What would you score at Augusta National? Technical Editor Joel Tadman played the US Masters course in 2012 and explains the various nuances that make scoring at Augusta National so difficult
What would you score at Augusta National?
It’s the one question every golfer asks themselves but very few get the chance to find out what they would actually score around Augusta National home of the US Masters.
There are only a very few difficult ways to get to play the course, one of which is through the attending media ballot, which takes place on the Friday and gives a lucky selection (you’ve got about a one in seven chance) the opportunity to play at a randomly allocated time on the Monday, the day after the tournament finishes.
I was fortunate enough to be drawn out in 2012, my first and only Masters – the year Bubba Watson won his first Green Jacket. I had no clubs with me, and neither Augusta National nor the neighbouring Augusta Country Club offer a rental service. Cue a frantic and aimless drive early on the Monday morning trying to find a golf shop. Having eventually found one, I was forced to buy a near-full set of clubs on credit card – not an insignificant outgoing – before getting some of my money back on their return.
So I arrived for my tee time with 11 questionable clubs. This isn’t an excuse, but it was certainly a factor. The grips were worn and I didn’t have a hybrid, which would have been more than useful hitting into the par fives. The drive down Magnolia Lane was truly was a spine-tingling experience that set the pulse racing from which is barely recovered six hours later.
The weather was hot and humid, the pins were in their Sunday positions and the greens were running firm and fast. My local caddie, Ed, put my nerves somewhat at ease on the range but by the time I arrived on the first tee they were borderline uncontrollable.
Which is why I get annoyed when decent golfers say to me “I could break 80 around Augusta”. You probably could, but given the chance to play there you almost certainly won’t, because you cannot appreciate the nerves you will feel on all the iconic holes (basically every hole) and they will inevitably get the better of you. All the way round I was constantly affected by the question I knew people would ask me on my return. “What did you do on the 12th?” Sure enough, I hit the ground two inches behind the ball on the 12th tee, dumped it in the water and made six.
Driving accuracy is an underrated quality required to score well around Augusta. There’s very little rough between the fairway and pine straw and if you find the latter, you’ll almost certainly be blocked out by trees or overhanging branches. The 7th hole is one of the narrowest drives you’ll face and many holes, like 10, 14 and 17 require a draw to find them – a shot many amateurs don’t have in their locker.
Course length was admittedly less of a factor. I was playing off the members tees, which on many holes were up to 60 yards in front of the pro tees, like on the 4th and 11th, but on holes like the 5th and 3rd they were very similar. I would say on average each hole played around 30 yards shorter.
The greens, of course, are extremely treacherous, which not only makes them difficult to putt on but also very tricky to chip on to. Miss the green on the wrong side and you have basically no chance of chipping it close, and you have to be so precise with your contact on those delicate wedge shots from the tight lies. Factor in the aforementioned nerves and it’s just another reason why good scoring is hard. Really hard.
When I played Augusta National I had a handicap of 4, so was confident I could get it round. Hit good shots, and you’ll be rewarded with good results, and I made four birdies (and just one par) which demonstrates that. But the margin for error is so tiny compared to courses we’re accustomed to in the UK, you can look like making a birdie and walk off with a bogey in the blink of an eye.
I hit a great drive on 11, but because the tees were so far forward it went over the fairway and into some bushes I didn’t know were there and ended up making 7. A bad break, but my caddie did warn me about this before I hit.
On the 13th I hit a career 3-iron for my second shot straight at the pin (I pushed it by five yards) it hung on the top of the bank for a couple of seconds before trickling back into Rae’s Creek. Fine margins indeed.
I ended up shooting 87. That’s 15-over par, so a nett 83. It doesn’t sound great, but I was fairly content – especially since I walked off having compiled four birdies, evenly split between the two nines. But with a medal card in your hand, disastrous doubles or worse are too easy to make.
For the average golfer, they would be commonplace. Putting off the green would be a frequent occurrence, as would duffed iron shots because the fairways are mown back towards the tee. Errant drives are punished more than you think and most club golfers don’t spin the ball enough on short game shots, or have the confidence to play high shots from tight lies, to recover from a missed green.
I would predict that single-figure players would shoot between 80-88 while mid handicappers would do well to break 90. Anyone with a handicap of 18 or more should be ecstatic to break 100.