The Masters Course Preview: The first 3 holes
Mike Segar / Reuters

The 78th edition of the Masters begins next week when the world’s best golfers descend on Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., and play for the green jacket. One of the best things about the event is that it’s the only one of the four major golf tournaments that’s played on the same course every year.

Augusta National, designed by legendary course architect Alister MacKenzie and superstar Bobby Jones back in the 1930s, has played host to the event since 1934. The course has changed a lot since Horton Smith won that inaugural event 80 years ago, but much of what made the course so special back then remains intact.

Monday, we look at the first three holes, including the par, yardage and historical stats. Course designer Jeff Mingay also gives us his thoughts on the hole from a design and architecture perspective.

No. 1: Tea Olive

Historical average: 4.23

Historical rank: T6

Mingay’s take: “You’ll often hear about opening holes on classic courses purposely being designed to be relatively easy introductions to a round. This isn’t the case at Augusta. The first hole’s been lengthened significantly in recent years, and has played as the toughest hole on the course in recent Masters. Architecturally, the first features really basic, but really neat strategic angles ... carry the bunker on the right and gain an unimpeded approach the the green, which is guarded by a single bunker left. But these days, the carry over that fairway bunker is about 320 yards from the Masters tee. And, regardless where you drive it, the slope and contour of this green can give you fits ... even by Augusta standards. It’s one of the toughest greens on a course replete with tough greens. Long hitters, who can approach with a more lofted club, have an advantage here. Hitting the right quadrant of this segmented green is essential to avoiding the possibility of three or more putts. Missing this green is an entirely different story, particularly long. It’s almost impossible to get up and down from behind the first green.”

No. 2: Pink Dogwood

Historical average: 4.80

Historical rank: 16

Mingay’s take: “Considering the opening hole’s been the toughest in recent Masters, it makes some sense that the next is historically one of the easiest holes on the course. It’s another that favours long hitters, too. Particularly guys who can draw the ball … or cut it if you're Mike Weir. Augusta is hilly. The drop from tee to green here is about 90-feet. Bend it right to left around the corner and your tee shot will catch a slope purposely designed by Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie to propel golf balls way down the hill toward the green, reducing a 575-yard hole on the card to a reachable par 5. When you turn the corner, the view from the top of this fairway presents the first, stunning impression of the scale of Augusta National. This look down the hill toward the massive open space where the giant, ‘winged’ second green sits between the third and eight tees, with views of the seventh and seventeenth greens, is honestly breathtaking. The second green is about 140 feet wide, but really shallow in the 'winged' areas right and left. And, like most greens at Augusta, its slope and contour can be your friend or foe. Smart shots that use the terrain to work the ball around those bunkers guarding the shallow 'winged' sections of the green are some of the most fun to watch during Masters week.”

No. 3: Flowering Peach

Historical average: 4.09

Historical rank: 14

Mingay’s take: “Most of the great courses of the world have a neat short par 4. The third’s become Augusta's, in this era where the top-30 in driving distance on the PGA Tour average about 300 yards off the tee, anyway.  The tee shot here plays slightly downhill, then it’s back up to the green. There’s a cluster of fairway bunkers left off the tee that Jack Nicklaus added a couple decades ago. But, everything that’s cool about this hole has to do with the design of the green. It’s shaped like a backwards ‘L’ ... the left side is very shallow,  only about 30 feet deep, with a steep and closely cropped slope behind. The right side is about 90 feet deep but slopes away from the approach. And, the closer you drive the ball to the green, the less sense you have of exactly what you’re dealing with, because the green surface isn’t visible. It’s not easy to be certain exactly where the flag is here, which is why you’ll often see players walk as far as 100 yards up to the green to get a look at the exact location of the hole before heading back to play their approach. Even then, from whatever distance, the approach to the third green demands good judgement, precision and ball control.”

We'll look at holes four through six Tuesday.

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The Masters Course Preview: The first 3 holes
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