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Original Issue

Tunnel Vision Employing the latest in engineering technology, we solved the mystery of the swirling winds that make the 12th hole at Augusta so tough


Jack Nicklaus once called the 12th at Augusta National "the
hardest hole in golf." Lloyd Mangrum settled on "the meanest."
How merciless is the 12th? During the first round of the 1980
Masters it took Tom Weiskopf 13 strokes to navigate the 12th's
155 yards. (He rallied the next day with a 7.) In '72 Bobby
Mitchell finished three strokes back of the champ, Nicklaus,
after making a bogey and three doubles at 12.

What makes this exacting hole so maddening is the heretofore
indecipherable winds. It's not uncommon for the flag on the
adjacent 11th green to point east while the flag at the 12th
blows in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the tree branches
sway in various directions.

Over the years the ghostly winds have given rise to a host of
theories. Ben Hogan once said, "Never hit until you feel the wind
on your cheek." Hubert Green passes on this hypothesis: "When the
dogwood tree to the right of the 13th tee stops moving, then
there's no wind blowing over the 12th green."

In an effort to unlock the 12th hole's secrets, SI approached
the University of Western Ontario, one of the world's leading
research centers on boundary layer effects, the discipline of
engineering that examines how wind interacts with the earth's
surface. Using topographical information supplied by Augusta
National, Western Ontario constructed a mini Amen Corner 10 feet
in diameter. The researchers reproduced the prevailing April
wind (from the south) and the typical velocity (median 7.5 mph).
According to Western Ontario, this is the first time a golf
course has been wind-tunnel-tested. After 68 years of
superstition, you have before you the science of the 12th hole.


Augusta National is a one-of-a-kind golf course, but all it
takes to reproduce it (albeit at a scale of 1 to 200) is
high-density foam sculpted with drywall compound, more than 600
trees made of sponge and wire, an acrylic Rae's Creek (complete
with tiny silicone waves) and, for good measure, foam golfers
that are nearly as stiff as the real thing. In January the model
was put to the test at the University of Western Ontario's
Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory.

To marry the wind-tunnel technology to the specific demands of
the 12th hole's tee shot, Maxfli supplied SI with trajectory
information for an average Tour player's eight-iron. The shot's
path was represented on the model by a fixed piece of copper
tubing 5/16 of an inch in diameter. Meteorological data from
1949 through '99 (collected at Augusta Regional Airport, about
10 miles south of Augusta National) was then analyzed by
computer to create a simulation of the typical April winds that
blow through Amen Corner. Smoke was used to give these breezes
visual paths. To illustrate the turbulence at higher elevations,
a wire coated with oil was fixed upwind from the model. An
electrical current was sent through the wire until the oil
burned, producing yellowish smoke. To depict the wind's effects
along the trajectory of the shot, 13 evenly spaced holes were
drilled along the copper tubing. Inside, titanium tetrachloride
was introduced, producing bright white smoke.

According to Maxfli, a typical eight-iron shot is in the air for
slightly more than five seconds. At Augusta that journey is
fraught with peril. On the tee the wind is in the golfer's face,
quartering slightly to the left (east), in the direction of the
11th fairway. About 25 yards into its flight the ball encounters
a crosswind blowing to the east (A). Another 40 yards toward the
green, as the shot is approaching its apex, the ball is slammed
by a wind shear, with gusts blowing to the west toward the 13th
fairway (B). This wind dissolves into low-speed swirling 20
yards from the green, as the ball is passing over Rae's Creek (C).

The 12th hole has played a pivotal role at numerous Masters, and
no wonder--the wind a golfer feels on the tee barely hints at
the turbulence his ball will experience in the air. With its
secrets revealed, will the 12th (statistically the
second-hardest hole, after the 10th) be tamed? Doubtful, says
Greg Kopp, the project leader at Western Ontario. "The challenge
used to be trying to figure out the wind," he says. "Now the
players have all the information, but they may wish they didn't.
It's still a frightening shot into a very difficult wind."


COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOE ZEFF ONE WIND, TWO DIRECTIONS The 12th green sits at the lowest spot on the course, in a valley formed by two hills, one behind the green, the other behind the tee. The prevailing south wind splits as it blows over the hill behind the green, causing a shear that occurs about 65 yards from the tee. Some gusts are funneled to the east, into the open space around the 11th green, stiffening the flag. Other gusts swirl to the west, into the amphitheater of pines around the 12th green. Thus, the flags at the 11th and the 12th--separated by only 400 feet--often fly in opposite directions.


COLOR PHOTO: DONNA TEREK Wind Wizards the brains behind the experiment (clockwise from top left): Gerry Dafoe, tunnel technician; Alan Davenport, founder of the BLWTL; Ted Hunter, model builder-artist; and Greg Kopp, project leader.


Eight feet in diameter, the 289-horsepower electric fan sucks
air through the test center at a rate of up to 400,000 cubic
feet per minute.

This chamber, 160 feet long, 11 feet high and 16 feet wide,
holds more than twice as much air as the high-speed corridor and
generates winds with a top speed of 23 mph.

A removable floor covers the 250,000-gallon tank, which has a
wave maker for the study of offshore structures.

The key to the wind tunnel, the contraction is the nozzle
through which air is forced to increase its velocity as it
passes into the high-speed corridor.

This chamber, 128 feet long, 6 feet high and 11 feet wide, can
produce winds up to 62 mph.
The 704 steel boxes (each two by four inches) can be adjusted to
simulate gusts.

SI's model was tested in this staging area. The rotating floor
allowed the wind to hit the model from any direction.