The Masters will have a very different look in April, one that even the most gifted greenskeepers in the world could not prevent.
The iconic Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole was so badly damaged by the ice storm that ravaged Georgia and the Southeast last week that it had to be removed over the weekend.
"The loss of the Eisenhower Tree is difficult news to accept," Billy Payne, chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, said in a statement Sunday night. "We obtained opinions from the best arborists available and, unfortunately, were advised that no recovery was possible. 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. I can report that 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 tree, a 65-foot loblolly pine estimated to be at least 100 years old, is among the most famous landmarks in golf and has vexed a number of golfers, including a club member for whom it was named — former President Dwight Eisenhower. It was located about 210 yards from the tee, at the left of the fairway, and had required the support of cables in recent years. It is believed that Augusta had been anticipating the loss of the tree and has selected a replacement, but it won’t be Ike’s Tree.
"The Eisenhower Tree is such an iconic fixture and symbol of tradition at Augusta National," Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters winner, told ESPN. "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."
If Ike, a member at the club beginning in 1948, had had his way, it might have been gone long ago. He lobbied for its removal, but a five-star general and president only wields so much power at Augusta National. Eisenhower was ruled out of order over the matter at a meeting in 1956.
More recently, Tiger Woods hurt his leg when it got caught in the pine straw as he hit from beneath a big bough in 2011 and missed the next two majors. It may have been beautiful, but a lot of golfers felt the way Eisenhower did.
"Did it get in my way?" Curtis Strange said Sunday (via the Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson). "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."
At least one golfer showed respect for it.
"Are you kidding me? That’s terrible," David 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."
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