Everybody knows that Augusta National Golf Club is home to the Masters. It’s Georgia’s dream course which is located in a dream-like setting and the nearest most of us will get to teeing it up on the 1st (Tea Olive) is in the depths of our dreams.
Augusta National Golf Club is one of Earth's most exclusive clubs and the layout was designed by perhaps the world’s greatest golfer, who teamed up with maybe the world’s greatest architect. Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie were the perfect duo to lay down the consummate golf course.
“The Augusta National is the epitome of the type of course which appeals most keenly to the American taste, the meadowland course.” Wrote Robert Trent Jones in The Complete Golfer. “From tee to green there is nothing but closely cropped green turf. These broad expanses of fairway, punctuated with pines and dotted with flashes of white sand, give Augusta a clean, sprightly appearance. The Jones conception, incarnate in Augusta, was that the course should be a true test of championship golf, but, more than that, that it should be a pleasure for all classes of golfer to play.”
“The Augusta National keeps up with the times. Almost every year, upon the conclusion of the Masters Tournament, and after things have been mulled over, changes are made in one or two holes to increase their playing value. Undoubtedly the two most thorough overhaulings took place on the 11th and the 16th, and my work in developing these two holes has been my loving contribution to Augusta’s greatness. Over a period of years these two holes have been transformed from the easiest par four and the easiest par three on the course to perhaps the most difficult.”
Robert Trent Jones was not the only architect to subtly contribute to the development of Augusta National. Perry Maxwell, George Cobb, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio all shaped the course over the years to fulfil the wish of Bobby Jones for Augusta to remain “eminently playable from the regular tees for the medium and high handicap golfer while simultaneously presenting a stiff examination from the back tees for the low handicap or scratch golfer.”
Magnolia Lane, Rae’s Creek, Eisenhower Tree, colourful azalea, dogwood and redbud, Amen Corner, wickedly fast greens and, of course, the Green Jacket, are all synonymous with the Augusta National. The Masters is the only Major to be played every year on the same course and consequently anyone even remotely interested in golf becomes familiar with the course thanks to extensive TV coverage.
Many millions of people may feel they know the course, but only the lucky few have been fortunate enough to actually play it. If you have somehow managed to befriend a member and take divots out of Augusta’s immaculate fairways, did the course meet your expectations?
Fergal O'Leary gets the invite to play Augusta National... The Dream.
Rather than write about the course itself which everyone knows so well, I will write about my experience.
I had been to ten Masters championships. I was there by the tv tower when Tiger rolled in his putt to complete the Tiger Slam. I was there for the first victory by a Canadian, Mike Weir. I was there when Phil Mickleson won his first major, edging out my friend, Ernie Els. I saw Tiger win four and Phil win three. I saw unexpected winners in Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrerra. One week I was there from Tuesday through Sunday and other times usually for two days of the practice rounds and the first two days of the tournament. I knew the golf course from walking it probably fifty times.
I knew a month in advance of the date that I would be a guest. I did not get overly excited but I also did not tell anyone. I drove the 13 hours in my car to Augusta having only told my family where I was going. (I had some other places I wanted to stop on the way back). I was very mindful of a good friend of mine who was invited to play there 30 years ago. He had an early tee time but the forecast was for rain, heavy at times. He was there at 7AM for breakfast, hit balls for twenty minutes when the rain started. It rained all day ultimately resulting in closing the course at 2PM. He did not get another opportunity. That is one reason I did not tell any friends.
I arrived a day early and we played at another local course although we had to stop due to heavy rain. I slept great.
I had not been nervous or overly excited the entire time, even as I drove down Magnolia Lane the following morning with another person.
We arrived around 9:30 AM, received a very friendly greeting, went to our rooms over the pro shop and where President Eisenhower used as the “White House” when on site. While some might prefer the cabins, the view from the picture window is superb and one can walk to the dining room without getting wet. It is also the closest lodging to the men’s locker room. We left our luggage and phones, and went to the driving range. After a half hour we went to the par 3 course without the member who was conducting business over the phone in his room.
