Masters 2023: How Augusta's 13th hole became a challenge again

Increases in driving distance had rendered Augusta National's 13th hole toothless. So the club simply added almost half a football field in length to it.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It lurks at the farthest end of Augusta National’s property, wreathed in the azaleas that are the source of its deceptively beautiful name. It’s the most wicked kind of par-5, one that can propel you to victory or detonate your hopes. It’s the 13th at Augusta National, and after years of taking the best punches of an increasingly overpowering field of players, it’s finally punching back.

As originally designed, the hole was a challenging combination of threat and opportunity, a dogleg-left nerve-cracker with Rae’s Creek running along the left side of the hole and an increasingly steep landing area. The creek guards the green, which itself tapers back away from the fairway. Players had to work the ball around the dogleg, right to left, or risk being forced into a layup — or worse.

“The shape of the land is such that if you don’t put it in exactly the right place, you’ll be in an un-level lie sloping right to left,” says Scot Sherman, a golf course architect with Love Design. “Folks call that the hidden hazard, the topography.”

But as players grew in strength and length, the 13th became less of a threat. If you can simply blast your ball into the stratosphere, most course threats become irrelevant. The 13th has played to an average of 4.77 over its history, with the lowest year — 4.474 — coming in 2019. (The highest: 5.042 in 1976.) Clearly, changes needed to come.

That change will be unveiled Thursday, as Augusta National has moved the tee back 35 yards deep into the woods of Amen Corner.

“These guys were hitting driver, 8-iron,” says architect John Fought, who played in three Masters himself in the 1970s. “It neuters the hole. I totally understood why [Augusta National] increased the length. They had to do that.”

“In my prime, the 13th was not only one of my favorite holes but was also one of the best in golf,” Jack Nicklaus said in 2017. “It presented its risks and rewards perfectly. But the golf ball has changed things. If you’re not going to roll back the golf ball, you really need to lengthen the hole by 30 or 40 yards to test the players today.”

Jon Rahm shapes his second shot on Augusta National's 13th hole at The Masters. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Jon Rahm shapes his second shot on Augusta National's 13th hole at The Masters. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Jack was prescient. The golf ball didn’t get rolled back, and that same year, Augusta National bought land from adjacent Augusta Country Club to move the tee back. This year’s model — which plays 545 yards, up from 510 — is the culmination of a years-long process of designing a longer drive tunnel. Unlike most courses, Augusta National in fact does have the ability to create more land.

The result, at least in theory: a return to strategic golf on 13. Players who have spent the last decade-plus blasting their way into an eagle attempt now have to think their way around the hole, particularly after the lengthy tee shot.

“Par 5s should give the option of risk or reward,” says architect Jeff Lawrence of Lawrence Golf Design. “We try as architects to give different lengths to par 5s — lefts, rights, different angles, uphilll, downhill. You want players to have to make a decision in the nitty gritty of the last few holes — do I go for it, if I don’t go for it, what are the implications?”

Players’ increased length off the tee had removed much of the risk-reward component from the hole. A massive drive off the tee led to one obvious outcome, every time.

“Since I've played here since 2009, there's never really been a choice,” McIlroy said earlier this week. “If you hit a good tee shot, you go for the green. But now there's a decision to be made.”

“I think you're going to see a lot more lay-ups, obviously,” Jon Rahm said. “If you don't quite hug the left side you're going to have such a long iron in that a lot of people [will] choose to lay up. But there's still going to be a risk, risk/reward aspect to it.”

Even with all its vast resources, Augusta National is now at an impasse on the 13th. Short of backing the tee into the Gulf of Mexico, there’s not much more the club could do to increase difficulty without severely compromising the integrity of the hole.

“It would change the hole so dramatically if you put something like a bunker out there [in the fairway],” Fought says. “I personally wish there were a few less trees on the inside part of the dog leg. I would love to see guys challenge Rae’s Creek a little more.”

Come Sunday — or Monday, if weather is particularly nasty — the 13th could pose a severe dilemma for a player looking to make a charge. Just how much would a player be willing to risk for the reward of a green jacket?

“It could be extremely exciting,” Sherman says. “You could make 2, you could make 7 or 8. There are so many opportunities to go one way or another, exciting or tragic.”