Tuesday, April 9

A Brief History of Augusta's Famous 15th

By John Coyne
Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved.

IN MASTERS HISTORY PERHAPS THE MOST famous hole is No. 15, named Firethorn, where in 1935 Gene Sarazen hit “the shot heard round the world.” Coming to No. 15, Sarazen was three shots behind Craig Wood, who was in the clubhouse being congratulated for his victory in the second ever Masters Tournament.

Gene Sarazen hit "the shot heard round the world."
Sarazen was playing with Walter Hagen, who drove first hitting the shorter of the two drives. Hagen laid up short of the pond on his second shot. At the time, the pond was little more than a ditch 20 yards in front of the green with a gentle bank to the putting surface. The hole was a par-5, 485 yards long.

David Sowell in his hole-by-hole history of the Masters, published in 2007, retells how Sarazen’s drive off the tee landed in the right-center of the fairway, leaving him 230 to the hole but in a bad lie. Sarazen pulled out a 4-wood because of the tight lie. This 4-wood was a new club, a Turfrider, which had a hollow-back sole enabling Sarazen to go down after the ball. Sarazen played the ball back in his stance and toed the head. As he came down, he cut slightly across it to give the shot additional loft.

The ball still came out low, but carried the narrow ditch. It hit the front of the green, bounced slightly to the left, and then ran up to the hole. Sarazen knew it was close, but it wasn’t until the gallery of some 22 patrons behind the green began to scream and yell that he realized it was in the cup for a double eagle. The famed sports writer, Grantland Rice, inflated the gallery to some 2,000 who gave out a “deafening reverberating roar” in his column the following day. Sarazen would hold on to tie Wood and the next day defeated him in a 36 hole playoff.

No one would ever make another double-eagle at No. 15, nor would the hole stay the same. In 1949, a real pond was created in front of the green, widening the 20-yard ditch, and the greenside slope was made steeper. In 1962, golf architect George Cobb again widened the pond.

There were other changes. Clifford Roberts in 1969 had mounds built on the right side of the fairway to diminish the amounts of roll players hitting a hook could achieve. But soon the advantages in driving distance made the mounds obsolete. Trees were planted and grew, making the need for other adjustments to No. 15 as well as all the holes at Augusta National.

Next, the hole was lengthened. In 1969, the tee was moved back 40 yards, yet the yardage was kept at 520.

Then in 1981, the official yardage was reduced to 500 yards.

In 2005, the tee was moved back 30 yards and 20 yards to the left. In ’06, it was extended seven yards. By 2011, it was listed at 530 yards.

This fascinating history of how Augusta National has been adjusted can be read about and seen on the www.golfdigest.com blog. Chris O’Riley, a computer artist, has drawn the changes for each hole going back to 1934 based on an article written by Ron Whitten entitled, “Change Orders.”

For Augusta National, I guess, the secret is never leave good enough alone.

Related: Augusta National and Doctrine of Deception

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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