The par 3 is fabulous. There are no long holes on it but it is as pretty as it shows on tv. I had one miraculous save of a par, one birdie, a double bogey, four par’s and three bogies as the greens are very quick. We joked and laughed a lot with the caddies.
We then went for lunch joined by the member. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was again very welcoming and relaxed.
Around 2PM we headed for putting green and then to the first tee. I was still very calm. One member of our group is a professional and he was allowed to play the Masters tees. He had never been to Augusta National before despite being on a NCAA team that made the final four during his four years in college, twice winning the championship. He went first way behind us….60 yards?
The member went next, straight down the middle although not nearly as far up the hill as the pro who had driven it into the top part of the right bunker, about 300 yards. The next person went and hit it to the left side of the trees on the left, but at the top of the hill.
I was next. I had not been nervous the entire time. My member had commented during lunch on how calm I was for my first visit there. I placed my ball atop my tee and bent down to put it in the ground. I took my stance, looked down the fairway, and suddenly I could not see the ball. It wasn’t as if it went dark, I simply could not see it. I am typically a fast player and I started to think to myself, “how long have I been standing here?” I blinked my eyes slowly. Then I blinked them faster. I still could not make out the ball. My next thoughts were, “my partners know I play fast, are they noticing how long I have been standing here?” But I was frozen as I could not see the ball.
Finally, I said to myself, “you have to swing.” My guess is that I was only standing there about twelve seconds but it felt like two minutes. I took my swing still not being able to see the ball. I heard a sound. Then the ground became clear, everything was clear, and I reached down and picked up my tee. I could see again. Someone said, “nice shot” but not with any enthusiasm.
I had no idea where the ball had gone. No one had said anything. We started walking together, caddies and players. The conversation shifted to how lucky we were with the weather. My caddie had said nothing about where my ball had ended. I had no clue. No one but me knew I had not been able to see the ball during my stance, swing, and contact.
The member arrived at his ball and hit. Then the other two players went off in the direction of their balls. I decided to ask the member about which side he preferred to come into the first hole for his third shot. I still had no idea where my ball was. I was hoping he would start walking in the direction of my ball but he stood still. I walked over to the left of the first fairway to watch the player hit as I wanted to see what the shot looked like with trees between him and the green. I still had no idea where my ball was. I turned back to the fairway. As it turned out, the member and his caddie were blocking my view. My ball had indeed made the crest of the hill, dead center.
Over the course of the two rounds one discovers the course is much like they see on tv. The fairways are wide. The trees are tall but they are spread apart so you do get a chance for recovery of some ground; rarely does one have to simply chip back to the fairway. There are few places to lose a ball: the five water holes and a few dense areas of plants and trees.
While we did not play the greens anywhere near the speed of the Masters, they were still quick, smooth, and the greens are very undulating. They are perfect and I struggle to think of any course that approaches their overall variety in shaping, size, smoothness, and undulations. There are humps, hollows, swales, tiers, false fronts, run-offs, and triple-breaks.
I double-bogeyed three holes both days. They were the same three holes. I doubled the par three sixth, both times hitting my ball too far left and having a 15-20 feet uphill blind shot. On round one with the pin on the left side I left the first chip just short of the green and got to do it again. Another six inches and I might have been within a foot. On round two, with the pin back right my ball caught the ridge and followed the slope all the way off the front of the green. From there I left my first putt short so it rolled halfway back. This green provided me with a putt that told me how much better the top pros are to me.
On ten on both days I was just over the trap on the right of the green. The pin was on the right and both days my caddie told me to chip and I tried to putt, leaving both putts still off the green. The tenth green is much more tilted than it appears on tv.
On eighteen on day one I hit my drive into the trees on the right and did not come close to escaping as I tried to be a hero. On day two I hit it into the trees on the right again and tried to play safe but still caught a branch. Nearly……. I must admit on day one I was thinking of how lucky I was to be at Augusta National finishing the round and already looking forward to the shower, drinks and dinner in the clubhouse. On day two I nearly had tears in my eyes as I knew my first trip was ending.
