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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, 2015 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 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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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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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Streamsong’s New Black Course Might Be Its Best Course

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Up until four years ago, there wasn’t a lot to see or do in the flat stretch of Polk County, Florida, between Tampa and Orlando. That all changed in 2012 with the opening of Streamsong Resort, the wildly popular destination that seamlessly combines rugged golf courses and sophisticated indoor spaces in a way that’s completely unique and altogether appealing.

With its Red Course (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Blue Course (designed by Tom Doak) firmly established among the finest public courses in the country, Streamsong unveiled its newest member of the family, the Black Course on September 25. Designed by Gil Hanse (designer of the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil, Castle Stuart in Scotland, and Mossy Oak in Mississippi), the Black Course has been among the most highly anticipated course openings in recent years.

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Gil Hanse at the Streamsong Black course opening event.

Weighing in at 7,337 yards and a healthy 74.7 rating/135 slope from the back tees, the Black Course is both a beauty and a beast. In the spirit of its predecessors, Hanse has beautifully incorporated elevation and undulation to create a track that is visually stunning and challenging to play. The rolling land, resurrected from its previous life as a phosphate mine, has a firm sandy base that evokes the look and feel of the links-style tracks in the Melbourne Sandbelt in Australia. And in constructing the course, Hanse selected turf grasses that give maximum roll out and encouraged conditioning that allows the same kind of creative shotmaking that is available on links courses.

Streansong Resort Black Course

No. 10 at Streamsong Black

While there is a premium on shotmaking, The Black Course puts equal, if not more value, on good decision making. Throughout the journey you can choose to be Joe Citizen or G.I. Joe, going for safety or going for glory. Hole No. 4, a 601-yard par-5 features a cantilevered split fairway that gives the player several routes to negotiate the path home based on ability and the conditions of the day. Nos. 6 and 14 are short par 4’s that tempt the big hitter to go for broke, but failure results in a trip to one of the Black Course’s yawning bunkers or open sandy areas, both signature features of Hanse’s recent designs.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the course are the sprawling greens that have contours that border on the surreal. Speaking of borders, there are none on the greens. Hanse decided to go with large greens that come right out to the fairway, allowing putting opportunities from almost anywhere. The most dramatic of the greens complexes is No. 9, a 450-yard par-4. Players hit a blind second shot into a “punch bowl” green that literally has to be seen to be believed. You’ll be talking about it after the round… whether you finish the hole with a 3 or an X.

Another distinctive feature is found on the par-4 13th, which features two greens that are alternated daily to give players another challenge and another story to tell after the round.

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The Streamsong Black clubhouse

The clubhouse, designed by the award-wining Alonso Architechts (who also designed the Streamsong Lodge), is as stunning an accomplishment as the golf course. Employing the forward-looking design concept of the Lodge, the minimalist glass-and-steel design offers breathtaking views of the Florida sunrises and sunsets whether you are in the cool indoors or next to the Gauntlet putting green outside. And the Bone Valley Tavern is a showcase for Executive Chef Mike Ford’s mouth-watering food and craft cocktails (try the Black Martini).

IMG_5636-e1506600521671

Throughout the day of the preview and ribbon-cutting, there was a sense of pride and joy more similar to the delivery of a newborn than the opening of a golf course. Hanse was emotional while giving his opening remarks, giving special acknowledgment to his Lead Designer Jim Wagner.

“I am so proud that Jim’s name is beside mine on the plaque that says who designed the course,” Hanse said while fighting back tears. His passion was shared by all, including those present from parent company Mosaic, which owns some 200,000 acres in the area, including the resort property.

“This is a labor of love and I am proud of and grateful for everyone who contributed to making this happen,” said Rich Mack, the Mosaic executive who is the visionary behind Streamsong.

Streamsong-Black-No.-7-by-Tracey-Hanse

No. 9 at Streamsong Black

Those who expect to get a run at Streamsong Black had better get moving. Management officials said they’re already talking reservations for 2018. Anyone fortunate enough to get a slot will not be disappointed.

“We were aware of the level of excellence here at Streamsong, and we knew we had to meet that standard,” Hanse said. “But we also wanted to do something different, something special. We wanted to make a course that was beautiful and challenging, but above all it should be fun.” These will be welcome words to the traveling golfer who is faced with ever longer and more difficult resort courses.

In an industry that specializes in tradition but often lacks vision, Streamsong has planted a beacon on the horizon for what the future of the resort golf experience can and should be.

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A Legacy of Excellence: Primland Resort is a Hidden Jewel in the Virginia Hills

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Recently, the attention of the golf world was focused on North Carolina as the PGA Championship was being held at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. I was there for three days and while the golf and the hospitality were great, the heat and humidity left me feeling like I had spent three days in a car wash.

