The Eisenhower Tree, so much a part of Augusta National that not even a sitting U.S. president could have it taken down, was removed from the 17th hole this weekend because of damage from an ice storm, the club said Sunday.
“The loss of the Eisenhower Tree is difficult news to accept,” club chairman Billy Payne said. “We obtained opinions from the best arborists available and, unfortunately, were advised that no recovery was possible.”
With the Masters only two months away, Payne said there was no other significant damage to the course.
The loblolly pine, which sat about 210 yards off the left of the 17th fairway, was among the most famous trees in golf. Players either had to hit over the 65-foot tree to keep the ball in the fairway, or try to shape the ball from right-to-left to avoid it.
It also infuriated one of the club members after whom the tree eventually was named: former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower, an Augusta member from 1948 until his death in 1969, was said to have hit the tree so often on his tee shot that he campaigned to have it removed. He proposed during an Augusta National governors’ meeting that it be cut down. This was in 1956, when Eisenhower was finishing the first of his two terms as president. Clifford Roberts, the club chairman and co-founder, overruled the president and adjourned the meeting.
It has been known as Eisenhower’s Tree ever since.
“The Eisenhower Tree is such an iconic fixture and symbol of tradition at Augusta National,” said Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters winner and Augusta National member. “It was such an integral part of the game and one that will be sorely missed.
“Over the years, it’s come into play many, many times on the 17th hole. When I stood on the 17th tee, my first thought, always, was to stay away from Ike’s Tree. Period. … 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. Ike’s Tree was a kind choice. But looking back, Ike’s Tree will be greatly missed.”
While players appreciated the history, some of them weren’t terribly fond of the century-old pine.
“Did it get in my way?” two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said Sunday. “It was like George Brett at third base for me. It caught more line drives from me than I’m allowed to admit. That doesn’t hurt my feelings.”
David Duval, who contended four times for a green jacket at the Masters, played a fade off the tee and had to be mindful of the Eisenhower Tree. Told the news Sunday evening, he was stunned.
“Are you kidding me? That’s terrible,” Duval said. “That tree made you really pay attention to where you were driving it. It made for a very narrow tee shot. You either had to go up over it or around it.”
Duval thought the only tree that got so much attention on a golf course was the original tree near the front of the 18th green at Pebble Beach. That since has been replaced, and there is speculation that Augusta National could do the same.
The club generally can do whatever it wants — except, in this case, save Ike’s tree.
The ice storm last week caused the tree to lose a significant amount of major limbs. A photo in The Augusta Chronicle showed gaping sections missing from the left side. The club had used cables to help hold the pine together in recent years.
“We have begun deliberations of the best way to address the future of the 17th hole and to pay tribute to his iconic symbol of our history,” Payne said. “Rest assured, we will do both appropriately.”
Tommy Aaron once lost a ball in the tree. It most recently was mentioned prominently at the 2011 Masters. Tiger Woods was trying to play a shot from the pine straw beneath Ike’s tree when he injured his left knee and Achilles while swinging from an awkward stance. Woods wound up missing two majors that year.
Bubba Watson, who can move the golf ball any direction he wants, never had a problem with it.
“Let’s be honest — that tree was never in my way,” Watson said Sunday after winning at Riviera. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. They never ask me. But I would think they’re probably going to plant something there.”
Payne said Augusta National made it through the storm without any other major damage and is open for its members to play. He said the club will not be affected in its preparations for the Masters, which starts April 10.
Players typically start going to Augusta National over the next several weeks for practice rounds.