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.
And it 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 and 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.