Augusta National has 18 great holes. Here are 5 that can decide the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The 88th Masters is here, and with it comes a reintroduction to one of the great and historic courses in all of golf: Augusta National Golf Club. What makes this tournament so iconic isn’t just the history but the way the course is such a critical character each April. It’s the one major championship that returns to the same site every year, meaning players and viewers know the course, the most famous holes, and all the epic moments of greatness and failure that have taken place over the past nearly nine decades.

But which holes truly decide the Masters? The Athletic picked five holes that offer both beauty and strategy. The kind of holes that spectators camp out to see and players spend all week thinking about and planning for. Now, it’s Augusta, a course with 18 scenic holes designed by Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones with challenges, risk and reward all in mind, so we could have picked all 18. But these are the five that best tell the story of the Masters.

No. 3: Flowering Peach

The story goes that golf great Gary Player sat next to Bobby Jones at the Masters champions dinner one year and pressed him on the third hole — how it was impossible to birdie. Jones leaned forward with a grin and said, “You’re not supposed to make birdie on 3. The hole was designed for a four.”

It’s a hole so perfectly conceived and created that it’s remained one of the least changed over time. If holes Nos. 1 and 2 are relatively straightforward starters, No. 3 is when Augusta begins to play mind games with players. It’s a short, 350-yard par 4 with a tiny green that sits atop a steep slope from the fairway. If you miss short, the ball is going to roll all the way down the hill and leave a brutal short, uphill shot. That’s where the challenge comes off the tee. With players driving it so far in the present day, many hit driver to the short left slope, accepting that it’s going to sit down the hill and trying their best to get up and down on the tiny, right-to-left sloped green. And many who try that fail to stay on the green with their second shots. Sometimes it rolls back down the hill. Sometimes it bounces past the back. Per DataGolf, players who hit to the short left side of the fairway land the green just 40 percent of the time.

Some players will lay up short of the fairway bunkers to leave themselves a comfortable full club into the green. But you can’t feel too comfortable hitting into this tiny green.

A general view of the par four 3rd hole during the third round of the 2013 Masters (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)


No. 11: White Dogwood

Welcome to the famous Amen Corner, beginning with the downhill 520-yard par 4 which has players teeing off into a beautiful narrow opening surrounded by trees. The fairway eventually opens up, but the green is well below the fairway and guarded by a large pond in the front left that makes attacking pins a dangerous pursuit.

Like so many at Augusta, 11 is a good strategy hole. The best angle into the hole is certainly to be on the right side of the fairway. To do so is to avoid having to hit over the water hazard, but that right side had three tall trees in the fairway to make both the drive and the approach slightly more complicated. Augusta removed many of the trees on the right to simplify it, but it’s still something players have to think about.

The real decision then comes in how to approach the green. Historically, players have often played it safe and left it to the right-side fairway near the green. Recent changes to the course, however, have lowered that right side grass by the green to create a little valley to stop the ball and make the recovery more challenging. In theory, that makes players want to attack the green more, but it’s a risk that can derail a round if a shot goes in the water.

This is where Greg Norman’s collapse began in 1996, when a 12-foot birdie attempt turned into a three-putt bogey. In 2023 it was the third-hardest hole on the course with 60 bogeys for the week and 15 birdies.

A general view of the green on the par 4, 11th hole during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club on April 06, 2024 (David Cannon/Getty Images)


No. 12: Golden Bell

One of the more fascinating par 3s in golf, No. 12 is a short, 155-yard hole that might look simple to the naked eye but is one of the trickiest on the course. From wind to creeks to perfectly placed bunkers, there is nothing straightforward about it. The trees that surround the hole create a strange wind swirl that can change on any given day — or moment. If a player hits it too high above the trees, the ball is exposed to more wind. There’s the famous story of Bob Rosburg, who in 1956 hit 4-iron in an attempt to fight through a strong wind — only for the wind to fall still while he was in his backswing, leading to Rosburg launching it not just past the green but over the trees and fence into the nearby Augusta Country Club.

If a player goes too short, they have to worry about the famous Rae’s Creek. The grass in front of the green is tightly mowed and on a steep incline, meaning a short shot will likely roll right into the creek. That was the key to Tiger Woods’ epic 2019 Masters win as both Francesco Molinari and Tony Finau had balls roll into the creek while Woods played it safe hitting it to the center of the green far away from the pin.

General view of the 12th Hole, Par 3 during the 1996 Masters. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

No. 13: Azalea

Here is a sweeping dogleg left par 5 on a large incline. No. 13 is hugged by a creek that extends along the entire left side of the fairway. Tall trees guard that entire left angle, and the fairway is so inclined that if you hit a perfect, far drive along the left side for a shorter shot, you’re hitting a long approach on a massive incline. Meanwhile, if you play it safe and go further to the right, the shot is much longer to the green and you run the risk of going in among the trees. And that approach shot is into a raised green above a tributary of Rae’s Creek.

This hole lost some of its flair over time as players got longer and longer off the tee. It led to Jack Nicklaus saying in 2017: “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.” So what did Augusta National do? It spent millions to buy more land behind the 13th tee and extend it by 35 yards for the 2023 Masters.

The changes certainly add more nuance and decision-making at such a crucial hole in the round. The key is for attacking the green to be a choice, not a certainty for each and every player in the field. Still, it played as the fourth-easiest hole in 2023 with eight eagles and 108 birdies compared to just 30 bogeys. But it was the most difficult par 5.

Branden Grace of South Africa plays a shot on the 13th hole during a practice round prior to the start of the 2018 Masters. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

No. 16: Redbud

The most climatic hole in the closing stretch at Augusta, No. 16 is often where the tension at the Masters reaches its apex. The 170-yard par 3 is surrounded by water in the front and has sloped greens that make pin position everything. It’s part of what has made it the sight of so many famous Masters moments, most notably Tiger Woods’ 2005 chip-in from a brutal spot in the rough that rolled to the edge, stopped and then fell in to lead to his epic victory. CBS’ Verne Lundquist famously shouted, “In your life have you ever seen anything like that?”

It’s the most scorable hole on the course that isn’t a par 5, with an average score of 2.9 at the 2023 Masters. Just don’t think it’s without risk. Many have found the water in front or left themselves a brutal second shot from the back right bunker. In 2021, Xander Schauffele had an opportunity to catch leader Hideki Matsuyama only to hit it short into the water and end his chances of winning the green jacket. The Sunday pin is normally in the back left area — where shots right of the hole can catch a slope and funnel to the pin.

Patrons watch the play at the 16th hole during the second round of the 2015 Masters. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Illustration: John Bradford; Photos: Google Earth; Focus On Sport, David Cannon, Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

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