The 65-foot-high loblolly pine that the former President and club member lobbied to have removed as a permanent impediment to his game when playing the 17th hole was removed after suffering major limb damage that made its recovery impossible, the club said. Damage was extensive at many other courses in the region, and then the week was topped off by a 4.1-magnitude earthquake.
Golf’s most famous pine tree is no longer guarding the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle reported, after suffering major damage in the ice storm that ravaged the area last week.
The Eisenhower Tree at the course that hosts the Masters Tournament, named after former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, suffered major damage and was removed over the weekend, the club confirmed Sunday. Photos showed major limb damage, particularly on the left side and top of the tree, the Chronicle reported.
“The loss of the Eisenhower Tree is difficult news to accept,” Augusta National and Masters Chairman Billy Payne said in a prepared statement. “We obtained opinions from the best arborists available and, unfortunately, were advised that no recovery was possible.”
The Masters landmark, also known as Ike’s Tree, was about 210 yards from the tee on the left side of the par-4 17th. The loblolly pine stood 65 feet high and was believed to be 100 to 125 years old, the Chronicle reported.
Eisenhower, an Augusta National member, often hit into the tree, and at a club meeting in 1956 he proposed cutting it down, the Chronicle reported. But Masters co-founder Clifford Roberts ruled him out of order and adjourned the meeting, and the tree has been linked to Eisenhower ever since.
“We have begun deliberations of the best way to address the future of the 17th hole and to pay tribute to this iconic symbol of our history—rest assured, we will do both appropriately,” Payne said in the statement.
Sleet and freezing rain began pelting the Augusta area on Tuesday February 11 and continued throughout the next day, and photos of Magnolia Lane, which leads to the club, showed several limbs and branches down as nearly an inch of ice accumulated, the Chronicle reported. Fallen branches even knocked the club’s sign off its chain outside the main gate on Washington Road, Chronicle columnist Scott Michaux wrote in an earlier report on how the storm affected area courses.
But as part of his statement about the Eisenhower Tree, Payne said that Augusta National’s layout did not receive any other major damage, and is open for member play, the Chronicle reported.
The loss of the Eisenhower Tree even prompted six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus to issue a statement that said: “The Eisenhower Tree is such an iconic fixture and symbol of tradition at Augusta National. It was such an integral part of the game and one that will be sorely missed.
“I hit it so many times over the years that I don’t care to comment on the names I called myself and the names I might have called the tree,” Nicklaus added. “‘Ike’s Tree’ was a kind choice. But looking back, Ike’s Tree will be greatly missed.”
In his column, Michaux noted that a 4.1-magnitude earthquake was recorded near Edgefield, S.C., on Friday night, February 14, to cap a week of harrowing environmental events for the region. “After freezing rain, ice and an earthquake, we should be thankful meteorologists aren’t calling for any plague of locusts or frogs or Rae’s Creek [which runs through Augusta National] turning into blood,” Michaux wrote. “No sharknado or tsunami either.”
Michaux’s column included reports on damage at several other Augusta-area clubs:
• Augusta National’s neighbor across Rae’s Creek, Augusta Country Club, expected to be cleaning up from the storm for most, if not all, of the 49 days left until Masters week arrives, Course Superintendent Greg Burleson told Michaux. Augusta CC lost between 25 to 30 trees across the course that were either completely uprooted or suffered broken tops that will require their removal, Burleson said.
The toughest decision, Burleson told Michaux, will be dealing with a row of live oaks that were planted recently along the 17th and 18th holes, only to have many broken or bent sideways by the storm. “It would be heart-breaking to have to cut those down,” said Burleson, who was planning to get the course in good enough shape to open for weekend play as a par-3 layout.
• Forest Hills Golf Club, also in Augusta, “got banged up pretty good,” Superintendent Darren Davenport told Michaux. At least six trees were completely lost and many more had the tops broken out of them and will have to be taken down, including one left of the 8th green that had fallen into the greenside bunker.
Both Burleson and Davenport were at their respective clubs in 2004 when the last comparable ice storm hit the area, Michaux noted. During that storm, Forest Hills lost 23 trees and kept a rented wood chipper in constant use for six weeks with a staff of 10 cleaning up the debris.
• Across the border in South Carolina, it was a similar story, Michaux reported. Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, S.C. was described as “a mess” by Head Golf Professional and General Manager Brooks Blackburn, who said 10 to 12 trees were down or uprooted, but that pretty much every tree on the course lost limbs.
“Fortunately, no greens were damaged,” Blackburn added, so he was able to send a note out to members expressing hope that Palmetto’s maintenance staff could get the course and cart paths opened by Wednesday, February 19.
“We apologize for the inconvenience, but Mother Nature has not been very cooperative as of late,” Blackburn said in his message.
In his column, Michaux also provided assurance from horticulture experts that the long-term effects of the storm should be minimal, and perhaps not even noticeable at all, in the region once Masters Week does arrive, at least where the azaleas and other flowering trees that Augusta National is known for are concerned.
“The trees probably took the brunt of [the storm],” Douglas Bailey, who heads the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, told Michaux. “Most of the understory shrubs are pretty resilient. It definitely wouldn’t affect the flowering of the azaleas, unless limbs got broken off. And the blooming time will be affected by how quickly we warm up.”
Michaux also noted that Augusta National is the master of making messes disappear without a trace. When some kind of tornado blew across the back of “Amen Corner” one evening during Masters Week a few years ago, he recalled, a massive tree crushed the roof of a public bathroom tucked in the woods behind the 13th green—but by the time patrons arrived the next morning, a new cedar shake roof had already been installed and any remnants of the mighty oak that smashed it had vanished.
“That’s what unlimited resources and an abundance of manpower can do for you,” Michaux wrote.
He also presented predictions from one long-range weather forecasts that said “We are confident spectators and players at the Masters will see conditions typical of spring in the South, with only one chance of rain for the week,” and from another that said “Spectators can expect temperatures to be above-average and humid early in the week for practice rounds, with a solid chance of thunderstorms and rain. A weak cold front will move through in the latter half of the week, making way to dry conditions for most of the tournament. High temperatures are expected to be in the 70s, near average for the year.”
“Not much of a limb to go out on there,” Michaux noted. “Which is good, since there aren’t many limbs left in Augusta.”
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