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A love letter to Nandina, the 17th hole at Augusta National

Updated: Apr 9

I’m not one for superstition, I don’t have lucky socks, I’ve never bought in to astrology or anything like that, but randomly the number 17 has reappeared frequently at important moments in my life. 


The night before my 17th birthday, I found out my parents were getting separated. Four years later, I met my now wife on the 17th of July. Our anniversary is the 17th, our home is number 17 and on the year we bought our house, a good friend went to The Masters and in the merchandise tent, bought me a ball marker, the ball marker was of the flower Nandina and the hole number 17. My friend did not know our house number, or the relevance of the number 17 to me. For my 30th birthday, my wife had a painting commissioned of the 17th green at Augusta.

Coincidence? I don’t know. Am I looking too much into the number? Probably, but nonetheless here is my ode to number 17 at Augusta National Golf Club, Nandina, for the week that’s in it.


Is 17 (Nandina) the most interesting hole on the property? Absolutely not, but not all 18 holes can be breathtaking, and it's impossible to say a golf course has 18 breathtaking holes. Sometimes you need a hole to help you get your breath back and get ready for your next challenge. For me, that’s 17 but don’t think I mean Nandina is boring or a weak hole. Historic scoring has Nandina’s average as 4.16, the 9th hardest hole on the property. 


The green complex of the 17th green at Augusta National. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.
The green complex of the 17th green at Augusta National. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.

The biggest criticism that Nandina has come in for over the years is that it lacks teeth, other than blowing your tee shot into the trees left or right of the fairway you’re going to be ok. The most common suggestion is that a fairway bunker is introduced to make the tee-shot more daunting.


The 17th hole’s defence is it’s green, two deep bunkers lie short left and right of the elevated green and it is a beast of a green, with plateaus, undulations in all directions, bowls, a deep false front and drop-offs either side, most notably long right is going to be on your tv screens a lot, but it’s probably the one place you don’t want to be with the collection area being around 8 feet below the green.


Tommy Fleetwood walks down off the 17th Green. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.
Tommy Fleetwood walks down off the 17th Green. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.

Originally the eighth hole in the 1934 Masters it has been the 17th since. Alister MacKenzie fashioned the green after the 14th at St. Andrews. The left side of the putting surface sloped away from the player, so it was essential to play a run-up approach as it at the time was a bunkerless hole similar to what 14 is today.


Like every hole at Augusta National, 17 has undergone plenty of alterations. In 1937, Perry Maxwell remodeled the green and added three bunkers at its front. Meaning golfer’s had to approach the green with more loft. This change by Maxwell I think was well ahead of its time, today when it comes to parkland golf very few golfers see a run-up as the best option to attack a pin, hit it high and let it fly is generally the modus operandi of today’s golfer.


Sam Bennet tees off from the 17th. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.
Sam Bennet tees off from the 17th. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.

Nandina’s iconic feature was the Eisenhower Tree to the left of the fairway, which made the 17th hole the toughest driving hole with the narrowest fairway. That is until 2014 when that February an ice storm blew over the Eisenhower Tree which stood for over 50 years. With the tree no longer standing guard, the tee shot is much more open. Here is when the criticism for the hole began to get louder.


For me there’s something very appealing in how deceptively simple the hole is, sure it doesn’t have Rae’s Creek running through it or a “signature” carry but look what comes before it in 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, five tough holes that can penalise and embarrass golfer, the course has to offer players the chance to score and 17 does that in a fair manner.


Could Augusta National replicate Eisenhower’s tree and transplant another tall pine on the left side of the fairway? For sure, but will they? I don’t think so, it would forever be seen as a scar, a plaster to try and cover up what used to be and Augusta National does not dwell on what used to be. Even last year the 17th tee was making headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons as two trees fell over resulting in Round 1 play being suspended. These trees were only recently planted ahead of the event that year.  I don’t think Augusta will use this event as part of its marketing for The Masters this year.


Two trees fell during round 1 of the 2024 Masters on the 17th tee.

Like many holes at Augusta National, 17 is the venue of many memorable Masters moments. The 71st hole of a tournament, is very often the site of many players' downfall, conversely for many it is the crowning moment for many champions. Nandina’s most famous moment I think came in 1986 when a 46 year-old Jack Nicklaus was in contention for a sixth green jacket.


Nicklaus began the day tied for ninth, four strokes behind Greg Norman. Despite three straight birdies, a bogey at the par-3 12th hole still left Nicklaus three strokes behind leader Seve Ballesteros. Jack regrouped to birdie the 13th, eagle the 15th and birdie the 16th. At the 17th, Nicklaus, tied with Tom Kite at 8 under par and a shot behind Ballesteros, drove his tee shot into the left trees and into the gallery, but luckily had a good angle into the back-right hole location. Nicklaus hit his approach to 12 feet. Nicklaus made the birdie and as the ball dropped into the cup, he lunged forward and thrust his putter, then both arms skyward in exaltation. This celebration we see every year in Masters promo videos and highlights.



At 9 under, Nicklaus was the solo leader for the first time all week. Nicklaus signed for a final-round 65, then watched his contenders. Kite missed a birdie attempt at 18 and finished at 8 under. Norman matched Nicklaus at 9 under with a birdie at 17, but gave the stroke away with a bogey at 18. Jack had become the oldest Masters champion.


For those that get through 17 with par or better it’s time for their next deep breath as 18 awaits and the opportunity for another breathtaking moment arrives. So when you’re watching The Masters this year, enjoy all the breathtaking moments afforded by some of the iconic holes, but savour the simplicity that the 17th hole and others like it have to offer because together these 18 holes make up the magic that is The Masters.


The green complex of the 17th green at Augusta National. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.
The green complex of the 17th green at Augusta National. Picture Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.

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