Mother Nature did what original club chairman Clifford Roberts refused to do and tore down the most famous pine at Augusta National Golf Club – the Eisenhower Tree.
Masters Tournament chairman Billy Payne confirmed the news Sunday evening that the damage suffered from last week’s major ice storm was too much for the nearly 125-year-old tree to handle.
With trees damaged all over Augusta by this week’s destructive ice storm, it stood to reason that even Augusta National would not be immune to the harsh consequences.
“Like so many of our family, friends and neighbors in this community, Augusta National Golf Club has been busy cleaning up after the historic ice storm last week,” Payne said. “Everyone affected remains in our hearts and prayers, and we likewise hope for a speedy and complete recovery for all.”
Despite initial reports of minor damage, a picture surfaced over the weekend that showed significant damage to the majestic loblolly pine that guarded the left half of the 17th fairway.
It’s a picture only the former President himself – who famously hated the tree that bore his name – might smile about.
Club workers are pictured cleaning up broken and pruned limbs from the loblolly pine that is the most defining feature of the 17th hole. Standing roughly 65 feet tall and situated about 210 yards from the Masters tee, the wide pine stood sentinel on the course throughout its history.
While the top-most branch seemed to be intact, gaping sections were missing from its once broad canopy – particularly on the left side which was almost stripped of all of its branches. The aging pine has been held together for years by numerous cables, but the latest scars were stark.
The damage proved too extensive for the club to salvage and the landmark was removed over the weekend.
Sources have claimed for years that Augusta National already has a reserve loblolly pine picked out and awaiting the call at an undisclosed location in Georgia. But whether the backup tree survived the ice storm intact is unknown, as are the club’s plans for the 17th hole.
“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.
Payne said “the golf course sustained no major damage otherwise. We are now open for member play and we will be unaffected in our preparations for the 2014 Masters Tournament.”
The famous pine tree on No. 17 got its name from Eisenhower, who was a club member from 1948 until his death in 1969. Eisenhower reportedly hit into the tree so often that he campaigned to have it removed. At the club’s 1956 governors meeting, the sitting president proposed cutting it down only to have Roberts promptly rule him out of order and adjourn the meeting. The pine has been known as Eisenhower’s Tree ever since.
The tree has played a role in the outcome of many Masters through the years. Tommy Aaron, the 1973 Masters champion, once hit his drive into the top of the tree and never saw it come down, forcing him to take a lost-ball penalty. The next day, his marked Pinnacle fell out of the tree as he was walking past it.
Jose Maria Olazabal famously punched a 5-iron onto the green from under the tree to preserve his win in 1999.
The tree’s most recent impact occurred in 2011 when Tiger Woods’ drive got snagged by the tree and he injured his Achilles tendon hitting his recovery shot from an awkward stance in the pine straw underneath the low-hanging branches.
One of the first player reactions to the news regarding Ike’s Tree came from 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson after he won Sunday at Riviera: “Let’s be honest, that tree was never in my way.”