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The most “Critical Holes” at Augusta National

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One of the questions I had about the game of golf before I started researching the statistical data of the game was, “What holes should I focus the most on in practice rounds of a tournament?”

Generally, I thought the holes to focus on were the most difficult holes. But, I often wondered if the easiest holes were where I should direct my attention, because losing a stroke against the field is still losing a stroke nonetheless. As usual, after doing the research, the answer ended up being somewhere in between.

First, we have to understand that the length of the tournament plays a big factor as to what the critical holes are. In one-round tournaments, which are fairly common in amateur events, anything can happen. In those tournaments, my data has shown that the best finishers are generally are the ones who play the toughest and the easiest holes the best. However, as the number of rounds increase — almost all PGA Tour events are four rounds — things change quite a bit.

In a three-, four- or five-round event, the holes with the greatest standard deviation separate the contenders from the rest of the field. This is where the top finishers in an event usually gain the most strokes on their competitors, and for that reason I have labeled these as ‘Critical Holes.’ Using historical data and basing it on three-year, give-year and 10-year trends, I have been able to identify the Critical Holes on almost every course that the Tour plays. This allows my Tour clients to better focus their attention on the holes that have the greatest influence on where they finish in each event.

After doing more research, there were some obvious trends that started to develop as to what holes are typically Critical Holes. And I believe that the Critical Holes at Augusta National are very typical of what the critical holes are at any course in a three- or four-round tournament.

Here are the critical holes at Augusta National Golf Club, based on three-year, five-year and 10-year data compiled.

Augusta National Hole Data

I think the holes listed as Critical Holes will surprise many. Holes like Nos. 4, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 16 are nowhere to be found. To get a little better idea of what is going on, here’s the ranking of each hole’s difficulty during the past five years:

Augusta National Hole Data 2

Perhaps the most common trait is that usually the easiest hole on the course is one of the Critical Holes. Augusta is no different in this regard, as No. 15 is the easiest hole on the course and is statistically one of the Critical Holes at the Masters. Conversely, the most difficult hole is usually not a critical hole. My interpretation of this trend is that golfers who are playing well will typically play very well on the easy hole. But with the most difficult hole, golfers are not likely to deviate that much from the average score.

In fact, none of the critical holes listed are even in the top 5 as far as difficulty. Furthermore, Nos. 18, 7, 17 and 12 rank close together, Nos. 6 through 9 in terms of difficulty.

No. 12 is another great example of a typical critical hole. Obviously, it’s a famous hole known for costing golfers their shot at the Green Jacket. But that is due to another common trait of Critical Holes on Tour; holes where there is a high risk of going into a water hazard on the approach shot. That in part is why No. 15 is a critical hole — there, the water comes into play as well, which means there is a strong possibility that the hole could yield an eagle or a double bogey given the quality of the 2nd shot. We will see something similar this week at Innisbrook as one of the Critical Holes is the par-3 No. 13, which plays 200 yards over water.

Nos. 17 and 18 at Augusta are very similar in the sense that they are known as fairly difficult holes, but they do not receive the notoriety a that the more difficult holes like Nos. 10 and 11 receive. I think that is part of the brilliance of their design because they are birdie-able golf holes. However, if the golfer falls asleep on them or tries to get too aggressive off the tee, they can easily come away with a double bogey.

Interestingly enough, No. 7 has been the most critical hole at Augusta in recent years. It’s a fairly tight tee shot and a healthy distance of 450 yards with an elevated, but flattish green that is surrounded by bunkers. I tend to think that No. 7 is litmus test for those golfers who are playing well that week versus the rest of the golfers since it takes a quality tee shot and approach in order to make par.

Obviously, a golfer cannot neglect the other holes on a golf course. But if they are better able to prepare on the critical holes and that translates to better performance on those holes, they can make up a lot of strokes versus the field and that could take a lot of pressure off them on the non-critical holes. For the average golfer, they may want to see if they can get the scorecard data for tournaments if they are willing to spend the time on it. Otherwise, I would recommend trying to gauge what holes have the greatest deviation in score. That’s much more than what holes are the most difficult.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ryder

    Mar 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    With the way I play, every hole on the course is a critical hole!

  2. David Beedie

    Mar 14, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Just on the 15th – I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to AN and 15 strikes me as having one fundamental flaw: the bunker on the right-hand side of the green. It’s pretty much the go-to bail-out location. I sat at this hole for a couple of hours one Saturday and lost count of the number of players whose 2nd was aimed straight at the number, then trusted their sand game to get them a bird. I’d rather this was turned into a grass bunker, thus making any shot much less predictable and forcing players to reevaluate their strategy for the 2nd.

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 14, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Interesting, David. I’ve been to the Masters twice, but never really took much notice of the right bunker. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that

  3. RussT

    Mar 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    I would like to see a follow-up article which shows how the player who wins this year’s Masters fairs on these holes versus those who come up shy of winning and/or those with no shot at winning. You know, prove your theory…

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks, Russ. But understand that there is not a 1:1 relationship between these holes and winning. It’s just in general the top finishers have gained the most strokes on these holes based on 3-year, 5-year and 10-year averages.

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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