Having drinks on the upper deck of the clubhouse before dinner was interesting because you meet people from all over the world. Dinner was a blast. After touring the wine cellar and crow’s nest, I lingered to look at the articles and letters denoting the history of Augusta National. The wine cellar is one of the best in the world. We laughed throughout the dinner as did the members and their guests next to us.
My scores both days were in the mid-80’s. The pro shot 40-37 on day one and 34-33 on day two from the Masters tees. He eagled two with a hole-out, made a 60 feet putt on ten to save par, but under-clubbed on sixteen leading to a bad bogey. He actually missed a lot of putts. But as he said to me, he would expect to break par with no pressure.
The par 3’s are amazing. Every one of them is special. They are very different in length and the green surround. The only similarity of them is that you must hit the green and not near the edges.
The par 4’s are wonderfully varied in both length, uphill, downhill, blind shots, tree lines, wide open or tighter, as well as doglegs going both ways.
Much like one sees during the Masters, the par 5’s are the “easy” holes because three of them play downhill to wide fairways. The eighth fairway is also wide but it is uphill and can result in a third shot still being blind. With the exception of the eighth, I had a chance for birdie six times, converting none. The downhill slope before the fifteenth green was not a difficult shot for me. Perhaps I have that type of shot too often?
In terms of the most difficult holes, for me on the front nine they are four and five. The green on four is terrifying although a made a 15 feet putt that I had to putt nearly 20 feet and seemed to break four different ways before it fell in.
Three is the cleverest hole on the golf course and I was fortunate to chip in off the front for a birdie on round two after ignoring my caddie’s advice to putt, although he was likely correct.
On the back nine, the tenth and the twelfth were the most difficult for me. All of the other holes do offer a better chance of recovery from missing the green. On twelve I hit it into the back left bunker and then left. The right side of the green is not likely going to have a good ending.
Fourteen and seventeen have severely undulating and sloped greens although I found them easy to read. I did not make a putt but I did not three putt and considered that a victory.
The hill before the eighteenth is very steep. I have walked up it fifty times but playing it made it seem even steeper.
Some people criticize Augusta National for its changes such as adding length, trees, and even a short first cut. None of these changes have diminished the choices that one must make on the course. It remains a course of strategy due to the greens. This is a golf course that one starts at the green position and tries to work their way back to the tee to determine the side of the fairway they want to play to as well as where they want to land their ball on the green.
Technology has gone too far with the ball. I do not see the changes at Augusta National as trying to save the reputation of the golf course. I see the changes as trying to defend the reputation of golf. I see them also as a way for the average player to be able to relate in some form to the top professional.
I have met several members through the years. They have all been super nice and friendly. When I attended the Masters and saw a member walking the course, I made a point of walking up to at least two members a day and thanking them for sharing their course with the world. One has to remember that Augusta National closes every spring for an extended time for renovations and to avoid the summer heat. The members also forfeit their course for over a week to conduct the Masters and now the Women’s Amateur event. While one can easily say every member of Augusta National is likely a member of at least two other private clubs, they still have to give up their course. For me, that is a nice gift to the world, not to mention what the club gives to charity in support of the game of golf.
The facilities are stellar, the accommodations are very nice, the dining is marvelous, the wine is superb, the staff is very welcoming, having a beverage on the upper deck of the clubhouse as the sun sets is a memory forever as you meet people from all over the world, and the golf course is outstanding. In terms of golf experiences, it is unique, fun, and fills one with joy. As for the members, I thank them for what they have done for the game, sharing their course, and I am happy for them being members.
Mark, your reviews are frequently great, so I'm not sure how I didn't notice this one before today; however, I can say without question this is one of your best. Thank you for describing the emotional experience in such detail.
Definitely deserves its place in the Top 20. Been lucky enough to to play it 7 times and since first visiting Augusta in 1998 this has now become a Tournament Course. Amazing routing and shot making. And choice that allows you to make decisions and still miss and be in the hole. As only MacKenzie would want. Enough space off the tee to land a jumbo and the only fear of losing a ball is when the water carries appear. Nothing can prepare you for the iron shots in to 11&12 or the exhilaration of hitting 13&15 in two if you get your drive away. Greens are amazing. So expansive and until you putt on them you can’t understand the extent of the break the Pros have to play. Playing the course off the Tournament tees (if you get the chance) though tells you just how good these guys are to go around here and shoot 66. A testament to golf and this place will always be the standard that the globe should be set to. Par 5 eighth is one of the best climbing Par 5s on the planet and the uphill shots in to 3,7,9 & 18 should be bottled and used as a blueprint the world over.
For a number of years now I’ve dreamt of an eventual visit to the sacred ground that is Augusta. I’ve often joked that I’d finally believe it was happening when I was driving down Magnolia Lane without a police escort and flashing lights behind me. As luck would have it a friend of a friend took pity on my quest to play the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World as ranked by top100golfcourses.com. In fact, a visit to Augusta was all I needed to complete several lists. As nearly everyone knows it’s not an easy ask. In fact, rumor has it you are not allowed to ask at all as this can result in an immediate mark against your name and a permanent ban. This was not a theory I was personally willing to test. Fact is, as many before me, I just simply was lucky and fortunate to be graced with such a wonderful opportunity to experience the home of the famous Masters Tournament myself.
It all really started with an email that said, Augusta National with (insert members name). I didn’t even open it at first as I was not expecting it and I thought it was an advertisement, likely inviting me to attend the Masters with an organized trip. It sat a couple days in my in box until I went in to randomly clean it out. That’s when I checked this mail which was anything but an advertisement. It read: “Great that you will be joining (insert member’s name) on November 30 and December 1st .” It went on to detail the exact time we were to arrive and meet the member and contained an attachment with the local rules for guests. These were quite standard really with things like, no phones being allowed outside of your cabin. Cameras were fine but phones were not to be used as cameras. This is also obviously to discourage the use of social media which one can only assume the club does not appreciate. Interesting given that during the week of the Masters it may well be the most highly photographed course on the planet and social media is completely flooded with photos of everything there. However, it’s most certainly done in order to maintain the privacy of the members and one can only respect this. Finally, and most importantly the rules said it’s extremely important to play fast, something that should be a generally accepted rule at all clubs but still, it’s great to see a place like Augusta National putting a premium on this as part of the experience.
Upon arrival guests are taken to the cabins assigned to their host member where you can unpack and prepare yourself for the festivities. Then it’s quickly off to either have lunch or head to the practice range. There are no tee times and with a limited number of members each with a maximum of 3 guests there at any one time, tee times are simply not practical or necessary. This weekend there were 6 members on the property each with 3 guests. Not exactly the numbers that lead to discussions about who gets to play first. For us it was to be straight to the driving range, a 15-minute warm up then to the putting green. The greens were rolling about 10.5-11 on the stimp. Quite manageable green speeds given the bent grass surface.
Standing on the first tee I’ll admit to being surprised at the amount of width, space and short grass. We have all seen the Masters many times and I’d guess most of us know the holes by heart, I’m no different in this case, however, I honestly struggled to recognize the holes on the front 9. TV coverage really does change the views of everything and I had previously never visited the actual tournament. Why, you may ask? Well, I just didn’t want to ruin the experience of a first visit and the surprises that come with it. As we started playing, the next thing that really stuck out was the dramatic height differential and elevation changes the course possesses. None of which you can really notice on TV for some reason. I’d often heard this from friends that had played but it’s one of those things that really doesn’t resonate well until you see it for yourself. After a bit of a shaky start missing a 3 ft par putt on the first I settled into the round nicely and managed to play some of my best golf of the year which admittedly has not been stellar. It’s hard to really miss fairways at Augusta, what is really cool about it however, is that from a strategic perspective positioning is essential if you want to have the best angle of approach into the relatively small and undulated greens.
More than once I hit myself into extremely awkward positions on my approaches and relied on my short game creativity to get out of it. Well, that and some local knowledge from my caddy. This helped me to save several pars on the front 9 and even throw in the odd birdie which is always welcome.
One key point is that there are only two tees. The members tee, which plays between 6,300 and 6,500 yards and the Masters Tee which plays about 1,000 yards longer. This results in huge differences on a lot of tees. Given the damp conditions, even though we had a perfect first day in terms of weather, tee shots didn’t experience any roll to speak of, with no roll, 6,500 yards is not short unless you are quite a long hitter. It was plenty to provide adequate challenge given the conditions. Given the emphasis that the course sets upon positioning and angle of play/approach the real challenge lies on and around the greens. With the slopes even the shortest of putts can be real knee knockers if forced to putt out. Imagine a quick left to right breaking 2 ft putt as a perfect example. Miss and it goes 5 ft past because you can’t stop it. Trust me when I say this adds to the challenge.
One of the first real surprises came at the 10th tee. The fairway drops off steeply and this hole is played significantly downhill. The real challenge lies in judging the approach to this green accurately. As one of the larger greens it seems to take even more club than the distance indicates.
The 11th was the most difficult hole on the course for me. It requires a fade around the corner off the tee to a fairway that slopes towards the outside of dogleg. That means the approach is played from a right to left side hill lie which of course is a hook lie for a right hander. The challenge comes from how the green sits in relation to the pond which kind of wraps around the left side. On top of that the entire green slopes towards the water. It’s quite a courageous approach requiring full commitment. The most common fault is a right bail out which feels safe due to the fact you end up on dry land. However, the chip back to the flag will most likely be made from a downhill lie to a green sloping away from the line of play and towards the water. It’s definitely a case of having to pull off a fully committed heroic shot to have the best chance of success.
The 12th didn’t feel as tough as it seems on TV but it’s easy to look back after you’ve hit a great shot and say that wasn’t that tough. I managed a 2 to a back right pin which was rather satisfying, to say the least. What is difficult is the false front on the green, how it wraps around the bunker in the middle plus the fact that the green is so narrow compared to how wide it is.
The 13th is the short par 5 with that crazy hook that needs to be contended with on the tee shot. This is another hole that was far different than I had imagined it on TV. It always seemed to me this shot must play steeply downhill around the corner however this was not the case at all. In fact, the fairway is much like one of the banked turns on a NASCAR track. The ideal shot is a sharp hook around the corner which would leave a mid to long iron approach. With water right in front of the green it’s another heroic shot to contend with.
Jump forward to the 15th, after a strong drive up to the flat area in the fairway, I stood with 225 yards to the flag. This shot plays significantly downhill and again the green has a false front of sorts and the creek runs right in front of it. Yet another heroic shot. One that I didn’t go for, the biggest mistake of my golfing life ha ha…
The layup on this hole is just so hard that unless you are forced to lay up I think it makes more sense to risk the water and go for it. My partner and caddy talked me out of it even when I had a green light in my head and was feeling confident. The second round I dropped a ball in the same spot and easily hit it on the green. It won’t haunt me forever, but should I ever have that chance again you better believe I won’t hesitate in going for it regardless of what’s on the line.
The par 3, 16th played on day 1 to a lower middle pin placement which is the classic hole in one pin for the pros. The aim is to throw your shot up about 10 ft to the right of the pin and a couple yards past it and watch it come around and feed down to the hole. I hit what felt like a perfect shot, but it was 11 ft rather than 10 and it stayed up right on the ledge leaving a near impossible downhill putt over. Hard to figure how that ball stayed up there however, it shows how close the difference is between perfect and almost perfect but not good at all.
The 18th I would call the second most difficult hole on the course. Even from the members tee which is way forward it requires a real cut with a driver to avoid the bunkers or perhaps a well struck 3 wood into the slot. The approach is straight uphill all the way and is another one of those shots that is not done justice on TV.
After the round we had just enough daylight left to head over to the par 3 course for a quick 9. Another great experience though I find it such a spectacle to watch on TV I’d almost say it’s more fun to watch than it is to play. However, I think this only pays credit to the wonderful job they do at the Masters of making the par 3 event so special.
After a great day of golf, we went into the pro shop for some essential and equally important shopping. Augusta has one of the best-equipped pro shops you will find anywhere. Then we enjoyed post round drinks in the bar followed by a small tour around. Back to the cabin to freshen up and it was dinner time. Dinner in the clubhouse is really a special experience not unlike visit a wonderful high-end restaurant with perfect service. Basically, exactly what you would expect. Everyone sits at predefined tables assigned to your member host. Dinner is a jacket and tie affair but really quite relaxed in terms of atmosphere. However, there is little to no interaction between tables which allows members to focus entirely on their guests.
After dinner it’s back to the bar for quick visit, some enjoyed cigars in an adjoining room. All in all, it’s a long day with so much to take in and quite a lot of golf on top of that so a good night rest is well earned.
The next day you wake up and do it all again if you are lucky. We were.
Augusta National truly is a special place that cherishes well honored traditions and provides undoubtedly one of the greatest experiences in golf.
Great description of both the course and the experience.
Now checking my junk email folder...
Wow, fantastic review. I have hired a bunch of Russian hackers to get my name inserted in future emails
Fantastic review! May we all get a similar email one day :).
I was so blessed to spend 3 days here in a cool and calm November. This was without doubt the most thrilling event to happen in my golfing life. A dream come true for sure but expectations were just surpassed by what is the greatest place on earth. The course doesn't need any explanation or any reviews. I played 3 rounds and the par 3 course. The stay in one of the cabins was very special. The people at ANGC are amazing. They just seem to know what you want when you want it. Truly a place that all should see. I am very privileged in that I have been to the Masters a number of times. Make that happen also. It is the best tournament in the world and the greatest spectacle in golf.
Anyone who says that they were not excited to play Augusta National or that they didn’t like the course after playing it is lying. Simply put, playing Augusta National was one of the greatest experiences of my life, if a bit overwhelming. Driving under the canopy of trees lining Magnolia Lane is something I never dreamed would happen to me, so the range of emotions that I felt when it happened were wide, as I was trying to comprehend my dream being realized. The most prevalent feelings were joy, fear, excitement, disbelief, exhilaration and anticipation. As anyone who has ever been to the Masters knows, everything about the place is perfect. From tee to green there is no rough; so, truth be told, putting your ball in play is actually not that hard. The fairways are generous, they look and feel like carpets, and every lie is perfect. The greens are also perfection, without question the best in the world. The most difficult shots tee to green are those you have to hit off of the pine needles if you miss the fairway. The real tests of Augusta National are chipping, holding your ball on the greens and putting. The greens are fast, as you would expect. Playing golf here is a privilege few experience and something to tell the grandchildren about (someday). I am very lucky.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
The 12th hole at Augusta National may be the most recognizable hole in golf because it is viewed on TV by millions of golf fans every year during the spring ritual that is the Masters Tournament. Every golfer dreams of playing this hole. But not many do. The day I played Augusta National was one of the club’s busiest, with six foursomes on the grounds. I know because there is a board in the clubhouse that lists “members on premises.”
If playing golf at Augusta National is the most coveted four hours of every golfer in America, how did I get on? I got lucky when I met a member of Augusta early in the third year of my quest…
Suddenly my dream day came to a close as we strolled away from the 18th green, where I had watched the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat so many times on the final Sundays of the Masters. I spent $250 on logo merchandise in the pro shop, and I’m guessing that amount was lower than what many guests typically spend. A quick shower and change and my driver pulled up to whisk me back to the airport. As I threw my clubs in the trunk, my driver lowered his voice and said, “One last thing, Larry, when you wake up tomorrow, remember this really happened. It was not a dream.” Larry Berle.