Augusta National Golf Club may be one of the most exclusive tracks in the country, but for one week each year, it opens its doors and allows the world in for The Masters, the year's first major. Unlike the other three majors, The Masters does not rotate locations each year, creating a familiarity, despite Augusta National's exclusivity. Viewers know exactly what they'll get on the first weekend of April, adding to the allure of the event.
For four days, plus a few practice rounds, Augusta National is in the spotlight, before retreating to anonymity, closed to all but a few until the next year. It all adds up to the allure of Augusta and the anticipation leading up to The Masters each year -- a combination of high-stakes golf and spectacular scenery.
Since it has been a year, this week provides an opportunity to get reacquainted with Augusta National, and what makes the home of The Masters so special.
Named for the hang-on and pray nature of this stretch of Augusta National, Amen Corner always ends up being a factor in The Masters. Though the 11th, 12th and 13th holes are typically all lumped into Amen Corner, the actual stretch consists of an even more focused sequence of shots. The true Amen Corner is the approach on No. 11, hole No. 12 and the tee shot No. 13.
The par-three 12th, playing just over 150 yards, is the centerpiece of Amen Corner and is a stadium-like gathering spot for the patrons. Swirling winds make club selection a confusing venture, and caddies can often be heard mumbling to the golf gods as balls are in the air before exhaling as the shot lands on solid ground -- if a player is so lucky.
Paired with Amen Corner, Rae's Creek is part of the reason the three-hole stretch is so tricky. The creek runs behind No. 11, in front of No. 12 and down the left side of No. 13, as well as in front of the green on the par five. The Hogan and Nelson bridges, iconic features near the 12th green, serve as passages over Rae's Creek.
The water isn't just for show, though, and Rae's Creek can make or break one's chances of obtaining a green jacket. A stray shot into No. 11, the wrong club on No. 12 or a hook on No. 13 can cripple a player's chances of finishing atop the leaderboard. Skillful navigation and, perhaps, a string of pars may vault a player from the fringes of contention to a green jacket on Sunday afternoon.
When a former president has a tree named after him, one would assume it's a tribute. And in a way, Eisenhower's tree is a tribute to former president Dwight Eisenhower -- a tribute to how many times he hit the tree with tee shots. Eisenhower became so frustrated with the tree, he petitioned to have it removed from the course. Even the president didn't have enough pull to get rid of the annoyance, and it still stands tall to this day.
Situated along No. 17, tee shots play over the behemoth, which sits 210 yards out.
Not technically part of the course, but one of the iconic features of the Augusta National grounds. The straight and narrow road, stretching roughly the length of three football fields, runs from the front gate at Augusta National to the clubhouse. The road leading to the famed course is lined with old, tall magnolia trees, creating a sight players rave about. The drive in brings back fond memories for Masters champions and inspires awe for first-time competitors.
Historically, the 10th hole has been the toughest at Augusta National, with the tee shot playing into a dogleg left and a large elevation change. Players are thrown right into the fire on No. 1, a difficult hole with trouble left and right off the tee. Amen Corner lives up to its name, as well, boasting two of the toughest holes -- Nos. 11 and 12 -- on the course. The 11th has trouble right -- trees -- off the tee, a downhill approach shot, a pond to the left of the green and Rae's Creek running behind the hole. The 12th needs no introduction, with water in front of the green, bunkers surrounding it, and swirling winds that play mind tricks on players and caddies alike.
From the 2005 Masters, Tiger Woods does the improbable on No. 16
Larry Mize chips in on No. 11 in the 1987 Masters, denying Greg Norman a green jacket.
From the pine straw, Phil Mickelson lets it fly on No. 13.
Or, if we're in the exploring mood, how about Rory McIlroy finding buildings I didn't even know existed along the 10th hole.
Augusta National isn't just a background, a setting for the year's first major. It's not a golf course that'll be beat up and beaten down by the world's best golfers. The Masters is a test of skill, and Augusta National Golf Club will put the top golfers through their paces and then some, just like it always does.
And while the golfers will be the focus this week, Augusta National will be the quiet star of the show, before going back into hibernation for another year.