The brilliance of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” lies in its structure. The song builds throughout, adding characters and plot, rising to a climactic guitar solo, and resolving by returning to the line “she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” Jimmy Page and Robert Plant take the audience on a journey.
A well-routed golf course can do the same thing.
This weekend, the golf world makes its annual trip around one of the most beautifully structured courses in the world. Routed through the towering Georgia pines, Augusta National takes the golfer (and viewer) on a journey that builds to a dramatic conclusion on the back nine. It starts under the large oak tree by the 1st tee, wanders around the west half of the property, plunges down to Rae’s Creek, and ultimately climbs back up to the 18th green. On Sunday, just one player will make that final ascent of golf’s stairway to heaven and cement his place in Masters history.
If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further: here is an auditory tour of Augusta National, set to the sounds of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
0:00 – An acoustic guitar and recorder welcome you. The simple 1st hole stretches out before you, and the music is as peaceful as the environment. You know every inch of these grounds, but being there in person, especially on Sunday, is a different experience. And yet, with the serenity of your introduction to the property, a sense of significance lingers in the background.
0:53 – The opening stretch begins. Walking down the fairway, you begin the chase for a green jacket. The 1st hole sets the scene. Is all that glitters gold? Can you buy a stairway to heaven? If you flare it, will your ball hit the media center to the right?
1:33 – The pacing remains comfortable, as Nos. 2 and 3 are gettable. Maybe there’s even a songbird who sings. (Is that a real bird? you wonder.) But don’t be lulled into complacency. Things are about to get much more intense.
2:14 – You knew it would happen, but it still takes you by surprise: the pace picks up. The slow finger-picking of the guitar turns to strumming, raising your heart rate. A bass line is introduced. You battle through Nos. 4 and 5. Maybe you find a birdie with a good shot on the par-3 6th. As you look west toward the 7th tee, you sense promise, opportunity. You also think No. 7 sort of stinks. The voices of the patrons who stand looking whisper as they walk by. Will today be your day? Or will you have to put the green jacket on Danny Willett?
3:29 – Another opportunity comes in the form of the par-5 8th, but don’t try to carry the bunker. Will you let the piper lead you to reason? If you strike a pure, sweeping hook up the hill to the green, a new day will dawn.
3:53 – A trip into the wide landing area of the 9th awaits, a welcome relief after a couple of tough driving holes. It’s oddly calm as you walk up the hill. Still in contention, your mind wanders briefly: Is that where Tiger popped his wrist bone back into place? Halfway done now.
4:18 – Drums. A bustle in the neighboring hedgerows. But don’t be alarmed as you head down the 10th. There are two paths you can go by: one to victory and one to defeat. This next stretch is where you choose. You hit the 10th green in regulation, avoiding disaster to start the back nine. It makes you wonder. The tempo quickens as you hit your drive “WAY RIGHT” on No. 11, but you navigate the pond and make your way into the heart of Amen Corner.
5:07 – Now you’re on the 12th tee. Your head is humming. It just won’t go. Can you hear the wind blow? Your fortunes lie on the whispering wind. Your ball finds land. The angels sing.
5:32 – With a few crashes of the cymbals, you walk onto the iconic 13th tee. Weird: Woosie is not on the bench.
5:55 – The most famous hole in golf. A soloing guitar tears through the mix as you sling one around the corner. Your approach avoids the creek. Next up, the bunkerless 14th, where you get safely over the false front in two. The solo continues, pushing you toward the 15th tee.
6:23 – The drums intensify and so does your heartbeat. One last screaming Jimmy Page lick. A momentous decision awaits in the 15th fairway.
6:44 – After cresting the hill, you pull a long iron and rip the ball over the pond fronting the green. You wind on down the road. The late afternoon shadows are taller than your soul. Will this opportunity turn to gold? You avoid putting the ball into the water. An extra guitar riff enters as you watch your ball take the slope towards the Sunday pin on 16. Michael Phelps and that lady in the pink cheer you on, but no ace this time. (Let’s just skip 17.) The 18th hole comes to you at last!
7:36 – Robert Plant wails as the guitars screech on the 18th tee. This is real. Everything slows down as you squeeze your final tee shot through the chute.
7:46 – Climbing the hill, you survey one more approach, and you’re buy-y-ying a stai-airway… to heav—
*CBS cuts to a Dustin Johnson interview instead of showing your shot live*
More Masters coverage from The Fried Egg team:
Is Augusta National Turning Over a New Leaf?
Geoff Ogilvy’s notes on all 18 at Augusta National
Stories worth your time and tracking at the 2022 Masters
The Art Behind Augusta’s Roars: Focal points in Alister MacKenzie’s routings
Tiger’s Masters flirtation is something more than ceremonial