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Underrated Holes

Masters 2021: Why this underappreciated hole at Augusta National is one of its best

JD Cuban

April 07, 2021

After nearly 90 years of observation, adoration, documentation and explication, there aren’t many mysteries remaining about the holes at Augusta National. There are golf fans around the world who have never even been to Georgia who can nevertheless identify scenes from the property on demand, recall in detail where Masters heroics and blunders occurred and even predict which way putts will break.

If there is a hole possessing qualities that remain elusive in some relative sense, it would be one from the first nine. CBS and the Masters didn’t begin televising all 18 holes of the course until 2002. Going further, it would be a hole that gets the least amount of foot traffic during the tournament. This describes the par-4 fifth, for decades more rumor than reality for television viewers, and for most patrons a trek too far to the outer, upper flank of the course’s southwestern boundary.

THE HOLE

Jamie Squire

Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones used the Road Hole at St. Andrews (No. 17) as the model for the fifth, which was originally the 14th. Two deep bunkers (above) on the inside corner of the dogleg left, cut into a steep slope above a ravine, function as the Old Course’s inspirational railway shed hazard. The green has changed significantly over the years, transformed permanently in 1937 by Perry Maxwell who eschewed the wide, table-top St. Andrews model for a deeper surface with large rolls and troughs (below). In 2019, an area behind the existing tee was extended 40 yards (requiring the re-routing of a section of Old Berckmans Road), accentuating the slight uphill nature of the drive and bringing the length of the hole to 495 yards.

WHAT MAKES THE FIFTH SO INTERESTING

If Masters viewers had been able to see moments like Jack Nicklaus eagling the fifth hole—twice—in 1995, it might enjoy the same type of tournament lore as the holes on the second nine. Since it existed in comparative anonymity for so long, it has some catching up to do. It’s still difficult to get a full sense of the fifth hole without seeing it in person, specifically the green. Moving between high crests and lows basins, it appears to be in motion, rolling like waves in the wake of a large vessel. Like many greens at Augusta National, certain putts can break 90-degrees, demanding genius combinations of pace and line.

Augusta National

Of course, this complicates matters on the approach shot, now played with longer clubs since the hole has been lengthened. The green contours make it almost impossible to get the ball to stop anywhere near certain hole locations, and running the ball onto the putting surface from the ground may be the best play, though tour professionals consider doing so only in emergencies. The two fairway bunkers were also shifted back toward the tee to maintain their correlation to the drive—a 315-yard carry, uphill, is still required to fly them.

STATS

The fifth confounds at both ends, as it should—any hole patterned after the Road Hole is intended to be tough. The lengthening two years ago restored its historic teeth: in 2019 and 2020 it was the most difficult hole on the course, playing to a stroke average of 4.30.

Considering their steepness, slopes and internal movements, not to mention the club’s ability to produce flawless surfaces, every green at Augusta National is difficult to putt. But several, like the fifth, belong in a special category with degrees of severity that test the art of putting to the extreme. Over the last five years only one other green on the PGA Tour has been three-putted more often than the fifth, a figure made more remarkable considering the Masters’ limited field. And the most three-putted green? That would be Augusta National’s par-3 16th, but that hole has been warmed by the spotlight far longer than the fifth has.