Why do some golf holes have names? Let the Master’s be your guide
Any golfer can tell you, a great golf course is so much more than 18 holes. A great golf course engenders a great experience. It can provide you with solitude and tranquility to break the stress of your routine. It can provide the backdrop for camaraderie and fellowship within a beautiful, natural setting. It can be a great excuse to drink a couple beers with your friends. But at their core, a great golf course is about the experience of playing it.
When asking about people’s favorite courses or best memories on the links, instead of replying with a hole number, golfers will often spin a tale of obstacles, strokes and triumphs from a particular hole in a particular round. Superintendents love hearing these stories, and will often tailor the course to cater to certain experiences like this. Too many people birdieing 12? Move the hole closer to the trap. Too many people getting creamed on 8? Maybe move the hole onto the lower ledge so the approach shot has a bit of a backboard.
Regardless of which way the Superintendent goes with the hole, a particularly juicy triumph or stingingly bitter defeat leaves indelible memories for players. And, especially memorable holes (or series of holes) often get more than a number — they get a name.
Think of the Master’s this last weekend, “Amen Corner”, which is the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National Golf Club, is one of the most famous series of holes in the world (and in an interesting twist, each individual hole has a name: 11 = White Dogwood; 12 = Golden Bell; and 13 = Azalea). The term “Amen Corner” was coined by Herbert Warren Wind in his April 21, 1958, Sports Illustrated article about the Masters that year. The water holes constitute some of the toughest challenges Augusta can throw at golfers (seen ripping championships away from even the best as recently as 2016 with Jordan Spieth’s quadruple bogey at 12). The stretch often makes or breaks champions, and it makes sense this particular series of holes has its own name.
But PGA Major courses aside, many courses have given names to their most memorable holes. And, the older the course, the more likely one of the holes has earned a unique moniker.
As is true with so many things in golf’s tangled history, lore indicates hole names started in the United Kingdom before making their way stateside. And, with a handful of exceptions like Spyglass Hill, Purgatory, and Secession, the naming of holes seems to still be more of a UK practice.
The bottom line is that great golf courses are about experiences. And, the more times a specific hole is memorable, the more likely it is to earn a nickname. What started in the U.K. has made its way around the world such that the best holes often get the best names. Conversely, the best stories often saddle holes with names totally unrelated to the holes themselves. For instance, from the AT&T Byron Nelson’s blog:
How did “South America” get to be the name of a hole?
It seems that a regular at the club was going on a trip around the world and was given a send off with ample amounts of libations. He drank a bit too much and decided to begin his journey that very night. Unfortunately, he only made it to the 10th green before he “took a nap.” He was found asleep the next day on the 10th hole, so the hole thenceforth and forever more became known by his intended destination: South America.
Whether by a physical hallmark of the hole or a crazy story that occurred there, the most memorable holes get more than a number — they earn a name.