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What’s In a Name: The Evolution of Amen Corner

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Amen Corner is the nickname given to the iconic trio of holes on Augusta National’s second nine—the 11th, 12th, and 13th. Over the years, they have captivated fans and players alike, serving as the stage for some of the most dramatic and pivotal moments in the sport’s history and embodying the phrase “the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.”

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In this post, we’ll examine this legendary stretch to learn its origins, history, and notable landmarks associated with the holes themselves. We’ll also walk through each hole and see how it has evolved over the years. Some great reading suggestions will help you take it further and get ready for this year’s Masters.

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What’s In a Name

The term “Amen Corner” can be traced back to the center of bible manufacturing in early 20th century New York City. Lower Manhattan became a popular spot for sidewalk preachers, with the frequent “Amen” shouts heard in the vicinity leading to it being known as “Amen Corner.” The name “Amen Corner” was first used in conjunction with Augusta National by Sports Illustrated writer Herbert Warren Wind in 1958, as he looked to describe the “miraculous” way that Arnold Palmer had played the stretch en route to his first Master’s victory.

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On the 12th hole, Palmer’s tee shot flew the green and plugged into the bank behind it. Due to heavy rain, the course was very wet and muddy. Palmer and the rules official were unsure if he was entitled to a free drop from the plugged lie, so Palmer played the muddy ball and took a double-bogey 5. He then dropped a second ball, playing a smart pitch that finished close to the hole and making the short putt for par.

The decision on which score would count was not immediate, so Palmer and his playing partner, Ken Venturi, proceeded to the 13th hole. Palmer hit a tremendous 3-wood approach shot to the back of the green and holed an 18-foot putt for an eagle 3.

Ultimately, the Masters committee ruled that under USGA rules, Palmer was entitled to the free drop at the 12th hole and a score of 3, not 5. This ruling was a key factor in Palmer’s one-stroke victory over Venturi. Wind later coined the term “Amen Corner” to describe the critical stretch, a test of a player’s skill, nerve, and resilience, often serving as the make-or-break point of the tournament.

Interestingly, Wind’s inspiration for the “Amen Corner” name came not from the religious connotations but rather from a 1930s jazz recording titled “Shouting in That Amen Corner” by Mildred Bailey and The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. Wind was reportedly aiming for a “colorful tag” similar to those used by his contemporaries, such as “the Four Horsemen” and “the Manassa Mauler.” Despite the term’s widespread use and iconic status, Wind was said to be “relentlessly embarrassed by his own acclaim” and the fact that this was the thing he was most known for.

Landmarks

The Amen Corner stretch is defined not just by the challenging trio of holes but also by several iconic landmarks that have become inextricably linked to the lore and history of the Masters.

the hogan bridge overlooking the 12th hole at the master augusta national amen corner augusta national

Perhaps the most famous of these landmarks is the Hogan Bridge, which spans Rae’s Creek to the left of the 12th green. This bridge was dedicated by Augusta National in 1958 to honor Ben Hogan’s then-record score of 274 at the 1953 Masters, documented in our post “Triple Crown: Revisiting Hogan’s Historic 1953 Season.” Hogan’s masterful performance that year, which included a birdie on the 12th hole, cemented his status as one of the game’s all-time greats and solidified the Hogan Bridge’s place in Masters lore.

Another significant landmark is the Nelson Bridge at the 13th tee, which crosses over Rae’s Creek. This bridge commemorates Byron Nelson’s dramatic charge during the 1937 Masters, when he recorded a birdie on the 12th hole, followed by an eagle on the 13th to secure the championship. The Nelson Bridge is a constant reminder of the breathtaking moments that have unfolded, inspiring new generations to strive for their legendary feats.

Of course, a discussion of Amen Corner’s landmarks would only be complete by mentioning Rae’s Creek. This winding waterway, which flows at the back of the 11th green and in front of the 12th green and 13th tee, is a defining feature of this iconic stretch of holes. The creek adds a layer of challenge and drama to the proceedings, as players must navigate its treacherous waters in pursuit of glory. The sight of Rae’s Creek has become synonymous with the Amen Corner experience, etching itself into the collective memory of golf fans worldwide.

Hole 11 – “White Dogwood”

The 11th hole, known as “White Dogwood,” is a stout 505-yard par-4 that has challenged the world’s best golfers since the Masters’ inception. With a tee shot that must navigate a fairway guarded by bunkers and a green that slopes dramatically from back to front, the 11th hole has been the site of many a tournament-defining moment.

