By In Stuff


SOCHI – So you probably heard that Augusta National had to take down Eisenhower’s Tree. When I was 24 years old, in the luckiest break of my career, I was hired to be the sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. There was no reason for anyone to believe I could handle such a job. Most of the time, I could not. But people in Augusta are kind.

The most significant part of the job, naturally, was writing the lead column during the Masters golf tournament. This would have been especially exciting except for one small hurdle: I knew absolutely nothing about golf. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus. Ben Hogan. I’d heard of them.

That’s about it, though. I’d never played a round of golf. I had never been to a golf tournament. I only vaguely recall ever watching golf on television — I watched Nicklaus at Augusta in ’86 and I seem to recall seeing Watson’s chip-in at Pebble Beach. That about covered it, though.

And suddenly I was placed at the media center of the biggest golf tournament on earth. In those days, there was no Internet, no social media, no reading options. People who came to the Masters — from writing legends like Dan Jenkins or Jim Murray to the CBS television crew to the biggest golf fans who had built their lives around their Masters trip to the players themselves — had only one paper to read. The Augusta Chronicle. And I was writing the front page column.

It’s a good thing I was 24 and utterly clueless. Today I’d probably have a coronary.

Here’s what I remember: On the first day of my first Masters — I cannot recall if it was the Sunday before the tournament or the Monday — the sports editor Ward Clayton took me on a tour of the course. I had spent months studying up on Masters history and Augusta National’s lore. I spoke at length with Herbert Warren Wind, who coined the phrase “Amen Corner” for the 11th, 12th and 13th holes. I picked the brain of Jim Nantz and Davis Love III and Ben Crenshaw, who love the place as much as anyone. It was like cramming for a bar exam.

And then, Ward took me out on the course, and he showed me around. Augusta National was different then. There was no rough (or “second cut” as they insist on saying) and the holes were a lot shorter in places. Ward showed me the big oak tree outside the clubhouse — where I would spend countless hours waiting and waiting and then interviewing Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and the rest. He showed me the Hogan Bridge and the Nelson Bridge, both crossing over Rae’s Creek.

And he showed me Eisenhower’s Tree.

The tree was usually referred to as THE Eisenhower Tree — but I always preferred the possessive “Eisenhower’s Tree.” It rested by the 17th fairway, to the left from the golfer’s point of view, about 210 yards from the tee. It was said that Dwight Eisenhower when he was president and after hit that tree so many times that he asked for it to be removed. The image of that plainspoken Kansas man who planned D-Day barking “Somebody get this damn tree out of my way,” is one of my favorite in all of sports.

Clifford Roberts’ and the club defied Eisenhower’s wishes — though I’ve never really known how serious Eisenhower was about it. I’m guessing he could have gotten that tree removed — heck he sent federal troops into Arkansas to enforce school integration. Anyway, I’m glad he didn’t follow up. Eisenhower’s Tree was gorgeous, as so many trees at Augusta National are. It was a loblolly pine, people who know such things told me, and it was well more than 100 years old, and it liked to get in the way of golf shots, at least in the early days.

The stories. So many stories. Tommy Aaron once hit a ball that flew into the tree … and it didn’t come down. His caddy supposedly told him “balls don’t stay in THAT tree,” but they couldn’t find it anywhere else. It had to be in the tree. Aaron played on without it. The next day Aaron was walking by the tree. A golf ball fell out.

Jack Nicklaus hit that tree so many times that, at times, he would grumble, “Why didn’t they listen to Ike?” Tiger Woods hit a ball into that tree and then hurt himself trying punch it out from the pine straw. Tom Watson used to say that every time he walked by Eisenhower’s Tree he would remember to glance at it, pay his respects.

As time went on, Eisenhower’s Tree did play less and less of a role in the golf tournament. Golfers just hit the ball so much longer and higher than they did before the explosion in golf equipment technology. Don’t get Nicklaus started on how far golf balls fly these days. Bubba Watson, one of the longest hitters in the world, won at Riviera on Sunday and when asked about the tree said, “Yeah that’s a historic tree. I’ve never had a problem with that tree so it doesn’t really affect me much.” That’s frank but true. In the words of golf announcers, Eisenhower’s Tree was “not in play” for today’s golfers.

