Rae's Creek meanders along a 10-mile stretch of woods and west Augusta neighborhoods before flowing into Lake Olmstead near the end of Washington Road. It's usually a placid stream, but on Sundays in April, the creek can seem like a snarling monster waiting to devour golf balls and golfers' dreams of a Masters victory.Rae's Creek flows through the Augusta National Golf Club at the heart of Amen Corner, separating the tee from the putting green at the 155-yard par three 12th hole, named Golden Bell. One of its tributaries fronts the 13th tee.
"Though it is such a short hole, the combination of swirling winds in the vale of Rae's Creek, combined with the memories of failures past at this hole, the tension of playing the Masters, and the looming presence of Rae's Creek in front of the green has caused many of the greatest golfers who ever lived to fail miserably here," wrote Michael C. White in his book Down Rae's Creek: A Famous Stream at Augusta, Georgia's Fall Line Hills.
When the tournament was still in its infancy, Texas golfer Ralph Guldahl became one of the first to feel Rae's Creek's wrath."Guldahl was home free in this 1937 Masters," wrote Tom Flaherty in his book The Masters: The Story of Golf's Greatest Tournament. "He had taken command the day before with a third-round 68 that included a brilliant 32 on the back nine. Now he was on the friendly back nine again with a four-stroke lead and seven holes to play."
But at Golden Bell, his tee shot "faded a shade to the right"of the flagpole as it descended, hitting the bank and dropping into the creek. He ended up shooting a double bogey at the hole.
"It was a bad error, but no one, including Guldahl, thought it would cost him the tournament," Mr. Flaherty wrote.
Mr. Guldahl shot a six at 13. Byron Nelson came from behind to win that tournament -- two shots ahead of Mr. Guldahl.
The next year, Rae's Creek dashed Mr. Guldahl's chances again. Another tee shot at 12 into Rae's Creek kept him from catching up with Henry Picard.Sam Snead's hopes of a green coat were thwarted twice by Rae's Creek. Prior to 1950, the creek was even more of a threat because it also fronted the 11th green. Two errant shots into Rae's Creek in the 1940 tournament left Mr. Snead with a quadruple bogey at 11, and he ended up in seventh place.
Again in 1951, at the same spot which is now a pond formed from the Rae's Creek Channel, Mr. Snead's shot went into the drink. Again a quadruple bogey. This time, he finished 10th.
In 1959, Arnold Palmer was defending his Masters title. He was leading down the stretch when he approached Golden Bell. His tee shot landed in Rae's Creek, and he finished with a triple bogey. Art Wall won that year.
Other big names have also fallen to Rae's Creek. The most recent victim was Greg Norman in the 1996 tournament.
Leading in the final round, Mr. Norman arrived at 12 where his tee shot hit the bank and rolled back into the water. He double-bogeyed, opening the door for Nick Faldo to win his third Masters.
"I pushed it,"" Mr. Norman said in an interview after the tournament. "I wasn't trying to hit at the flag, but I pushed it just enough to carry it right.""
Golfers may feel cursed by this part of the course, and perhaps they are.
The 12th hole was once the site of an Indian burial ground. When the course was built, the burial ground was destroyed and all its artifacts lost.
"The wind funneling through the avenues of pines swirls capriciously over this green, leading the fanciful to believe that the spirits are angry at being disturbed by golfers," wrote Peter Dobereiner in his book Down the Nineteenth Fairway.
At other times, Rae's Creek has sought to destroy the green itself.
In 1936, the creek flooded during the tournament. It rose again in an October 1990 flood, and the 11th green and 13th tee had to be rebuilt.
Rae's Creek was named for Irishman John Rae, a deerskin trader, who settled in Georgia in 1734. Before 1763, it was referred to as Kenyon's Creek, but Georgia maps around that date refer to it as Rae's Creek, according to Michael C. White's book Down Rae's Creek: A Famous Stream at Augusta, Georgia's Fall Line Hills."Rae's is the perfect name for this stream for two reasons," Mr. White writes. "First the creek's most substantial settler during the colonial period was John Rae. It is logical that people from the second generation of Augusta's population, from about the 1770s onward, would associate the creek more with John Rae than anyone else. Secondly, the family name . . . is of medieval English origin and is defined as meaning 'a swift flowing stream.' Rae's Creek is the swiftest flowing, steepest falling stream in Augusta because of its location at the Fall Line, a region of Georgia named because it is where creeks characteristically have many small waterfalls."