The 13th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club is one of the prettiest pieces of real estate in America.
At least, it appears that way to spectators, who can marvel at the stately pine trees lining the left side of the fairway and the splendor of the azaleas that color the bank above Rae’s Creek in a blaze of pink and white. The creek meandering in front of the green also gives the hole a nice, rustic touch.
They give names to golf holes at Augusta National and No. 13 is, appropriately, the Azalea. Golfers playing in the Masters tournament, however, often call it something different. To them it can be an ugly and treacherous obstacle, the last deceitful hole of what is known in Masters lore as the Amen Corner.
The tournament often is won or lost at the infamous corner, which is made up of holes 11, 12 and 13, and most of the strange things seem to occur to one of the leaders at the par-5 13th on Sunday.
Curtis Strange joined the long list of victims last year, knocking his second shot into the creek and making a bogey 6 in the final round. He lost the tournament by two strokes to West Germany’s Bernhard Langer, who made an eagle 3 on the hole Saturday and a birdie 4 Sunday.
Strange joined some distinguished company. Byron Nelson, for instance, was tied for the lead with Craig Wood in 1941 when he hit his approach shot into the water in the final round. Wood birdied the hole and won the tournament.
In 1937, Ralph Guldahl lost a one-stroke lead there on Sunday, and in 1954, amateur Billy Joe Patton made a double-bogey 7 and finished the tournament a stroke behind Sam Snead and Ben Hogan.
The United States Golf Assn., which makes the rules of golf for Americans, says that any hole less than 475 yards long is not a par-5. On No. 13, however, Augusta National does not follow the rules. The hole is only 465 yards long. Oddly, No. 10 is 485 yards and it is a par 4.
Length, however, is not a problem at No. 13. Although it is a demanding hole, even at 465 yards, the high drama it often produces is what sets it apart and stirs the emotions of golfers and spectators alike. A gambler can easily make a birdie, or even an eagle, but he can just as easily make a 6, a 7 or worse.
After losing three strokes on the hole--and losing the tournament--to Nelson in 1937, Guldahl won the championship in 1939, after hitting a daring 230-yard 3-wood shot onto the green, then making an eight-foot eagle putt. When Arnold Palmer won the 1958 tournament, he eagled No. 13 in the final round.
Langer eagled the hole last year in the first round when he gambled on a 3-wood second shot. The ball landed short of the creek, bounced over it onto the green and stopped 18 feet from the hole. On Sunday, he made a birdie after reaching the green with a 5-iron shot.
On the other hand, Japan’s Tommy Nakajima once hit his tee shot into Rae’s Creek at No. 13 and, after hitting his fourth shot back into the water, became so disoriented that he was hit by four penalty strokes before leaving the green with a 13, a record for the hole.
It cost him two strokes when his fifth shot, which he popped up, landed on his foot, and then he and his caddie fumbled a club into the ditch, which was another two-stroke infraction, grounding his club in a hazard.
The excitement on No. 13 begins on the tee. The targets, for most players, are three pine trees on the right side of the fairway. A shot in that direction usually is safe, but the player may be too far from the green to go for it on his second shot. A long shot over the creek can intimidate even the best players.
Long hitters, especially those who draw the ball from right to left, have a big advantage on the hole. They can cut the corner around the pine trees on the left side and get within a 3- to 5-iron shot of the green.
It is, however, a daring shot. If the trees don’t catch it, Rae’s Creek might. “But if it comes off, you’re rewarded,” Tom Watson said.
Strange was leading the tournament--Langer had just birdied the hole ahead of him to narrow the gap from three to two strokes--when he faced a decision. Strange’s drive had left him 208 yards from the green. He could lay up short of the creek and take his chances at making a birdie with a pitch and a putt, or he could shoot for the green with a 4-wood.
He shot for the green, and that was the beginning of the end for him. He shot for the green at No. 15 and didn’t make that one either, hitting into another water hazard. He also made a bogey 5 at No. 18.
Actually, there was no decision to be made, Strange says now. “Playing Augusta National with a two-shot lead isn’t much. I didn’t hit the shot I was supposed to. It wasn’t the decision.”
It’s hard to argue with Strange’s logic, but a lot of people did, including Severiano Ballesteros, who said he should have played short and hoped for a birdie.
“If I had been in his position, I would never have gone for it, especially with a 4-wood,” Ballesteros told Golf magazine.
Asked if he would have shot for the green if he had been in Strange’s shoes, Jack Nicklaus said, “Probably not.” Lee Trevino also said he would have laid up. So did Craig Stadler.
But Strange had a lot of supporters for his decision, including Watson and Langer. “There’s no question I’d go for the green,” Watson said.
Most players have a target zone in mind off the tee. If they reach it, they go for the green; if they don’t they lay up. Such decisions, especially by the leaders when they come through on Sunday, make the hole splendid theater. It is one of the spectators’ favorite holes, if not the golfers’.
Masters officials constantly refine their course. Before the 1984 tournament, they asked Nicklaus’ design company to toughen up No. 13.
A swale was dug to the left of the green between two bunkers, leaving a timid player who shot in that direction to take the creek out of play, with a more difficult chip over a high ridge to the hole. A shot from a bunker would be easier.
No longer can players who miss the green on the left side think about making a birdie as they once did. Because of the change, Bruce Lietzke said he will not shoot for the green unless he can reach it with an iron.
The remodeling job ruined the greatest par-5 in the country, Raymond Floyd said.
Architect Nicklaus defended the change, reasoning that a player can still hit the green with two properly placed shots.
That’s easy for him to say, of course. In 37 rounds, he is 24 under par on the hole and has averaged 4.35 strokes.