PHENOMENON OF THE FLAGS
Jack Nicklaus once called the 12th at Augusta National "the hardest hole in golf." Lloyd Mangrum settled on "the meanest." How merciless is the 12th? During the first round of the 1980 Masters it took Tom Weiskopf 13 strokes to navigate the 12th's 155 yards. (He rallied the next day with a 7.) In '72 Bobby Mitchell finished three strokes back of the champ, Nicklaus, after making a bogey and three doubles at 12.
What makes this exacting hole so maddening is the heretofore indecipherable winds. It's not uncommon for the flag on the adjacent 11th green to point east while the flag at the 12th blows in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the tree branches sway in various directions.
Over the years the ghostly winds have given rise to a host of theories. Ben Hogan once said, "Never hit until you feel the wind on your cheek." Hubert Green passes on this hypothesis: "When the dogwood tree to the right of the 13th tee stops moving, then there's no wind blowing over the 12th green."
In an effort to unlock the 12th hole's secrets, SI approached the University of Western Ontario, one of the world's leading research centers on boundary layer effects, the discipline of engineering that examines how wind interacts with the earth's surface. Using topographical information supplied by Augusta National, Western Ontario constructed a mini Amen Corner 10 feet in diameter. The researchers reproduced the prevailing April wind (from the south) and the typical velocity (median 7.5 mph). According to Western Ontario, this is the first time a golf course has been wind-tunnel-tested. After 68 years of superstition, you have before you the science of the 12th hole.
One wind, two directions
The 12th green sits at the lowest spot on the course, in a valley formed by two hills, one behind the green, the other behind the tee. The prevailing south wind splits as it blows over the hill behind the green, causing a shear that occurs about 65 yards from the tee. Some gusts are tunneled to the east, into the open space around the 11th green, stiffening the flag. Other gusts swirl to the west, into the amphitheater of pines around the 12th green. Thus, the flags at the 11th and the 12th—separated by only 400 feet—often fly in opposite directions.
THE 12th HOLE...
...THE SECRETS OF THE Wind
Augusta national is a one-of-a-kind golf course, but all it takes to reproduce it (albeit at a scale of 1 to 200) is high-density foam sculpted with drywall compound, more than 600 trees made of sponge and wire, an acrylic Rae's Creek (complete with tiny silicone waves) and, for good measure, foam golfers that are nearly as stiff as the real thing. In January the model was put to the test at the University of Western Ontario's Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory.
To marry the wind-tunnel technology to the specific demands of the 12th hole's tee shot, Maxfli supplied SI with trajectory information for an average Tour player's eight-iron. The shot's path was represented on the model by a fixed piece of copper tubing [5/16] of an inch in diameter. Meteorological data from 1949 through '99 (collected at Augusta Regional Airport, about 10 miles south of Augusta National) was then analyzed by computer to create a simulation of the typical April winds that blow through Amen Corner. Smoke was used to give these breezes visual paths. To illustrate the turbulence at higher elevations, a wire coated with oil was fixed upwind from the model. An electrical current was sent through the wire until the oil burned, producing yellowish smoke. To depict the wind's effects along the trajectory of the shot, 13 evenly spaced holes were drilled along the copper tubing. Inside, titanium tetrachloride was introduced, producing bright white smoke.