Commentary

Players feel loss of Eisenhower Tree

Updated: April 7, 2014, 4:26 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Eisenhower TreeAugusta National/Getty ImagesThe look from the tee is a much different one after the Eisenhower Tree (shown above) was removed.
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Yes, it's just a tree.

Sort of like Augusta National is just a club. And the Masters is just a golf tournament.

The 65-foot loblolly pine that guarded the left side of the 17th fairway since Augusta National's inception is no longer here, felled by a harsh winter storm that required its removal.

To visit the spot now requires a bit of navigational skill. You'd never know it was missing if you didn't know it had been there for more than 100 years.

During Monday's abbreviated practice round for the Masters, a tournament marshal had marked the spot with a pine cone, and it is a bit surprising to realize how far the tree protruded into the fairway.

That is why it caused its share of grief over the years, why it was named for a former president and why plenty of golfers found it to be menacing, even if today's technology had rendered the tree more ornamental than pivotal.

"

I seem to have hit that damn thing at least twice a year. It's a different tee shot for me. So from the history of the game, it'll be missed. But my game won't miss it, put it that way.

" -- Jim Furyk

For those who have had a chance to play the course since the tree's demise in February, the lack of a towering pine presents a much different visual from the tee.

"It looks good to me. It's nice," said defending Masters champion Adam Scott. "It's a little more open, obviously. It looks very good off the tee. It's a nice look. It's still a very narrow fairway where the drive finishes. I don't know if it's going to play easier. We'll see at the end of the week when I guess all those averages are calculated.

"I still think it's a very demanding hole, and I think it's a challenging hole to finish out a golf tournament."

Augusta National officials have said they will contemplate their next move, although you can safely assume they will look at the impact the tree's removal has on the hole's scoring average and chart where drives come to rest to see if putting some sort of roadblock -- whether it be a tree, bunker or even, gasp, water -- is appropriate.

Although the tree was just 210 yards off the tee and many of today's longer hitters all but ignored it by blasting drives over or past it, Ike's Tree did have a visually intimidating nature.

The base of the tree was approximately 10 yards into the fairway from the left edge of the first cut of rough, and it's height and mass made for what appeared to be a very narrow shot.

"It used to be no big deal really to pop it over when I first started playing," said Jim Furyk. "Now I seem to have hit that damn thing at least twice a year. It's a different tee shot for me. So from the history of the game, it'll be missed. But my game won't miss it, put it that way."

The tree got its name because President Dwight D. Eisenhower was so frustrated by it. An Augusta National member from 1948 until his death in 1969, Ike found that tree more often than he liked and even called for its removal at a 1956 meeting.

Augusta's club chairman at the time, Clifford Roberts, overruled the president of the United States, adjourned the meeting, and the topic never resurfaced.

This, of course, brings a chuckle from Arnold Palmer. The four-time Masters champion -- who won his last major title here 50 years ago -- first met Eisenhower after his 1958 victory.

"I played a lot of golf at Augusta with Ike," said Palmer, 84. "And of course he hated that tree. But he was a soft-spoken guy and a president who was very enjoyable. And he didn't like that tree at all. A couple of times he told me, 'Arnie, if I could hit that tree enough to bring it down, I'd do it.' And that's in fun.

"But the tree was a hazard, no question. It was a hazard to the professionals, particularly in recent years. In the early years, it wasn't so much. I used to just whip it right over the tree. I didn't think much about it in the earlier years. But now it's gone."

Now what?

"I'm surprised that there isn't a bigger one in place there already, to tell you the truth," said Steve Stricker. "I'm sure over the next year or two there will be something there."

"It's sad," said Jason Day. "I'm sure the guys here will do something about that. It goes along with everything, the history and tradition, walking down 17. I knew that I could clear it, but it's just something that I'd like to see all the time and you grow up and watching, and now it's gone. It's not the same, but it's not going to take anything away from the golf tournament."

Palmer, who is an Augusta National member, said, "No one has called and said, 'Arnie, what do you think we should do?'"

But Palmer offered up the example of a tree lost on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach that was replaced with good results. Another tree was found and relocated from a different part of the property.

"They could probably put another tree in there," Palmer said. "I certainly think that Augusta has done more astounding things than just moving a tree."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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