AUGUSTA, Ga. — The origin of how the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National Golf received its name goes something like this:
Not long after being re-elected in 1956 as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower left Washington, D.C., for a 2½-week visit to Augusta National, where he had been a member since 1948. Eisenhower certainly spent the time working — as president, he conducted business in an office above the club’s pro shop — but also squeezed in some golf most days.
On Dec. 8, 1956, Eisenhower attended the club’s board of governors meeting, and used the opportunity to make a formal request: He wanted the tall, loblolly pine that was just to the left of the 17th fairway and some 200 yards from the 17th tee chopped down. It seems the tree kept getting in the way and knocking down many of Eisenhower’s drives.
After hearing President Eisenhower’s plea, Clifford Roberts made a quick, firm decision. Roberts, who was the longtime chairman of Augusta National and a co-founder of the club along with Bobby Jones, had the meeting immediately adjourned.
Not only would the president’s request be denied - Roberts said he was protecting club property — but the tree soon would have a new name.
The Eisenhower Tree became one of Augusta National’s most visible and famous on-course symbols: It stood 65 feet tall, and towered over the 17th hole. It was a large obstruction, one that always drew the eye and occasionally impacted the play, and over the years would become the root of at least one Masters injury.
It’s gone now, removed from the course after a damaging ice storm in February. Branches were strewn about Magnolia Lane in the wake of the storm, and it’s obvious at this week’s Masters that other trees on the property had been spared that day, but remain scarred.
The Eisenhower Tree, which had been planted long before the land was converted from a nursery into a golf course, now remains in memory only, a well-manicured patch of green grass taking its place. The 17th hole, which had never existed without it, doesn’t look the same.
“I’ve hit it a few times and I know it’s a thorn in most players’ side. I don’t know if any of the players are sad to see it leave,” said Steve Stricker. “I’m surprised that there isn’t a bigger one in place there already, to tell you the truth. I’m sure over the next year or two, there will be something there.”
Maybe, maybe not. Augusta National’s current chairman, Billy Payne, said on Wednesday a decision regarding if and how to replace the Eisenhower Tree won’t be made hastily, or without wide-ranging input.
“We are in the process of determining how to permanently commemorate and remember this wonderful part of our history,” Payne said. “There are many important constituencies: The Eisenhower Library, the golf world, our own Eisenhower Cabin, the 17th hole itself, all of our past champions, and of course members of Augusta National Golf Club. We will take our time, and hopefully we will get it right.”
The tree will always hold a place in Masters history. Arnold Palmer (1958) and Jose Maria Olazabal (1999) won despite making contact with the tree on their drives in the final round. The tree, which many players could carry, was brought back into play when the 17th hole was lengthened (it now plays 440 yards).
Then there’s Tiger Woods. His drive at the 17th hole in the third round of the 2011 Masters finished in pine straw surrounding the base of the Eisenhower Tree. He slipped on the straw while hitting his second shot, and injured his left knee and Achilles’ tendon.
Woods isn’t playing this week, missing his first Masters as a professional after recently undergoing back surgery. He won’t be the only thing that’s missed.
“The history of the tree will be missed and there’s a lot of lore there, but my game definitely won’t miss it that much, put it that way,” Jim Furyk said. “I hit that darned thing a lot.”