Possible changes coming to 5th hole at Augusta National
By John Boyette
Big changes could be coming soon to Augusta National Golf Club's fifth hole, according to preliminary site plans filed Jan. 30 with the Augusta Planning and Development Department.
The tee box for Masters Tournament play on the 455-yard, par-4 hole could be pushed back an estimated 20-30 yards across Old Berckmans Road. The new tee would alleviate congestion at the fourth green and current fifth tee, which are just a few yards apart.
Old Berckmans Road has been closed to through traffic since 2015, but the plans call for the road to curve around the area that will be used as a tee box.
An Augusta National spokesman said Friday that no definitive plans have been announced for any work on the fifth hole and that the site plans were filed so the club could explore its options.
According to the preliminary plans, filed by Augusta firm Cranston Engineering Group P.C., a total of 23.1 acres would be affected. The approximate start date would be May 1, which comes after this year's Masters, and the approximate end date is Nov. 1. Masters Week begins April 2 this year, with tournament play April 5-8.
Work is also scheduled to begin this spring at neighboring Augusta Country Club with changes to its eighth and ninth holes, the two holes affected when Augusta National purchased land from the country club last year. Work at the Augusta Country Club, according to plans filed Feb. 9, is expected to begin in May and end by November.
Augusta National's fifth hole has long been considered a prime target for renovations. Former club and tournament chairman Billy Payne addressed the issue at last year's Masters, noting that the club now controlled the former western border where Nos. 4 and 5 meet.
"It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand or re-design ... not re-design, but lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review."
Fred Ridley, who took over as chairman last summer, is expected to address course changes early in his tenure. He is a former U.S. Amateur champion who played in three Masters,
"That is something I do know a little bit about," Ridley told The Augusta Chronicle in October. "The process is we take a hard look at the golf course every year.
"Old Berckmans Road certainly gives us some opportunities and options, and we are looking at those" Ridley said in the fall.
The plans on file don't indicate any changes to the fairway bunkers or the green, which is considered one of the more challenging putting surfaces at Augusta National.
If the club elects to change No. 5, it would be the first major change to the course in more than a decade that wasn't caused by Mother Nature. In 2014, an ice storm damaged the Eisenhower Tree and the large pine was removed from the 17th hole. Prior to that, Augusta National lengthened six holes in 2006.
Those changes, along with the revamping of nine holes in 2002, were ordered by former chairman Hootie Johnson to combat gains in distance made by golf ball and club manufacturers.
Augusta National sought to restore shot values by making players use longer clubs for their approach to holes and have them play as they did when course designers Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones laid out the course in the early 1930s.
Ridley said that Jones "believed that strategy and skill were equal components in how the golf course should be played."
In recent years the approach shot to the fifth green has been nothing more than a short iron for the game's top players. In 2016, Danny Willett hit an 8-iron from 157 yards out from a fairway bunker. Jordan Spieth used 3-wood off the tee in 2015 and had a 7-iron left for his shot to the green.
Russell Henley made eagle on No. 5 in the final round last year. He used a 7-iron.
"What I think we should do, and what we have done over the years, is to go back to that philosophy and think about what do we need to do to make sure that we are true to the principles that Jones and MacKenzie established at the beginning," Ridley said.
The fifth hole currently plays as an uphill, dogleg left hole. Historically, the hole known as "Magnolia" plays as the fifth toughest hole in Masters history.
The hole was revamped in 2003 by moving the tees back 20 yards and extending the two fairway bunkers by 80 yards to put them in play. The hole now takes a 315-yard drive to carry the left-side bunkers, meaning most golfers could no longer shorten the hole by playing to the left.
Cranston Engineering Group also developed the site plans for the Augusta Country Club project. A total of 19.7 acres would be affected.
Last summer, Augusta National acquired land from Augusta Country Club near Rae's Creek at the section of holes Nos. 11, 12 and 13 known as Amen Corner.
Augusta Country Club's eighth green is currently located across Rae's Creek and backs up to Augusta National property bordering the 11th fairway. Augusta Country Club's ninth hole runs parallel to Augusta National's 11th green, 12th green and 13th tee.
According to the plans, the new ninth hole at Augusta Country Club would become a dogleg right hole and two tee boxes for the hole would be located across Rae's Creek. The new ninth hole would play 440 yards from the back tee and would feature three fairway bunkers at the bend of the fairway and two greenside bunkers.
Plans also show a new green complex for the eighth hole, which will be shifted to the right of its present location and be located closer to Rae's Creek. The par-5 eighth hole will measure 599 yards from the back tees.
Brian Silva, a veteran course restoration expert who handled Augusta Country Club's renovations in 2001, designed the plans for the two holes.
According to a previous report in The Augusta Chronicle, Augusta Country Club president Jay B. Forrester sent a letter to the membership dated Aug. 4, 2017.
"The Board of Governors is pleased to confirm that we have reached an agreement with our friends and neighbors at Augusta National Golf Club for its purchase of property at our northwest boundary," Forrester wrote.
No purchase price was disclosed, but both private clubs said that Augusta National would pay for the construction costs for work done on the Donald Ross-designed layout.
No work to the Amen Corner holes is indicated on the plans on file. The 13th hole is a 510-yard par-5 that is one of the most iconic holes in golf but consistently ranks as one of the easiest holes on the course. With the newly acquired land, Augusta National could stretch the tee back as it did in 2002 after a previous land deal with Augusta Country Club.
Augusta National also will have more access for maintenance and tournament infrastructure along its perimeter at that part of the course.
While the work at Augusta National will be completed while the course is traditionally closed during the summer, Augusta Country Club is open year-round. Its course is expected to be closed from mid-May until November.
The Georgia Department of Transportation completed a $16.7 million overhaul of Berckmans Road before the 2016 Masters. The new segment of Berckmans Road begins near the edge of Augusta National and curves westward through the golf club's property used as parking lots during the tournament. The new Berckmans Road aligns with Alexander Drive at Washington Road.
The project's timetable was pushed up when Augusta National agreed to front the city money. The city is repaying the club as collections from the 1-cent sales tax for transportation projects come in.
This article is written by John Boyette from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.