The course was formerly a plant nursery, and each hole on the course is named after the tree or shrub with which it has become associated. Several of the holes on the first nine have been renamed, as well as hole #11.
Lengths of the course for the Masters at the start of each decade:
- 2010: 7,435 yards (6,799 m)
- 2000: 6,985 yards (6,387 m)
- 1990: 6,905 yards (6,314 m)
- 1980: 7,040 yards (6,437 m)
- 1970: 6,980 yards (6,383 m)
- 1960: 6,980 yards (6,383 m)
- 1950: 6,900 yards (6,309 m)
- 1940: 6,800 yards (6,218 m)
Unlike most other private or public golf courses in the US, Augusta National has never been rated. During the 1990 Masters Tournament, a team of USGA raters, organized by Golf Digest, evaluated the course and gave it an unofficial rating of 76.2. It was re-evaluated in 2009 and given an unofficial rating of 78.1.
The golf course architecture website GolfClubAtlas.com has said, "Augusta National has gone through more changes since its inception than any of the world's twenty or so greatest courses. To call it a MacKenzie course is false advertising as his features are essentially long gone and his routing is all that is left." The authors of the site also add that MacKenzie and Jones were heavily influenced by the Old Course at St Andrews, and intended that the ground game be central to the course. Almost from Augusta's opening, Roberts sought to make changes to minimize the ground game, and effectively got free rein to do so because MacKenzie died shortly after the course's opening and Jones went into inactivity due to World War II and then a crippling illness. The authors add, "With the ground game gone, the course was especially vulnerable to changes in technology, and this brought on a slew of changes from at least 15 different 'architects'." Golf Course Histories has an aerial comparison of the architectural changes for Augusta National Golf Club for the year 1938 versus 2013.
Among the changes to the course were several made by architect Perry Maxwell in 1937, including an important alteration involving the current 10th hole. When Augusta National originally opened for play in January 1933, the opening hole (now the 10th) was a relatively benign par 4 that played just in excess of 400 yards. From an elevated tee, the hole required little more than a short iron or wedge for the approach. Maxwell moved the green in 1937 to its present location – on top of the hill, about 50 yards back from the old site – and transformed it into the toughest hole in Masters Tournament history. Ben Crenshaw referred to Maxwell's work on the 10th hole as "one of the great strokes in golf architecture".
For the 1999 tournament, a short rough was instated around the fairways. Referred to as the second cut, it is substantially shorter than the comparable primary rough at other courses, with an average length of 1.625 inches (4.13 cm). It is meant to reduce a player's ability to control the ball coming out of this lie, and encourage better accuracy for driving onto the fairway.
The second shot at the 11th, all of the 12th, and the first two shots at the 13th hole at Augusta are nicknamed "Amen Corner". This term was first used in print by author Herbert Warren Wind in his April 21, 1958, Sports Illustrated article about the Masters that year. In a Golf Digest article in April 1984, 26 years later, Wind told about its origin. He said he wanted a catchy phrase like baseball's "hot-corner" or football's "coffin-corner" to explain where some of the most exciting golf had taken place (the Palmer-Venturi rules issue at twelve, over an embedded ball ruling and how it was handled, in particular). Thus "Amen Corner" was born. He said it came from the title of a jazz record he had heard in the mid-1930s by a group led by Chicago's Mezz Mezzrow, Shouting in that Amen Corner. In a Golf Digest article in April 2008, writer Bill Fields added some new updated information about the origin of the name. He wrote that Richard Moore, a golf and jazz historian from South Carolina, tried to purchase a copy of the old Mezzrow 78 RPM disc for an "Amen Corner" exhibit he was putting together for his Golf Museum at Ahmic Lake, Ontario. After extensive research, Moore found that the record never existed. As Moore put it, Wind, himself a jazz buff, must have "unfortunately bogeyed his mind, 26 years later". While at Yale, he was no doubt familiar with, and meant all along, the popular version of the song (with the correct title, "Shoutin' in that Amen Corner" written by Andy Razaf), which was recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, vocal by Mildred Bailey (Brunswick label No. 6655) in 1935. Moore told Fields that, being a great admirer of Wind's work over the years, he was reluctant, for months, to come forth with his discovery that contradicted Wind's memory. Moore's discovery was first reported in Golf World magazine in 2007, before Fields' longer article in Golf Digest in 2008.
In 1958 Arnold Palmer outlasted Ken Venturi to win the tournament with heroic escapes at Amen Corner. Amen Corner also played host to Masters moments such as Byron Nelson's birdie-eagle at 12 and 13 in 1937, and Sam Snead's water save at 12 in 1949 that sparked him to victory. On the flip side of fate, Jordan Spieth's quadruple bogey on 12 during Sunday's final round in 2016 cost him his 2-stroke lead and ultimately the championship.
"The Big Oak Tree"
"The Big Oak Tree" is on the golf course side of the clubhouse and was planted in the 1850s.
Also known as the "Eisenhower Pine", a loblolly pine was located on the 17th hole, approximately 210 yards (192 m) from the Masters tee. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an Augusta National member, hit the tree so many times that, at a 1956 club meeting, he proposed that it be cut down. Not wanting to offend the president, the club's chairman, Clifford Roberts, immediately adjourned the meeting rather than reject the request. In February 2014, the Eisenhower Tree was removed after suffering extensive damage during an ice storm.
During a visit to Augusta National, then-General Eisenhower returned from a walk through the woods on the eastern part of the grounds, and informed Clifford Roberts that he had found a perfect place to build a dam if the club would like a fish pond. Ike's Pond was built and named, and the dam is located just where Eisenhower said it should be. This is also the location that Roberts committed suicide by gunshot in 1977. At age 83, he had been in ill health for several months with cancer and had a debilitating stroke.
Rae's Creek cuts across the southeastern corner of the Augusta National property. It flows along the back of the 11th green, in front of the 12th green, and ahead of the 13th tee. This is the lowest point in elevation of the course. The Hogan and Nelson Bridges cross the creek after the 12th and 13th tee boxes, respectively. The creek was named after former property owner John Rae, who died in 1789.
Rae's Creek runs in front of No. 12 green, has a tributary evident at No. 13 tee, and flows at the back of No. 11 green. It was Rae's house which was the farthest fortress up the Savannah River from Fort Augusta. The house kept residents safe during Indian attacks when the fort was out of reach.