative glassware to players who make the big bird and land eagle on any hole during tournament week.
2015 Champion Jordan Spieth is no stranger to collecting such prizes but he believes the lengthening of 13 will reduce the crystal costs for the green jacket brigade.
“I have been fortunate in my nine appearances at Augusta to collect items of crystal for eagles at the second, 13th and the 15th holes but now with the lengthening of 13, you’re probably going to see less eagles and fewer players taking home sets of crystal highball glasses,” warns Spieth.
“But if you get a good drive away in the right wind and then into the green, other than to a back left pin, then you’ve probably a good shot at making a three.”
A history of evolution at Augusta…
- 1940: 6,800 yards (6,218 m)
- 1950: 6,900 yards (6,309 m)
- 1960: 6,980 yards (6,383 m)
- 1970: 6,980 yards (6,383 m)
- 1980: 7,040 yards (6,437 m)
- 1990: 6,905 yards (6,314 m)
- 2000: 6,985 yards (6,387 m)
- 2010: 7,435 yards (6,799 m)
- 2020: 7,475 yards (6,835 m)
- 2022: 7,510 yards (6,867 m)
- 2023: 7,545 yards (6,899 m)
Bobby Jones from Golf Is My Game talks about this first visit to Augusta;
“I shall never forget my first visit to the property which is now Augusta National. The long lane of magnolias through which we approached was beautiful. The old manor house with its cupola and walls of masonry two feet thick was charming. The rare trees and shrubs of the old nursery were enchanting. But when I walked out on the grass terrace under the big trees behind the house and looked down over the property, the experience was unforgettable. It seemed that this land had been lying here for years just waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it”
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