How the Old Course Inspired Augusta National

When Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie designed Augusta National, they took much of their inspiration from the Old Course. Can you see the connection?

Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, the original architects of Augusta National, had something else in common: The course they admired the most in the world was the Old Course at St. Andrews, primarily for its many strategic options.

MacKenzie was enamored with the variety and flexibility embedded in the Old Course at St. Andrews, stating, “I doubt if even in a hundred years’ time a course will be made which has such interesting strategic problems and which creates such enduring and increasing pleasurable excitement and varied shots…St. Andrews is a standing example of the possibility of making a course which is pleasurable to all classes of golfers, not only to the thirty handicap players but to the plus fourteen man, if there ever was or will be such a person.”

Old Course
Old Course, 12th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Jones and MacKenzie freely acknowledged installing these same virtues and shot values into Augusta National with fully one-third of its holes tracing their lineage to the Old Course. Some of those links were tenuous at best; with others the connection remains airtight.

We enlisted architect Bill Bergin to assess the strength and legitimacy of those connections. Perhaps best known in design circles for the Highlands Course at Georgia’s McLemore Club, a co-design with Rees Jones, Bergin also excelled as a competitive golfer. He tied for 14th in the 1984 Open Championship at St. Andrews, thanks to a tournament- best 66 in round three. And as a proud Georgian, he has trekked around Augusta National on nearly 20 occasions. Bergin downloaded St. Andrews and Augusta National from Google Earth and popped them into AutoCAD to evaluate how the holes in question compare.

OLD COURSE: HOLE l2
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: HOLE 3

Augusta
Augusta National, 3rd hole (photo by Getty Images)

MacKenzie stated of the par-four 3rd hole that “this green is situated on an interesting natural plateau,” which Jones compared to “that perilous little plateau on the 12th at St. Andrews.” MacKenzie added that “The left side of the green is very narrow, whereas the right side is broad. It is easy for anyone to reach the wide portion of the green with their second shot but difficult to reach the narrow end where the pin will usually be placed.”

Bergin’s take: “This is the best comparison of all. On both holes you can hit a variety of clubs from the tee, from laying up to have a full shot in to being aggressive and trying to drive either near or on the green. Both holes require perfect distance control from whatever yardage you’ve chosen for the approach shot. At St. Andrews, you can bounce a shot in and at Augusta you can’t. There’s the difference—but the margin for error between a really well played shot on either of those holes to one that all of a sudden brings bogey into play is very fine.”

OLD COURSE: HOLE ll
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: HOLE 4

Of Augusta’s par-three 4th, MacKenzie noted, “This is a very similar hole to the famous Eleventh (Eden) at St. Andrews.”

old course
Old Course, 11th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Bergin’s take: “When they first built Augusta’s version of Eden (190 yards), it was a similar length to the one at St. Andrews (172 yards). The elevation was similar as well. Over the years, Augusta backed the tee up the hill, which makes it a completely different hole. And, obviously, the bunkers have evolved into a much bigger presence at Augusta. I don’t feel like they play similarly today, but I can see the inspiration that MacKenzie had there.”

OLD COURSE: HOLE l7
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: HOLE 5

Referencing Augusta National’s par-four 5th, MacKenzie wrote, “This will be a similar type of hole to the famous Seventeenth, the Road Hole at St. Andrews. A group of trees forms a corner of the dogleg instead of the station master’s garden and the green itself will be situated on a similar plateau to its prototype.”

