After sweeping changes to Augusta National in 2002 and further revisions in 2006, it's been more than a decade since Masters Tournament officials made any serious changes to the golf course.
The club has focused on improving the practice facility for tournament players and increasing its footprint around the club with the acquisition of several properties on Washington Road, not to mention the shifting of Berckmans Road.
However, at last year's Masters, a lot of discussion was had about changing the par-5 13th hole.
Augusta National and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne said at his annual news conference that the iconic par-5 hole, the site of so many dramatic moments in Masters history, is one of several holes that are being studied.
“We create plans looking into the future, when we believe that the shot value of certain second shots, principally, has been impacted by how far the ball is now traveling,” Payne said at the time. “As a consequence, 13 is one of those holes we are studying. We have made no decision whatsoever.”
The 13th was designed by course architects Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie to be a risk-reward hole that afforded those who wanted to gamble on the dogleg par-5 hole a chance for eagle or an easy birdie if the player reached the green in two.
“Whatever position may be reached with the tee shot, the second shot as well entails a momentous decision whether or not to try for the green,” Jones wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1959. “Several tournaments have been won or lost here, even though the decision may not have been obvious at the time.”
The 13th began as a 480-yard hole when the Masters was first played in 1934 and fluctuated between 470 and 485 yards through the 2001 Masters.
In 2001, Augusta National bought land from neighboring Augusta Country Club and pushed the tee back 25 yards at the 13th. That was part of the club’s first major expansion project that saw changes to nine holes and added 285 yards to the course’s length.
The hole known as Azalea now plays 510 yards, but players routinely hit mid-irons into the green for their second shot. Bubba Watson hit over the trees and was left with a 140-yard shot to the green in the final round in 2014.
Payne was asked whether the Masters would implement restrictions on golf balls and equipment for the tournament, but he said that was “not something we would want to do.”
“And as it relates specifically to 13, which seems to be the subject du jour, we think there are multiple options where we could increase the difficulty of the hole and restore the shot values, only one of which deals with extending the length,” he said.
Six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus said last year that there were several options the club could pursue to change No 13. It could buy land from Augusta Country Club again, make it a par-4, move the green back 30 yards or reroute the tributary of Rae’s Creek and put more trees in.
“I’m sure that from a traditionalist standpoint, the best way is probably to lengthen the hole, and then you don’t change anything else,” Nicklaus said. “They have done that once, bought some land from Augusta Country Club and did that.”
Nicklaus said the real issue is dialing back the distance on the ball:
“The golf ball goes so far, Augusta National is about the only place, the only golf course in the world, that financially can afford to make the changes that they have to make to keep up with the golf ball. I don’t think anybody else could ever do it.”
No course changes have been announced for the 2017 Masters, but stay tuned during tournament week.