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Fortunately, relief was on the way in the form of a trip to Primland Resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Typically it is about a 2.5-hour drive from Charlotte to Primland, but I had some special help in shortening the trip. Mercedes-Benz, a partner of the PGA of America, was kind enough to provide transportation in the form of a 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet. Outfitted with a 3.6-liter AMG BitTurbo that cranks out 362 horsepower, the C43 goes from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and from Charlotte to Primland in not a lot more than that. Fully loaded with leather interior, state-of-the-art stereo, 9-speed transmission and enough room for clubs, my suitcase and a beautiful hitchhiker (didn’t happen), the C43 was the perfect combination of power and finesse. To avoid the law dogs I won’t say exactly what my top speed was on the way to Primland, but suffice it to say that if it was a golf score I would have been worse than a double bogey golfer. To quote the great humanist philosopher Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”

Golf (3)

So the C43 put me in just the right mood to visit one of the most exclusive golf destinations in the country, a description that fits Primland despite its comparatively low profile. The vision of Primland’s founder, energy magnate Didier Primat, was to create a place of “immense beauty” for his guests that features refined dining, world-class golf and other exceptional outdoor experiences. Didier Primat died unexpectedly in 2008 at the age of 64, but he had instilled the commitment in his eight children, and they have continued the pursuit of resort perfection.

Golf (2)

Spread over 12,000 mountain acres, Primland is sprawling and somehow intimate at the same time. Accommodations at the resort range from the simple to the sumptuous. Rooms and suites in the Lodge make you feel like you’re in one of those 5-star European chalets where stars and royalty go to avoid paparazzi. Natural wood and stone floors combine with high tech and a Continental attention to detail (huge bathrooms, automated window shades, down pillows, extra large robes) give you that special feeling that only the best places seem to generate. Guests can choose from the comfort of the Lodge, choose one of the cottages that are perfect for groups, or opt for the simplicity and seclusion of the rustic cabins known as “Treehouses.” The views, as you would expect from a treehouse, are amazing.

Tree House, Cooper's Hawk

A “Treehouse.”

The acclaimed Highland Golf Course is as spectacular as the rest of the resort. Featuring breathtaking views of the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the course was designed and opened in 2008 by renowned architect Donald Steel (his portfolio includes work at Enniscrone, Royal County Down and The Old Course at St Andrews). The Highland course does indeed give the feel of a Scottish highlands links, with plenty of undulation in the fairways and a variety of humps and moguls guarding entry to the greens like buried sentries. Playing as apar-72 (150 slope/75.1 rating) at just over 7,000 yards from the tips, the course is both beauty and beast, especially if the wind kicks up.

Golf (6)

The course offers demanding tee shots that have either deep forest or steep falloffs into the valleys below ready to swallow errant attempts. The greens are massive, allowing for a wide range of interesting pin placements. Featuring bent grass from tee to green, the track is immaculately maintained, a testament to the work of Head Pro Brian Alley and Superintendent Brian Kearns. “This is a course that has that certain something; you never get tired of looking at it or playing it,” Alley says.

The Lodge Pinnacles Suite

The Lodge Pinnacles Suite.

PGA Tour stars Fred Couples and Jay Haas agree, as they are on the host professional staff at Primland and are frequently on property. The critics also agree, with Golf Magazine rating the track as No. 2 among Courses You Can Play in Virginia. Golf Digest has it as No. 31 among Public Courses in America. I had the opportunity to play a round on The Highland course with Haas, who was there hosting an outing and celebrating his wife Jan’s birthday. Haas demonstrated exactly what is need to score well; always be thinking one shot ahead and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they are presented. I hit the ball about the same distance as Haas and had a great ball striking day, but a few wayward wedges and over-ambitious approaches cost me. I shot an 82 and Haas put up a 66 like he was taking candy from a baby.

Primland Aerial

Off the course, Primland offers a full menu of options to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you. There is an outdoor center that features sporting clays, ATV treks, hiking, biking, fly fishing, and more. If you want to do something the property doesn’t offer, the eager and experienced staff will likely be able to accommodate you. If you are more of an indoor cat, the world-class spa is available to massage your cares away. There is also a private theater where you can screen your favorite movies.

Observatory Dome (2)

The Observatory.

A unique feature of Primland is the Observatory, a domed silo that has been modified to house a powerful telescope that gives spectacular views of the planets and stars. The Observatory is available by appointment, and it shouldn’t be missed.

Elements (2)

Elements.

As for the dining experiences, they are also stellar. If you want to get fancy, try Elements, where the farm to table menu and wine selection are both outstanding. If you want to stay casual, try the 19th Pub (note: they make a PERFECT martini).

19th Pub (1)

The 19th Pub.

Founder Didier Primat loved the outdoors and was a committed to providing a place where people could come and experience it. Whether you are playing golf, riding horses, shooting clays or watching shooting stars, it’s impossible to spend time at Primland without acquiring Didier’s affection for this special patch of land. It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth the trip.

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