AUGUSTA, Ga. — Standing on the first tee at the Augusta National Golf Club can be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. Even the most accomplished of golfers admit to quickened pulses and drying throats prior to hitting their opening shots.
Its tee box is perched on the highest point on the property, and when each golfer makes the walk from the nearby practice green to the first tee, the scene is not unlike that of heavyweight champions making their way into the ring.
It has been that way since 1935 when Augusta National officials switched nines and, in the process, created one of the most demanding starting holes in golf.
“The first tee shot in the Masters is one of the most intimidating shots you will ever hit,” Adam Scott told the Masters Journal. “The build-up to the tournament has been for so long, and you’re excited it has finally arrived. It’s not overly difficult, but under the circumstances it can be tough and at times during my career I have struggled on it.”
The hole appears almost welcoming to the untrained eye. Its fairway is generous. Its tree line is set back and lacking density, while the landing area is protected by a lone bunker. But those who have played it will tell you No. 1 at Augusta National is a hole with plenty of bite.
“You come up here as much as you want, but once you step on that first tee and it’s the first hole of the Masters, it’s a little different,” Rory McIlroy said. “It seems like that bunker on the right gets bigger and it seems like those trees on the left come in a little bit more, and it seems like the fairway is nonexistent.”
Almost without exception players will tell you that making par on No. 1 is highly acceptable, and the statistics show those in the field have every reason to be perfectly satisfied with a 4. While possessing the potential for outright disaster—see Ernie Els’ 9 in 2016—the numbers reveal, rather, that it is a hole that slowly bleeds the field to death.
Since 1937, when course statistics started being kept, No. 1 has been the hardest hole on the course six times with two of them in the last 15 years (2004 and 2012). Five times in the last 10 years the 445-yard par 4 has ranked as either the first- or second-most difficult opening hole on the PGA Tour, never ranking outside the top five during that span. And in the last 10 years, there have been five times the number of bogeys (or worse) as there have been birdies.
Changes over the years have added to challenge, as the tee was lengthened twice from 2002-2006, before some of that yardage was taken off. In addition, the fairway bunker was expanded and moved towards the green in 2002. Now a tee ball will have to travel some 295 yards on the fly to clear it.
As such players will always tell you that par is a good score on No. 1. Only 14 times has a player bogeyed the first hole in the first round and gone on to win, three of them by Tiger Woods. Conversely, only one champion since 2000—Scott in 2013—has birdied it.
“I hit a 7-iron out of the right-hand fairway bunker and was able to make birdie,” said Scott. “It was just such a great way to start the Masters.”
Given the difficulty of Augusta National’s opening hole over the years, not many have been able to enjoy a similar feeling.