Augusta’s anonymous 5th hole in the firing line for change, writes Kevin Markham
When you think of Augusta, which holes instantly spring to mind? No doubt you’ll pick many if not all from the back nine.
But what about the front 9? The par five 2nd is easily recognised, partly due to Oosthuizen’s albatross a few years back, but the rest might be a bit blurry. There are reasons for that: the front nine is rarely where the excitement happens on the final day (that albatross aside); the back nine consist of the most televised holes in golf; and the front nine weren’t shown on television by CBS until 2002 (and even then only in the final round)… which means we just aren’t as familiar with them as we are with the back nine.
If you were asked to describe the par five 13th you’d have no trouble at all; if asked to do the same for the par five 8th you’d probably struggle… maybe you’d recall that the second shot doglegs left around trees and moves irresistibly uphill to an angled green… and maybe you wouldn’t.
Back in the 1950s, when television cables were first laid under Augusta National’s pristine fairways and colourful foliage, the CBS television network focused only on the back nine… indeed, they only planned to show the closing holes.
The great Bobby Jones, the founder of the Masters and the man who helped Alister MacKenzie design the course, had other ideas: he suggested to CBS, and its producer, Frank Chirkinian, that they lay cables for the entire course.
CBS adopted the idea and Chirkinian went on to become known as the ‘father of televised golf’. He was CBS’s executive producer and director for the Masters for 38 years, starting in 1959, when the tournament was broadcast in black and white.
Audiences grew familiar with the final holes — and then the entire back nine.
When the front nine was finally shown on television in 2002, it was the year after Tiger Woods claimed his second victory, by two shots over David Duval. Given how Tiger was already attracting bigger and bigger viewing audiences it was a smart move by CBS… even smarter when Tiger reclaimed the Green Jacket that same year.
Even so, not many of us remember specific holes on the front nine, just specific events.
That albatross on the 2nd is one of the most memorable shots in Masters history while at the other end of the scale it was the par three 4th that scuppered Mickelson’s chances in 2012. Phil’s tee shot ricocheted off a grandstand and into the bushes. He was in the final pairing that day and the triple bogey six cost him the tournament.
The first green is known for the disaster it caused Ernie Els in 2016, when his par putt of two feet slipped by the hole in the opening round. Then he missed again and again and again. He ended up taking six putts from just a couple of feet to record a quintuple bogey nine. It is the worst ever score at the 1st.
If you were a Masters fan back in 1986, you’ll know that Tom Kite and Seve Ballesteros were paired together on the final day.
For his approach shot on the par five 8th, Kite hit a sand wedge from 80 yards and holed the shot for an eagle. Seve, who was fifty yards closer, chose a low running pitch, which also dropped into the hole for an eagle.
Hands up those of you who can accurately describe the 5th hole. Now keep your hands up if you think it’s an exciting hole.
Zach Johnson, winner in 2007, said: “It’s so early in the round that you don’t really get any drama. I’m just happy to make four and get out of there.”
“The 5th is not a hole where you’re going to hear a lot of noise, anyway,” said Henrik Stenson, “because it’s usually a lot of pars and bogeys.”
The spectator response seals the deal as the grandstand behind the 5th green rarely fills up. For one thing, the green is a long way away from the rest of the course, tucked up against Augusta Country Club next door.
It’s a hike for spectators and because it is such a tough hole there isn’t the thrill of endless birdies. In 2017, there were 15 birdies recorded here; the only par four with fewer birdies was the 11th, with 12.
And yet Augusta National submitted proposals in February to lengthen the hole from 455 yards to 475-485 yards.
One wonders why as it is ranked the 5th toughest hole.
Remarkably, Jack Nicklaus made two eagles here in 1995: in the first round he holed his second with a five iron from 180 yards; in the third round it was a seven iron from 163 yards.
Afterwards, when told that they were only the fifth and sixth eagles ever at that hole he replied, “I am amazed that there were four others.”
In 2017, in the final round, Russell Henley also made an eagle, his approach shot going straight into the cup and destroying the hole in the process… but such theatrics are rare.
Named Magnolia, the 5th is a gentle right-to-left dogleg with two deep bunkers waiting in the elbow, some 300 yards from the Pro tees.
The uphill approach is to a severely sloping green (from back to front). A third bunker is positioned at the back of the green. As for many Augusta holes the 5th has been changed over the years.
Bunkers were added, removed and moved. The last significant changes were in the 2000s when ‘Tiger-proofing’ efforts began. Tom Fazio, the golf course architect, moved the two fairway bunkers 80 yards nearer the green and deepened them. He also moved the tee back 20 yards to make it 455 yards.
The planned changes now being mooted will see the hole lengthened further.
This time, however, some extra effort is required as Old Berckmans Road, which runs parallel to the hole and has been closed since the club purchased it in 2015, will have to be re-routed to allow for the new tee box.
The extension of the 5th will be the first significant change to the course since 2006 when six other holes were lengthened.
And once again a course is being lengthened, thereby playing into the hands of the longest hitters.
The new plan was filed with the Augusta Planning and Development Department and first reported on Augusta.com on February 17.
The redesign could begin as early as May 1.
Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of speculation that the famous par five 13th would be lengthened, following comments in 2016 from former Masters Chairman, Billy Payne.
The purchase of land in August 2017 from Augusta National’s immediate neighbour, Augusta Country Club, fuelled that speculation, but while the Augusta Country Club is already in the process of redesigning their course to accommodate the loss of their 8th green and 9th fairway, changes by Augusta National are reportedly only being sought for the 5th hole.
The 13th may have to wait for a bit longer but there are many who believe it should never be changed. It is, after all, one of the most iconic par fives in the world of golf.
In 2017, it yielded five eagles and 94 birdies making it the easiest hole on the course but also one of the most thrilling.
You only have to think back to Mickelson’s six iron off the pine needles in 2010, to appreciate how one hole can create so many memories.
Russell Henley will undoubtedly remember his eagle on the 5th last year but he’ll be one of the few.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved