Masters: Augusta National needs to leave Amen Corner unchanged

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: A sign for Amen Corner is seen during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: A sign for Amen Corner is seen during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The Masters Tournament is the premier event in all of golf, in part due to its everlasting reputation of being one of the planet’s most perfect courses. That’s why Chairman Fred Ridley and the committee must keep as much of the course unchanged as possible, especially Amen Corner.

Masters week is the most anticipated time on the golf calendar, and Augusta National always puts on an outstanding event. They’ve grown significantly into the modern era, including significantly expanding coverage on both television and the internet. The creation of the Drive, Chip and Putt challenge, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and sponsorship of multiple international amateur events that grant Masters invitations has been incredible for the growth of the game. But when Chairman Fred Ridley delivered his “State of the Masters” presser this week, another formerly unthinkable topic came up…and it needs to stay that way.

The subject? Changing Amen Corner – specifically making the par-5 13th longer – in order to address modern distance concerns. There are very few things that I’m not in favor of modernizing, but changing such a classic segment of one of the world’s most legendary courses is the last thing they should be doing. I’d rather they allow cell phones and patrons yelling “GET IN THE HOLE”, that’s how serious this is to me.

Now, before I get too worked up, allow me to credit Chairman Ridley for getting basically everything absolutely right during his tenure as the steward of Augusta National. In his 40-minute conference, he admitted that the distance debate is something that the club is monitoring closely, and they’re actively working with the USGA and R&A to come up with solutions that work around the world, as well as at Augusta.

The idea of a “Masters ball”, for instance, has been all but shut down entirely. “That’s been a topic for a long time,” Ridley said. “I think it’s very unlikely that we would ever produce a Masters ball. There are a whole lot of reasons for that, but I think you can be pretty assured that that’s the case.”

But when it came to the course itself, Ridley wasn’t quite as insistent on keeping the course as is for the foreseeable future. The idea of extending the 13th is on hold for now, according to the chairman, but the club did recently purchase land from the adjacent Augusta Country Club, which gives them plenty of opportunity for expansion. And while Ridley clearly understands the legacy of Amen Corner – a site which he called “sacred” – he also gave a nod to the Club’s founders as he discussed potential changes.

“Admittedly, that hole does not play as it was intended to play by [Bobby] Jones and [Alister] MacKenzie,” Ridley said. “The momentous decision that I’ve spoken about and that Bobby Jones often spoke about, of going for the green in two, is to a large extent, no longer relevant.”

Masters Augusta National Amen Corner
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 09: (NOTE: A POLARIZING FILTER WAS USED TO CAPTURE THIS IMAGE.) A general view of the 13th hole is seen during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 09, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) /

No. 13 – Azalea – has been a turning point at the Masters for as long as it’s been played. Byron Nelson chipped in for eagle on Sunday in 1937 to overtake Ralph Guldahl on the way to victory. 73 years later, Phil Mickelson hit a heroic approach from the pine straw in 2010 that nearly led to an eagle as he closed in on his third green jacket. It’s a hole where fearless execution is handsomely rewarded, but a section of Rae’s Creek still guards the front of the green, with four troubling bunkers behind for those who allow hubris to take over at the wrong time.

Augusta National has done everything they can to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to distance. 20 years ago it was “Tiger-proofing”. Today, partially because of the athletic revolution that essentially began with the ascent of Tiger Woods, pros are more powerful than ever. But while Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie could have never foreseen what the game would look like more than 80 years later. The fact that the course itself is still relevant, even as more players go for this green in two and play for eagle, is more of a tribute to what they created than anything else. In no way is this course diminished by top pros playing to score.

The USGA goes out of its way to make the courses that host the U.S. Open punishing to top pros, often making them borderline unplayable. The experience has occasionally become less enjoyable for spectators both on television and at the course. I don’t believe lengthening 13 would come close to this, but the idea of “protecting par” can be a slippery slope. Augusta National and the Masters are outstanding as they are.

Top golfers will find a way to shoot low scores, and they always have. Ben Hogan was 14-under in 1953, Nicklaus was 17-under in 1965, and Woods and Spieth were 18-under in 1997 and 2015. Then again, Sam Snead was 1-over in 1954. Jack – the greatest player in Masters history – was even in ’66, and just 2-under in ’63 and ’72.

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The winds of change may some day take over, but Augusta National and the Masters have gotten more right by staying true to their convictions than they’ve gotten wrong. Amen Corner won’t get better by making 13 any longer. It needs to stay as it is for as long as possible.