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The changes at Augusta National's seventh hole, explained

April 06, 2024
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09:  A course scenic view from the seventh hole fairway during the continuation of the weather-delayed third round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2023, in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

The seventh hole is called “Pampas” after a grassy bush indigenous to South America, setting it apart from the course’s hole names that are generally tree and shrub-oriented and more associated with Georgia. It’s an apt departure—the seventh has always been the black sheep of Augusta National, a hole that never quite fit in with the others.

On a property known for spacious corridors, No. 7 plays through an uncompromising chute of trees. It’s the flattest par 4 on the course playing toward a small, elevated green encircled in bunkers—a fortress. Over the years it’s been stretched, pinched and modified substantially. If the course were a family portrait, house guests might wonder if this child was switched at birth.

Augusta’s seventh hole origins

Alister MacKenzie and Bob Jones patterned the seventh on the 18th at St. Andrews. It was meant to be a drive-and-pitch hole that covered a similarly level and largely treeless section of land, playing between 315 and 340 yards, slightly shorter than the length of the Old Course’s 18th at the time Bobby Jones won the Open Championship in 1927 (four years before the design of Augusta National).

The bunkerless green was wide and L-shaped and plateaued above a depression modeled after the Valley of Sin. The extremely wide fairway connected with the third hole, and players could hit it as far left as they wanted to give them a better angle to certain hole locations, or shoot directly toward the front of the “L” if the flag was there. Only a few sapling pines stood on either side of the fairway.

Like at St. Andrews, MacKenzie envisioned players using width and the ground to get shots on the green. “At the hole,” he wrote, “it will also be desirable to play a run-up shot as it will be exceedingly difficult to retain a pitch in the usual position of the flag.”

The fundamental change to Augusta’s seventh hole

Augusta National chairman Cliff Roberts was never satisfied with the way the seventh played. It was “too short and too easy,” he wrote. In 1938, Horton Smith, winner of the first and third Masters, suggested building a “postage stamp” green 20 years beyond the original and banked into a hillside. MacKenzie had died in 1934, so the club hired Perry Maxwell, who had been his partner on several projects across the U.S., to implement the change. This took the length of the hole to 370 yards and created a green designed for a high, soft aerial shot. Several more pines were also planted on the left side of the fairway to interfere with drives hit that direction.

These changes were a radical departure from how MacKenzie envisioned the hole. The seventh was one of the first indications that the considerations of tournament golf—rather than member satisfaction—would drive the architectural decisions at Augusta National, and how far the club would go to remain relevant to the professional game.

Even though the maturing pines gradually made the seventh one of the narrower holes on the course, it was still a drive-and-pitch par 4. When the ground was firm in dry years, players could drive the ball into the clearing past the trees, leaving a shot of less than 100 yards to the green.

More modern changes to Augusta’s seventh hole

This ceased in 2002 when the hole was extended from 365 to 410 yards. More pines continued to be added, morphing the seventh hole into one that would make any U.S. Open course proud with a fairway just 25 yards wide and cinched by trees.

In 2006, the club added another 40 yards, extending the distance to 450, meaning that in just five Masters, the seventh hole experienced a 23-percent increase in length. When players exited the rear of the sixth green, they used to step right onto the seventh tee. Today they turn left and walk nearly 100 yards back to the tees set deep in a grove.

The green had been expanded slightly over the years but remained one of the most severe, with internal oceanic swells that move balls into lows demanding extreme spin and distance control.

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How the seventh hole plays today

The added length means competitors can no longer afford to play conservatively off the tee with irons or metalwoods. Clubbing down for accuracy means hitting a mid-iron into a green designed to receive wedges.

Players now have little choice but to force driver into wedge range and pray they keep it between the trees. If they don’t, the only play is to punch a shot just short of the green or purposefully into one of the three bunkers in front and try to scramble for par. And that’s a common occurrence. Since 2006, No. 7 has typically been the first or second most-difficult fairway to hit. And therefore, it’s among the most difficult greens to hit in regulation. That has resulted in a stroke average of 4.20 over the past 18 Masters, driving up the hole’s historical average to 4.16.

It’s a strange twist for a hole first offered as a scoring opportunity, and that for decades served as a moment of respite on the more difficult first nine. It was conceived with strategic forethought in mind. Now players just want to survive it.


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