Bergin’s take: “I think that comparison is an enormous stretch. Perhaps things were different years ago. At Augusta’s 5th, it’s actually better to play down the right side, away from the trouble. At the Road Hole, it’s a clear advantage to take an aggressive line from the tee and cut the corner, and a clear disadvantage to play safe to the left. Plus, at the Road Hole, the Road Bunker is omnipresent from no matter where you are. It’s an enormous factor. Augusta’s 5th doesn’t have that.”

augusta
Augusta National, 4th hole (photo by Getty Images)

OLD COURSE: HOLE l8
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: HOLE 7

MacKenzie stated that the par-four 7th hole at Augusta National “is similar to the Eighteenth Hole at St. Andrews, Scotland. There is a deep hollow at the front of the green which is necessary to attack at the correct angle for par figures to be obtained. At this hole, it will also be desirable to play a run-up shot, as it will be exceedingly difficult to retain a pitch in the usual position of the flag.” (Note: The original version of Augusta’s 7th asked for a running shot into the green. Drivable by some Masters competitors, Jones declared the hole too easy, with a green that didn’t conform to their original intent. In 1938, the club instructed Perry Maxwell to create a new putting surface further up the slope, with three bunkers added in front where none had existed before.) 

Bergin’s take: “It’s a pretty big stretch to imagine whatever might have linked these two holes originally. I understand that the first version of Augusta’s 7th called for a run-up, like the home hole at St. Andrews, but it sounded like Augusta’s greenside contours weren’t in the same league. With a perched-up green, fronting bunkers, and length that’s turned the hole from short to long, I can’t find any connection with today’s 7th hole to St. Andrews’s 18th.”

old course
Old Course, 18th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

OLD COURSE: HOLE 6
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: HOLE l4

Of Augusta National’s par-four 14th hole, MacKenzie stated, “This hole embodies some of the features of the sixth hole at St. Andrews, Scotland. A long drive skirting or played over a bunker on the right will give a visible shot to the green. From the left the green is semi-blind and moreover a run-up approach will be required over a succession of hillocks and hollows.” (Note: The large fairway bunker on the right side was eliminated entirely at Augusta in the early 1950s.)

Bergin’s take: “I really enjoyed the 6th hole at that 1984 Open. You usually would hit your tee shot and leave 150 yards in. Back then, we carried only one sand wedge, typically 56 degrees. From 150 yards, you’d hit that sand wedge at 6 and fly it 80, 90 yards—it didn’t even matter. Then you would watch and you would be going, ‘get up, get up, get up!’ Then it would go through the valley and up the rise and you’re like, ‘get down, get down, get down!’ It was such a fun hole to play because it was a planned shot, but luck was a big part of it. Augusta’s current 14 obviously doesn’t play a lot like its 1930s version, but that big slope in front of the bunkerless green still has an effect on a ball, whether on a punch-out from the right trees or on a pitch shot, so it remains kind of a cool comparison to St. Andrews’s 6th.”

augusta
Augusta National, 7th hole (photo by Getty Images)

OLD COURSE: HOLE l4
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: HOLE l7

Referring to Augusta National’s par-four 17th, MacKenzie said, “The construction of this green is somewhat similar to the famous fourteenth at St. Andrews (reversed). It will be necessary to attack the green from the right and it will be essential to play a run-up shot if par figures are desired. We hope to make the turf of such character that an indifferent pitch will not stop on the green. Until players have learned to play the desired shot this will undoubtedly be one of the most fiercely criticized holes.” (Note: By 1938, the predicted criticism necessitated changing the green complex. Maxwell reworked the green and added three fronting bunkers, including one front-right, that now blocked the path that MacKenzie and Jones had intended to be the optimal approach.)

Bergin’s take: “I think it’s a leap to compare the two—especially on the ‘reversed’ part. Maybe when Augusta opened there was more to it, with one side of the green sloping away from the player and the requirement or preference to play a running shot, but not so today. St. Andrews’s 14th has those hollows front-right of the green. It rises up and then falls away sharply. While it’s true that both holes require distance control on the approach, if you’re on the short grass, there’s probably never a time you can’t get at the flag at 17 at Augusta just because of the nature of the (aerial) game that we play here. But there are times you can’t get anywhere near the flag on the 14th at St. Andrews.”

Thank you for supporting our journalism. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the Spring 2024 issue of LINKS Magazine. Click here for more information.

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