The 10 Toughest Greens at Augusta National

A better title for this article might be “The 18 Toughest Greens at Augusta National,” because the reality is that every putting surface on this storied course can give players fits. It all depends on where the hole is located and where a player is putting from. Long putts, short putts—it doesn’t matter. Twenty-footers can break 20 feet. Three-footers can break 16 inches. Just about every stroke that players in the Masters Tournament attempt with a flat stick can be fraught with peril. You have to get both the speed and the direction right on every putt.

Four-time major champion Ernie Els once six-putted a green at Augusta—from two feet. In fairness to the course, Ernie was having an off-day. But even the game’s best putters know that you need to be 100 percent on your game if you want to avoid three-putting (or worse) at Augusta, which annually ranks at or near the top of the list of courses where the game’s best players three-putt most.

It starts, of course, with the approach shot. Augusta National is not a course where you can just shoot for the middle of every green in an attempt to ensure yourself of easier two-putts. Again, depending on where the hole is located, the middle of the green may be the worst place to wind up. You might even be wise to miss some greens entirely rather than face a near-impossible first putt. For the sake of this story, though, we’re not going to go into which greens are the toughest to hit. (The par-three 12th would win that contest hands-down.) The focus here is on which greens are toughest to putt—and why.

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6th hole during the 2014 Masters Tournament (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Augusta National takes pains to make sure its greens play firm and fast for the Masters. Their speed becomes an even bigger issue when you factor in the slope of many of the greens. The old adage that you’re always better off staying below the hole with your approach shots is certainly true at Augusta. But it’s not just slope that players have to worry about. It’s also the undulations on some greens—and the difficulty of reading even short putts on others. If you go into your round believing that “everything breaks toward Rae’s Creek,” you’re going to be in for a long day.

Here are the 10 greens that I would say present the toughest tests for Masters competitors—each in its own special, knee-knocking way.

Hole 1: Tea Olive

The opening hole at Augusta National typically plays as one of its toughest—in part because of its green, which is elevated and features a false front. Any shot that doesn’t carry 20 feet onto the putting surface risks rolling back to the fairway. This has the effect of making a large green play smaller, as does the knob at the front-right of the green and the shoulder of the front-left bunker. The putting surface slopes from left to right and back to front, but it falls off at the back—and back-left especially. Within that putting surface are numerous subtle breaks that make even short putts treacherous (c.f. Els’s six-putt in the 2016 Masters).

Hole 3: Flowering Peach

The green is again elevated at this short par four, and it’s a much smaller and shallower putting surface than at the opening hole. Back hole locations play easiest; those situated in the front-left play hardest, since the green is just a narrow tongue there and putts will be traveling downhill and be very speedy. Any putt on this green is likely to break a lot, making even short putts difficult. Putting from below the hole is de rigeur here.

Hole 4: Flowering Crab Apple

The butterfly-shaped green at this long par three presents a number of challenges. Overall, it slopes steeply from front to back, so when the hole’s located in the narrow front section between the two green-adjacent bunkers, players will be faced with slick, downhill putts—assuming they’ve hit the green in regulation. The green is much wider in the back, but there’s a subtle rise that divides that part of the green which makes longer putts to any back-right or back-left hole location doubly difficult.

Hole 5: Magnolia

The green at the 5th hole gets my vote for most difficult of all. There are two steep ridges that collectively constitute a false front extending almost 15 paces into the green at the front, front-right, and front-left. The green slopes down from these ridges toward the center, from which point the tiered putting surface tilts down toward the back and back corners. You have to be very precise with your approach shot (or very lucky) to leave yourself an uphill putt to most hole locations on this green. Players will frequently face slippery, sidehill putts for par. Most players would be ecstatic to card four two-putt pars here.

Hole 6: Juniper

The hole location is everything at this downhill par three, which has a small plateau at the highest point of the green, its back-right. From there, the green slopes sharply toward the left-front corner of the putting surface. Front hole locations seldom present any issues, but when the hole is cut on that tabletop in the back, it can give players fits. Unless you can get your tee shot to stop on that shelf, you’ll have serious work to do. It’s difficult to gauge the right speed and distance on putts from down below, and if you’re above the hole, just breathing on the ball may be too much.

Hole 9: Carolina Cherry

This was the hole that kicked Greg Norman’s final round collapse in the 1996 Masters into high gear. Because the three-tiered green tilts so dramatically from back to front, it’s hard to leave yourself anything but a downhill (or downhill-sidehill) putt when the hole’s located in the front, as it usually is on Masters Sunday (and as it was on that fateful day in ’96). Back and middle hole locations are easier, but straight putts of any variety are hard to come by on this green. Your three-footer for par might break a foot or more. Good luck.

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9th hole during the third round of the 2012 Masters Tournament (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Hole 10: Camellia

The par-four 10th at Augusta National sweeps from right to left downhill, usually leaving players with a downhill-sidehill lie for their approach shots to a large green that also slopes from right to left (as well as back to front). There’s another false front here, which along with the general tilt of the green forces most players’ approaches to finish on the left side of the green. What makes this green more difficult, though, are the subtle breaks that appear in illusive waves in several places, which can make even short putts terrifying.

Hole 11: White Dogwood

Players will tell you that the second shot at this long par four is one of the most difficult on the golf course. The design of the green is also a big factor in how well they score here. It slopes from back to front, toward the pond at the front edge of the green, and falls away to each side at the back. Because so many players miss the green with their second shots on this hole, they’re usually faced with longer putts for par than they’d like—putts that are often downhill, sidehill, or both.

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11th hole during the first round of the 2018 Masters Tournament (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Hole 14: Chinese Fir

One of the larger greens on the course, this one gives tournament officials lots of choices for hole locations. The false front here could more rightly be called a wall, but it’s not one that should trouble major championship players. More troublesome is the way the green slopes from left to right and front to back, which conspires to make any putt a sliding affair. Putts from the back of the green will be lightning fast.

Hole 17: Nandina

The green at the par-four 17th hugs the two green-front bunkers and tilts from left to right and back to front. Like most greens at Augusta National, it challenges players to aim toward small targets if they want to leave themselves uphill putts to the usual tournament hole locations. Any approach shot left above the hole is going to leave a lightning-fast knee-knocker. Anything hit hole-high but off-line will yield the kind of sidewinding slider that no player wants to face, especially as the tournament winds to a close on Sunday afternoon.

What do you think is the toughest green at Augusta National?