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The challenges of the 11th hole begin off the tee, where players must find the fairway to reach the green in regulation. The fairway is narrow and flanked by bunkers, requiring precision and a well-struck drive to avoid trouble. Even a well-placed tee shot can leave a player with a challenging approach, as the green is heavily contoured and slopes significantly from back to front, making it difficult to hold the putting surface.

As the first hole in this legendary stretch, the 11th can set the tone for a player’s performance, with a poor result quickly derailing momentum, while a solid par or birdie can provide a much-needed confidence boost.

Over the years, the 11th hole has been the site of numerous dramatic moments at the Masters. From miraculous recoveries to heartbreaking collapses, this hole has played a pivotal role in shaping the tournament’s history. Its length, difficulty, and strategic importance have made it a true test of a player’s skill and mental fortitude, cementing its status as an integral part of the Amen Corner legend.

Hole 12 – “Golden Bell”

The shortest hole on the course, the 12th, dubbed “Golden Bell,” is a 155-yard par-3 that has been the source of triumph and heartbreak for countless Masters champions. The short distance belies the hole’s treacherous nature, with its small, well-guarded green and the ever-present threat of the wind swirling through Amen Corner.

augusta 12 golden bell amen corner augusta national

The 12th hole’s deceptive length and challenging green complex have made it a true test of a player’s nerve and precision. The green is surrounded by bunkers and guarded by Rae’s Creek along the front, creating a daunting target for even the most skilled golfers. The unpredictable wind often swirling through Amen Corner adds to the difficulty, putting a premium on club selection and shot execution.

As the middle hole of this legendary stretch, the 12th can often serve as the turning point of the tournament. A well-executed shot can set up a birdie opportunity and keep a player’s momentum. In contrast, a wayward tee shot can quickly lead to a disastrous result and derail a player’s chances of winning the Masters. Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly wrote, “More green jackets have been lost at the 12th than at the Augusta City Dry Cleaners,” just look at Jordan Spieth’s unfortunate quadruple-bogey 7 in 2016.

The 12th hole has been the site of some of the most dramatic and memorable moments in Masters history. From the heartbreaking collapses of players who have found the water hazard to the triumphant celebrations of those who have managed to navigate this treacherous challenge, “Golden Bell” has cemented its place as one of the most iconic and challenging holes in golf.

Hole 13 – “Azalea”

The 13th hole, known as “Azalea,” is a 510-yard dogleg-left par-5 that has been the scene of some of the most dramatic moments in Masters history. With its reachable green and the temptation of going for the green in two, the 13th hole has often proved to be the turning point of the tournament.

augusta 13 amen corner

The temptation to go for the green in two is often overwhelming, as a successful shot can set up a potential eagle or easy birdie. However, the risks associated with this approach are equally high, as the fairway is narrow and guarded by Rae’s Creek, which runs along the left side, and the green is well-protected by bunkers.

In “Anatomy of a Golf Course,” Tom Doak discusses how the hole’s design and contours force the player’s hand off the tee. The trouble encroaches on the ideal line in the form of Rae’s Creek and the namesake Azaleas, making a right-to-left tee shot the only way to successfully navigate the dogleg and set up a flat lie for the approach.

Players who opt to layup face their own challenges, as they must navigate a tricky second shot over the creek and into a heavily contoured green. The approach shot to the 13th green is often one of the most critical in a player’s round, as a well-executed shot can set up a birdie opportunity, while a poor one can lead to a costly bogey or worse.

Looking to make up shots at the two reachable par-5s on the back, the 13th and 15th can test a player’s nerve and decision-making skills. The 13th has been the site of numerous dramatic moments, from miraculous birdies and eagles to heartbreaking collapses, cementing its status as one of the most iconic and strategically important holes in golf.

Evolution of Amen Corner

Over the decades, the three holes that make up the iconic Amen Corner stretch have undergone a series of strategic modifications to maintain its challenge. These changes demonstrate Augusta National’s commitment to preserving the course’s legendary status and ensuring that the world’s best golfers are continually tested by its timeless design.

amen evolution

The 11th has seen significant changes in recent years. Before the 2022 Masters, the hole was lengthened by 15 yards, with the tee box moved back and to the left and the fairway re-contoured. Additionally, several trees were removed from the right side, further increasing the difficulty of this historically challenging par-4.

