As long ago as 1937, only four years after Bobby Jones had laid out (with Alister Mackenzie) this best of all ryegrass winter courses and originated the Masters Tournament, the 12th was a decisive hole. It was in that early Masters that Ralph Guldahl, nursing a four-stroke lead the final day, played the 12th and 13th holes in 5 and 6 while Byron Nelson, behind him, went 2 and 3 (birdie, eagle) to win. More recently, Sam Snead won the 1952 Masters after chipping in for a round-saving bogey 4 at the 12th. But Arnold Palmer, the tournament's only four-time champion, has provided more last-day Masters drama at Amen Corner than anyone. He helped himself win in 1958 when he parred 12 after being allowed a free drop from an imbedded lie, and in 1962 he birdied the hole and went on to take a playoff. This helped make up for 1959, when he lost a two-stroke lead and a Masters on 12 by underclubbing and ending up with a triple-bogey 6.
Superficially, the hole is gorgeous and alluring as it sits at the foot of an azalea-and-pine-covered hill across the water, but it is actually a blithe spirit, full of devilry. You must clear the creek, which cuts almost to the putting surface, but you must not clear it by much, for there is no room. The embankment behind the green is steep, the rough is matted and there are two bunkers. A chip or explosion shot from this area, if not executed delicately, will roll across the green—and into the creek. The possibility of such a complete disaster makes the pros think twice about being bold with their recovery shots. This understandable caution makes it difficult to salvage a par.
There are two memorials at the 12th hole that commemorate brilliant play in the Masters. A bridge leading to the green is a tribute to Ben Hogan's 72-hole record of 274. A stone walkway, spanning Rae's Creek and leading to the 13th fairway, honors Byron Nelson's charge in 1937. With precisely the right club and enough fear, the golfer on the 12th tee can put his shot between these two bridges—and into the center of Rae's Creek. My five-iron, held up by a mysterious gust of wind, did exactly that. One of the reasons Bobby Jones particularly likes the 12th is because of the pitch shot that must be made from the drop area, which is still back of the creek. "It can be terrifying, indeed," Jones says. Jones is right. Unnerved, I hit a pitch that just cleared the water. From the 30 feet that were left to the cup, I three-putted. They can make a memorial to my triple bogey if they want, but it will have to be underwater. Amen.
13 THE DUNES
It is agreed among knowledgeable golfers along the Atlantic Coast that if a man plays the 13th hole at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. often enough he will eventually 1) lose every ball he owns and 2) perish by alligator bite. Farfetched as these probabilities may seem, they are not as farfetched as the 13th hole itself, a long, horseshoe-shaped par-5 that loops around a giant hazard named Singleton Lake. The hole, like the 15-year-old Myrtle Beach course, is the product of the sometimes fiendish mind of Robert Trent Jones, and in this case the esteemed golf architect outdid himself.
Your first impression, as you look to the right across the Superior-sized lake to the green and are then told to tee off in the opposite direction toward nothing in particular, is that here, here in relatively obscure Myrtle Beach, the sport of golf has at last arrived at its ludicrous ultimate. The tee shot, quite aside from going away from the hole, is impossible, for it must be long, accurate and daring, carrying past a row of pines and about 240 yards to the lake's edge. Fade it, and it is in the water. Hook it, and you are still 500 yards from the green. But the second shot is more absurd. It requires a full carry across the water with a three-wood. Nothing less will suffice. Now, assuming you manage all this, you still have a mid-iron to a vast green that is sternly bunkered and has two distinct putting levels. Finally, if you are truly knowledgeable about this hole, you are aware that at least six alligators reside in nearby Singleton Swash. They frequently come out to sunbathe in the fairway. Thus the hole is not only tough to play, it can be tough to walk.
Despite the hazards of the 13th at The Dunes, it is both a pretty and intriguing hole. Making a half circle from the tee to the green on the player's left are the pine, holly and scrub oaks that are moody features of this long, windswept par-72 course. The club itself is easygoing and informal. It was built by Myrtle Beach property owners (12 motels have golf privileges) to attract tourists to their ocean resort. But any relaxation that Myrtle Beach allows you on its sandy strands it seizes back on its golf course, especially on its 13th hole.
The first two shots on the 13th are clear gambles. You must drive close to the brink of the lake with the first shot to shorten the distance across the water on the second. If you do so, you can chew off as much of the hazard as you feel brave enough to risk. A good shot across the wide part of the lake leaves a seven- or eight-iron to the green. A safe shot leaves a two- or three-iron. When the U.S. Women's Open was played at The Dunes in 1962, Ruth Jessen took one look at the 13th and said, "It's a par-6." Mickey Wright said, "It's a great hole—if you don't get greedy." Then Mickey got greedy, and her misadventures at 13, including a double bogey, were one reason she finished fourth instead of her usual first. Only Mike Souchak has ever reached the green in two. Pro Jimmy D'Angelo, who has been at The Dunes since it was built, likes to recall with relish the day two British Ryder Cup players, Harry Weetman and Max Faulkner, emptied out the balls in their bags and stood swinging for an hour trying to get to the green in two. Neither did, and Singleton Lake fairly gurgled over with shiny British golf balls.
The lake seemed to be still gurgling as I drove perfectly—if breathtakingly—to its very edge. I caught a brassie just right to carry well over the water and into the fairway, only a seven-iron from the green. But I guess I celebrated these feats too long, for I shanked the approach 15 yards to the right of the green. A mediocre pitch rolled past the pin by 12 feet. However, the putt slid in for a par 5. Nothing to it. I just kept telling myself that a 5 was really a birdie and that alligators are things you make golf shoes out of.
14 CHERRY HILLS