Grad Takes Augusta's 19th Hole Design Contest

Sonny Pittman's 19th Hole DesignIt’s not every day that anybody asks you to improve upon perfection but the Augusta Chronicle did just that. The Chronicle urged readers to submit proposals for a 19th hole at the home of the Masters. Originally Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones planned on creating a 19th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, the hole was intended to tee off from the left of the 18th green.

MacKenzie, the co-designer of the course, was the inspiration for the contest. He had the idea to have a 19th hole so golfers could make a friendly wager, or play for double or nothing, though it was likely wiped from the drawing board because of the opinion that it lacked the flow that made the rest of the course feel seamless, not to mention that it would have been a distraction from the legendary 18th green. MacKenzie's plan was designed for golfers to exit the 18th green and head left, a tee would be built there, and the 90-yard, par 3 hole would play up the hill to where the practice putting green is currently situated.

When the Augusta Chronicle proposed the contest the guidelines were simple: use the course aerial as a guide; the hole must be a par-3, no more than 100 yards; the direction of the hole is toward the Par-3 Course so the tee can be anywhere behind the 18th green. The rules were simple enough, so the real show would be in the creativity and mastery of course design. As luck would have it, Sonny Pittman, a Fall 2011 graduate of the Professional Golfers Career College in Hilton Head, heard about the contest and decided to take a shot.

After retiring from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sonny, 64, elected to attend the golf college where part of the curriculum focuses on course design, though unbelievable he had yet to take any design courses when he took on this challenge. Pittman recalls “I wanted something that would be a challenge to the professional but would also be enjoyable for the members to play, so I kind of blended both.” His design had the uphill hole with a tee box located between the ninth and 18th green, this allows numerous pin placements, and be flanked in the front by a sand bunker and with a large grass bunker in the rear and the green, sized at approximately 6,500 square feet, would be level on the right and slightly downhill on the left.

Sonny Pittman's 19th Hole DesignThe draft, which took him Sonny about a month, would take much longer to approve than expected. “It took a year for me to find out I’d won, I kind of forgot about it until the next Masters came around.” A week before the legendary tournament Sonny received an email from an editor at the Chronicle informing him that his design had been chosen and that he’d be receiving and plaque, a book and concert tickets to Hootie and the Blowfish.

The Chronicle’s goal was to encourage the creative vision, if only on paper, that the original designers, Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, would have been pleased with. Pittman explains this challenge dovetailed seamlessly with his post-graduation goals, “I would like to get into the design and construction phase.” Or, he says he’d like to work at one of the military courses, “A lot of their military courses don’t have trained golf professionals, they have a manager, which is fine, but I think it’s important to have somebody who understands the business side and the golf side of it.”