This will come as no surprise to anyone listening to Masters chairman Fred Ridley speak since he took the reins in 2018.
When Augusta National Golf Club forked over more than $30 million in 2017 to purchase the 9th hole from neighboring Augusta Country Club and secure the last unguarded perimeter behind Amen Corner, the rumors have been flying hot that the sacred 13th hole would be lengthened considerably to thwart to game’s biggest hitters.
Ridley’s words have done nothing to dampen this sentiment that a lengthening is inevitable.
“There's a great quote from Bobby Jones dealing specifically with the 13th hole, which has been lengthened over time,” Ridley said in his very first press conference as chairman before the 2018 Masters. “He said that the decision to go for the green in two should be a momentous one. And I would have to say that our observations of these great players hitting middle and even short irons into that hole is not a momentous decision.”
When nothing was done with the purchased land before the 2019 Masters, Ridley’s patience was explained. But his feelings hadn’t changed.
“It should come as no surprise to any of you that we continue to study other enhancements to the golf course; that includes much‑talked‑about changes, potential changes, to the 13th hole,” Ridley said last April. “Admittedly, that hole does not play as it was intended to play by Jones and (Alister) MacKenzie. 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.
“Although we now have options to increase the length of this hole, we intend to wait to see how distance may be addressed by the governing bodies before we take any action.
“While there's no hesitation on my part or historically on the part of Augusta National to make changes that are necessary – that's been observed through the years – Amen Corner is a sacred place in the world of golf. I am hesitant to move too quickly in that regard. My preference, as I stated, would be to see what happens, what the governing bodies decide is best for the game, and then we will take appropriate action in response to that.”
A year on, golf’s governing bodies still haven’t done anything meaningful to address the runaway distance gains brought on by modern equipment and technology. Augusta National’s patience for tampering with the hole called Azalea may be running out.
From Google Earth
Recent satellite images on Google Earth offer a glimpse of the extensive projects the club has been working on over the summer of 2019. The acquired land behind the 13th tee and 12th green is finally getting utilized by Augusta National.
The imagines show the new perimeter maintenance road that crosses Rae’s Creek over new bridges constructed east and west of Amen Corner. The road takes a significant turn far behind the current 13th tee – giving an ominously wide berth.
Using measuring tools provided on Google Earth Pro, one internet sleuth determined that there’s as much as 75 yards of available space to move the tee directly back from its current location on the hole that in 2019 measured 510 yards. The hole which used to measure 480 yards could soon be as long as 585.
Drawing lines to the middle of the fairway at the dogleg, the current distance is approximately 300 yards for a straight drive – leaving roughly 210 in to the green guarded in front by a tributary of Rae’s Creek. Should Ridley opt to use all the room now at his disposal to push the tee box back, that optimum drive to the middle of the dogleg could soon be as much as 370-75 yards.
From Alexander Gough via Google Earth Pro
That would significantly shift the balance from reward to risk on one of golf’s greatest risk-reward par 5s. Eagles which have long defined No. 13 would become rarer commodities. You wouldn’t see Bubba Watson cutting the corner over top of the pine trees to leave a half wedge into the green anymore.
Going for 13 green in two would certainly become a more “momentous” decision should these momentous changes take place in the coming years (rumor has it that no lengthening has taken place this offseason). Hopefully Ridley will work on finding the proper balance of restoring some teeth in the great par 5 without ruining the drama that has always made it so great in the first place. Nobody wants to see every player laying up on 13. There may be some inevitable “growing” pains as they figure out the most suitable length, but we can at least trust that Augusta National wants that hole to maintain the pivotal place it’s always held in revealing Masters champions.
From Google Earth
In a non-competitive construction note, there is also a large new building tucked into the trees between the 5th fairway, 6th green and 7th tee box. Judging from the quality of construction and what appears to be a couple of chimneys, it’s not a maintenance building. Scuttlebutt is that it is a new on-course facility (perhaps restaurant) for the members to enjoy during the tournament – something akin to the member’s “clubhouse” that was built and hidden in the trees and shrubs between 12, 13 and 14 about a decade ago.