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Eisenhower Tree removed from Augusta National

The huge Eisenhower pine tree shown before ice storm damage. Photo by Curtis Compton

Think the ice storm of February 2014 was bad in Walterboro? The Augusta and Aiken areas are said to have been dealt a more painful blow than others and a fabled tree at the Augusta National Golf Club was damaged beyond saving, and had to be removed. The Masters holds on tightly to its traditions but the tee shot on the 17th hole will no longer be guarded by the massive pine tree with a Presidential past.

Golfers in the Lowcountry will be checking the pulse of the PGA Tour golf events for the next two weeks with renewed fervor. First up is The Masters from April 10 – 13, and then it’s the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head from April 17 – 20. Many will make trips to visit one tournament or the other for a chance to see elite professional golfers play for the first major title of the year and the coveted green jacket. Of course, the plaid jacket from the Heritage would be a nice wardrobe addition, too.

As a veteran reporter from The Masters I can relay that only very subtle changes are allowed to occur on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club from one year to the next. History has a way of slowly taking shape at The Masters since they cherish tradition. The Eisenhower pine tree, a landmark rich in tradition, was judged as unsafe and in need of removal after the 2014 ice storm.

The loblolly pine tree stationed about 200-yards from the 17th tee was decidedly blocking the left side of that fairway, and thus testing the players as they hit their driver club. A pine tree often grows tall and straight, but a tree such as this one that is left in open space, can grow just as wide with limbs, as it grows tall. It didn’t just test the pro golfers, it tested the Augusta National members too.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was known to love the game of golf and became a member at Augusta National Golf Club in 1948. The story goes that his ball flight on the 17th tee hit that pine tree so often that he campaigned as a member to have the tree removed. In a now famous decision, the governing board at Augusta National turned down his request, and the tree was forever nicknamed the Eisenhower Tree.

The role the tree played can only be revealed when discussing the last three holes on the golf course, especially when considering the pressure of having to perform down the stretch on Sunday at The Masters. The 16th hole is a short par three, but the slope and grain of that green causes much stress for the pros as their ball slides around the hole that is guarded by water. So the tee shot at Hole 17 only added more stress and the Eisenhower Tree sometimes helped determine who would don the green jacket. The tee shot on Hole No. 18 is narrow as well, but there was no legendary tree in the way.

“The loss of the Eisenhower Tree is difficult news to accept,” said Billy Payne, chairman at Augusta National. “We have begun deliberations of the best way to address the future of the 17th hole.” The tree was estimated to be more than 100 years old, and certainly will never be forgotten as an important part of Masters lore.

The 2014 Masters tournament will still deliver floral and landscape beauty, despite the loss of the Eisenhower Tree, and the pro golfers will find plenty of other tricky shots on the course to have to deal with. My favorite spot to sit and watch is on the 16th green, and that includes a walk under the Eisenhower Tree on my way there. This year I’ll take that same walk, but the old pine won’t be there. Only time will tell how this one tree makes the transition from shaping golf shots, to shaping Masters history.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (142 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com