It is a belief among those who attend the Masters regularly that if you were to assemble all of the people you know who have ever actually seen the 5th hole of the Augusta National course, you could stick them into a single azalea patch and still have enough room left for Arnold Palmer to take a slash at the ball. The 5th hole at Augusta is way out there somewhere, out and up and back, crawling silently along, a shadow on the map that might just as well indicate a manganese mine in the Ukraine or a gorilla sanctuary in Uganda. Hidden away, uncelebrated, almost mysterious, the 5th hole epitomizes something more—the forgotten front nine. Although these luxuriant 3,485 yards are part of the most celebrated golf layout in America, they have gained about as much glory through the years as all those shots Gene Sarazen hit that weren't double eagles. If Augusta's front nine ever ran for public office, it would be a county clerk. If the front nine ever got into big government, it would be an assistant administrator in the thrill-a-minute Office of Minerals and Solid Fuels.
The problem with most front nines in golf, imagewise, is that there always is a back nine. A round concludes on the back, and most professional tournaments of 72 holes reserve their drama for the final moments. Invariably, there is the winner, hurling his visor into the air on the 18th green—or simply nodding like Charles Coody—and, meanwhile, there goes the front nine, trotting back to the sideline in obscurity, like the man who holds the football for the winning field goal.
In the case of Augusta National, a number of things have helped detract from the front nine's scenic and heroic qualities. For one, it started as the back nine, which is a historical fact ranking right up there with Charles G. Dawes being the 30th Vice-President of the U.S. The first Masters, held in 1934, was played with the present course reversed—today's front nine was the back. As first designed by Bob Jones and Alister MacKenzie, the original back nine appeared to have the more spectacular terrain. But in 1935 they switched the nines around in an experiment. What immediately occurred, of course, was Sarazen's double eagle at the 15th hole. Who could change back after that?
As the years went by, refinements to the course seemed always to enhance the back side more than the front, and other memorable events kept occurring there. More water was added until there were no fewer than five water holes on the back nine, compared to none on the front.
Eventually, Augusta's back nine had more beauty, more drama, more water, a couple of par-5s (the 13th and 15th) that offered exciting gambles, Rae's Creek, Amen Corner, Byron Nelson's streak, a few Arnold Palmer charges—and television. All the while, perversely, almost everything sensational that happened on the front nine happened to somebody who would lose the Masters.
And so today all the front nine has going for it is the little-noted fact that it is, on several counts, the more difficult of the two nines. (Ten of the last 15 Masters champions have scored higher on the front nine than on the back.) The pros know all about this; they play the front nine to survive, and on the back they go for broke.
Consider now, Augusta's forgotten holes, one by one:
NO. 1, 400 YARDS, PAR 4
The tee is situated just below the clubhouse veranda and the practice putting green. The drive must carry a deep valley and come to rest to the left of a deep bunker on a plateau, setting up a pitch shot to a rolling green. It is a splendid starting hole and there have been some splendid starts.
None was more spectacular than that of Roberto De Vicenzo in 1968. On the first hole of the final round he lofted a nine-iron into the cup for an eagle 2 and then birdied the next two holes. Four under through three. But all this is obscure history because of a simple signature—his, which he put on a scorecard that was in error, a slip that cost him a tie for the title.