A small but significant piece of East Georgia real estate changed hands recently when the Augusta Country Club gave up a chunk of rough alongside its 11th fairway so that its celebrated next-door neighbor, Augusta National, could "preserve the integrity of" (translation: toughen up) the historic 13th hole.
Thirteen, the great par-5 that is the last of the three holes that make up the treacherous Amen Corner, has been the site of more Masters history than any other hole on the course. Byron Nelson made an eagle there that helped him defeat Ralph Guldahl in 1937, and Arnold Palmer did likewise in 1958, outdueling Ken Venturi and launching a new era as well. But the hole also has led to frequent disaster as players trying to get home in two fell short into the watery ditch guarding the green. Sure you could pick up an eagle at 13, but you could also make seven. That's the kind of hole Bobby Jones had in mind when he helped design it.
In recent years, however, longer hitters with improved equipment had been beating the 475-yard hole to death. The pros turned it into a virtual gimme birdie 4, and 3s were becoming so commonplace that Steuben was hard pressed to keep up with the demand for the crystal glassware the Masters awards for eagles. In 1974 the low 24 scorers played the hole in a total of 67 strokes under par. The average score on 13 was 4.30, making it more of a par-4‚Öì than a 5. In 1975 the low 24 played it 46 strokes under, with 17 eagles. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf were regularly cutting the corner with three woods off the tee, then hitting five-irons to the green with the reasonable expectation of making an eagle. Obviously something had to be done.
The difficulty was that the tee had already been moved back—a distance of five yards 19 years before—and was back as far as it could go. Occasionally a TV camera trained on the tee would record, through the bushes that formed the boundary between the two clubs, Augusta C.C. members playing their usual weekend rounds, elaborately aloof from the mighty events taking place only a few yards away.
April 19, 1976
The situation was vexing, but Tournament Chairman emeritus Clifford Roberts has always had a way of working things out, and arrangements were made for a swap. Last May, when Augusta National closed down for the summer months, work began on the new tee at 13. A gouge was cut into the hillside behind, and the tee was moved 10 yards to the rear and approximately 10 feet to the left. Now not only was the bend in the dogleg further away but also the pine boughs and the creek that border it became considerably greater menaces. To avoid the increased danger of a tee shot being grabbed by a pine tree and tossed into the creek bed, as Nicklaus' was on Thursday afternoon, many players were obliged to aim further right than they might have liked, thus increasing the distance of their second shots and worsening the degree of their sidehill lies in the sloping fairway.
Every hole at Augusta is an old friend to the players who come back to the Masters year after year, and there has never been a change in the course—except perhaps a new drinking fountain—that has met with the unqualified approval of the field. Not surprisingly, tampering with a hole as friendly as 13 was considered a sacrilege by most of the golfers. Only Hubert Green said he rather liked the new tee, that it gave him a different perspective on the hole, but even he may have changed his mind after his double-bogey 7 there on Saturday. Nicklaus and Weiskopf both said they thought the change was insignificant, but Byron Nelson predicted that the new tee would cost the players a quarter to a half a stroke a round. "If they don't hit a good tee shot, there's no way they can get on the green now," said Nelson.
On the first day the 13th showed its new fangs. Frank Hannigan of the USGA, who was officiating there, said, "The new tee is making a big, big difference." Of a field of 72 players, only 26 tried for the green in 2. Eight of the 26 reached the putting surface; four went into the ditch. The day produced one eagle, by Ralph Johnston, 13 birdies and 11 bogeys. That's only four strokes under par.
For most of Friday a gusty wind blew into the tee and drove the total scoring to 19 over—no eagles, 12 birdies, 18 bogeys, three double bogeys, an 8 (by Arnold Palmer, who also went in the ditch and took a 6, see below) and a 9 (by Dean Refram). Twenty-four of the 72 tried to make the green in 2; only three—Hale Irwin, Allen Miller and Wake Forest's Curtis Strange—succeeded.
As disappointed as the players, though better natured about it, was the gallery that sits around the 13th green all day with binoculars trained on the bend in the fairway, waiting to see whether a wood or an iron comes out of the bag. When Ben Crenshaw's iron flashed in the sunlight 230 yards away, a Georgia voice could be heard mourning, "Ben, Ben, you can't get a green coat layin' up." Heeding that advice, Crenshaw hauled out a wood on Sunday, reached the green safely and sank a putt for an eagle.
A great part of the difficulty on Friday was the new green. The 13th green was rebuilt for this year's tournament, as it had been several times in the past. Too much shade in that corner of the course causes the soil to sour, says the superintendent. A new green is hard because the root structure of the grass has not had time to penetrate far enough to loosen and soften it. "It's like cement," said Irwin. "I can't get my cleats into it," cracked Lee Trevino. Occasionally an approach shot sounded as if it had hit a cart path instead of a green. Balls hit and then bounded off into the four bunkers at the left and rear of the green. And a shot out of those bunkers, downhill 40 to 50 feet to pins that were set at the far right edge two days in a row, was a terrifying prospect.
When the tournament had ended, Johnston's 3 the first day and Crenshaw's the last day were the only eagles, although Johnston was not around to savor his, having missed the cut by nine shots. The low-scoring 24 had played the hole in 15 under par, an average of 4.84 for four rounds. No. 13 was a par-5 again, and the people at Augusta National who care about those things could survey their handiwork and pat each other on their green-jacketed backs, secure in the knowledge that once more their beloved 13th was playing the way Bobby would have liked it.