The famous 12th has remained largely unchanged, preserving its reputation as one of golf’s most treacherous short holes. Surrounded by Rae’s Creek and strategically placed bunkers, the hole’s importance in determining the tournament’s outcome has cemented its status as one of the most beloved short holes in the world.

The 13th has undergone the most dramatic transformation in recent years. Ahead of the 2023 Masters, the par-5 was lengthened from 510 yards to 545 yards, a 35-yard increase. This change was made to challenge the game’s longest hitters, who had previously been able to reach the green in two shots with relative ease. Augusta National also acquired additional land from the neighboring Augusta Country Club to create a new tee box and service road, further altering the dynamics of this iconic hole.

Further Reading – Books and AudioBooks

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The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America,
and the Story of Golf

by Mark Frost

Summary: “The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf” is a biography that tells the story of Bobby Jones and his incredible achievement of winning all four major tournaments in the same year, 1930. The book delves into Jones’ background, his introduction to golf at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, and his progress as a junior golfer. It also explores the challenges he faced in adapting his playing style and refining his attitude toward the game to win against the best players of his time consistently. The book provides insights into Jones’ personal life, relationships with fellow golfers, and impact on the sport. Frost’s storytelling captures the excitement of Jones’ historic accomplishment and his lasting legacy in golf.

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Shouting at Amen Corner
by Ron Green

Summary: Shouting at Amen Corner is a collection of the best of Ron Green’s columns and articles from his 45 years of covering the Masters for The Charlotte News and The Charlotte Observer. It’s a book about Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Faldo, and Woods; but it’s also about Norman, Weiskopf, Miller, and others who have come so close, only to see the Green Jacket slip away at the last moment.

This book is unique in that it recounts history as it was being made and offers a special intimacy and perspective. Not a behind-the-scenes expose about members, money, and power, but a story of golf’s greatest showcase event and the players who have created cherished memories over the last five decades.

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The Spirit of St Andrews
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: Alister MacKenzie was one of golf’s greatest architects.  He designed his courses so players of all skill levels could enjoy the game while creating fantastic challenges for the most experienced players.  MacKenzie’s courses, such as Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo, remain in the top 100 today.  

In his “lost” 1933 manuscript, published for the first time in 1995 and now finally available in paperback, MacKenzie leads you through the evolution of golf–from St. Andrews to the modern-day golf course–and shares his insight on great golf holes the swing, technology and equipment, putting tips, the USGA, the Royal & Ancient, and more.  With fascinating stories about Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and many others, The Spirit of St.  Andrews gives valuable lessons for all golfers and an intimate portrait of Alister MacKenzie, a true legend of the game.

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Golf Architecture
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: If you were ever in doubt as to what strategic design really means, why it is superior to other philosophies of golf architecture, what makes St. Andrews Old Course “infinitely superior to anything else,” or why the great sin in golf architecture is any feature that looks unnatural, you will find your answers here.

In reading Golf Architecture you will learn to judge the merits and demerits of any hole you play, knowledge that will add considerably to your enjoyment in playing old, familiar courses as well as new ones.
Alister MacKenzie was not the most prolific designer, or even close, but who can approach his achievement of having designed three courses that are consistently listed among the top ten golf courses in the world? Royal Melbourne in Australia, Cypress Point in California, and Augusta National in Georgia are among the brightest jewels in the golfing crown.

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The Masters: A Hole-by-Hole History of America’s Golf Classic
by David Sowell

Summary: Discover the secrets of Augusta National with “The Masters” audiobook by David Sowell. This comprehensive guide provides insights into each hole’s history, challenges, and iconic moments. Perfect for both seasoned fans and casual enthusiasts, gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the tournament with this audio tour.

So, the next time you’re watching the Masters on TV, you’ll have a newfound respect for what it takes to conquer Augusta. And who knows? The strategic insights might just help you tackle your local course a little more skillfully.

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Making the Masters
by David Barrett

Summary: Making the Masters by David Barrett provides the origin story of the Masters tournament, detailing how Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts conceived it in the 1930s and quickly established itself as one of golf’s most prestigious events. The book chronicles how Jones and Roberts built the tournament from the ground up despite tough economic times, highlighting key events, winners, and moments that shaped its legacy over the years.  Barrett’s comprehensive history shares little-known stories about the Masters and the many golfers who have defined its prestige as one of America’s greatest sporting events.

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