The ongoing battle between golf technology and course maintenance has taken an all-too-predictable twist.
As reported by incomparable Masters reporter Scott Michaux in the Augusta Chronicle, "Amen Corner is getting a little bigger".
The newspaper has today reported that Masters host Augusta National Golf Club has come to terms with its neighbour the Augusta Country Club to buy their hole that sits effectively "behind the fence" from the famous 12th green and 13th tee.
After lengthy negotiations, yet to be confirmed by Augusta National officials, the club will have the capacity to expand its 13th hole back up to 55m in order to restate the "shot values" once critical to the legendary par five that turns around the tributary to Rae's Creek.
No financial transactions have been made public, but in a letter to the Augusta Country Club membership, president Jay Forrester confirmed the deal would be a windfall for his club's members.
“Be assured this transaction will improve our golf course and will put Augusta Country Club in an even greater financial position for many years to come,” Forrester said in the letter.
Augusta National will also cover construction costs for its neighbour on any renovations caused, including at least one new hole.
The sale includes the land on the Augusta National side of Rae’s Creek where Augusta Country Club’s current par-5 eighth green is situated, as well as the stretch situated high above Augusta National’s border where the current par-4 ninth hole is located, Michaux wrote.
He said carts and golfers playing the ninth hole were sometimes visible to patrons in Amen Corner through the trees during the Masters.
Augusta National’s plans for the 13th hole haven’t been disclosed.
Once one of golf’s greatest risk-reward par-fives has been diminished greatly by a combination of technology and player strength that has made the 463m dog-leg play short enough for players to routinely hit mid-irons into the green off the banked fairway.
As Michaux reported, ANGC chairman Billy Payne addressed the speculation about lengthening the 13th hole when rumours of the land sale circulated in 2016.
“As we do every year, and historically forever, we are always looking at options for numerous of our holes,” Payne said before the 2016 Masters. “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. As a consequence, 13 is one of those holes we are studying.”
The 13th hole, known as Azalea, has been lengthened three times. Five and seven metres were added to the back of the tee in 1974 and 1975, then 23 additional metres were added in 2002 after ANGC made a land exchange with Augusta Country Club.
If the tee was moved back 50 metres, it is hoped it would again require a powerful drive to get far enough around the corner to invite taking on the green in two, but leave players in two minds.
“We think there are multiple options where we could increase the difficulty of the hole and restore the shot values,” Payne said in 2016. “So we are in the middle of all of those studies, a lot of arithmetic, lot of design issues.”
Michaux said Augusta National’s plans "may have accelerated after the ice storm in 2014 destroyed some of the towering mature pines that protect the azalea-covered left flank of the hole".
He wrote that acquiring the land also gave Augusta National a wider cushion around the famous 12th green to possibly clear more trees to allow better sunlight and air circulation.