But I, like countless golf fans, never stopped loving it. During Masters week, when I did not know what to do — which happened pretty often — I would go to the 17th fairway and stand by Eisenhower’s Tree and just try to take it all in. Augusta National during Masters week, whatever else you might think of it, is one of the happiest place in the world. By that I mean everyone who is there is happy. Some of them dreamed of coming their whole lives. Some of them have been coming back, year after year, for generations. The weather is warm, the food is cheap, the grass glows green, and every time something good happens you can hear roars ringing through the pines.

In sports, in life, we attach meaning to things and places where we felt joy — that’s nostalgia and it’s part of what it means to be human. We love our first car, our first home, the movie theater where we saw Star Wars the first time or the Green Monster at Fenway Park. An old summer song can make us whiff the ocean and another time. Hearing Vin Scully say, “Pull up a chair and spend the afternoon with us” can make us 13 again.

When Augusta National announced that the winter storms had forced them to take down Eisenhower’s Tree, I felt 24 again, just starting my first big job, full of hope and anxiety and a sense of wonder. I cannot calculate how many hours I spent under it or by it and just watched and listened. Augusta National has announced it will put something to honor Eisenhower and his golfing incompetence in its place — maybe it will be some kind of ball magnet that pulls majestic shots out of the sky (take that Bubba!). Sadly, time does move on. Even at Augusta National.

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26 Responses to Eisenhower’sTree

  1. Leslie Olig says:

    So beautifully eulogized, Poz!

  2. Rick grayson says:

    Love your writing
    A sad day for Golf and Augusta National.

  3. otistaylor89 says:

    I may be wrong, but I think the reason Bubba Watson wasn’t affected by the tree was because, as a lefty, his tee shot would be to the other side of the fairway.

  4. Austin says:

    Wonderful remembrance Joe…

  5. Rick Martin says:

    Joe writes…..”Augusta National during Masters week, whatever else you might think of it, is one of the happiest place in the world. By that I mean everyone who is there is happy. Some of them dreamed of coming their whole lives. Some of them have been coming back, year after year, for generations. The weather is warm, the food is cheap, the grass glows green, and every time something good happens you can hear roars ringing through the pines.”

    This describes exactly how I felt when I had the chance to visit Augusta National between 1995-2006 while stationed at Eisenhower Army Medical Center. Thanks Joe.

  6. Keith says:

    You summed up the feelings for many of us who have grown up in Augusta and love the history so much. Miss you in Augusta Poz.

  7. Rebecca Holley Forty says:

    It has been a tough week in Augusta for all of us tree huggers. I love trees. Can’t say that I grieved any more or any less for Ike’s tree than any other. I just love them all. At least until I read this. For almost 200,000 of us, our main concern was groceries, expensive groceries, going bàd and praying our loblolly pine doesn’t cave in our roof or worse, our neighbor’ roof. But now all you hear for miles is a symphony of chainsaws. I can only imagine how hard it was for the ANCC groundskeepers to pull that chain and make that first cut. It has been a historical week in the Augusta area, snow, ice, the word catastrophic in our weather forecast, Jim the Weather channel guy coming to town(translated:its gone get bad people) all topped off by not one but two earthquakes. We are a resilient town. Neighbors helping each other. Some, still waiting for power on Monday, President’s day. Those of us who have a propensity towards the sentimental read this with a tear. Pax claimed more than his share of pines. I just wish he had spared Ike’s.

  8. Joe: check out a story from the Augusta Chronicle, dated April 14, 2013, written by Dan Wetzel. It includes photos taken by Chronicle photographer Michael Holahan, of both wedge shots at 15 from an identical position. The thrust of the story is that TW may have made a “false confession” given what he said in his presser. Clearly the second wedge shot was played within two feet of the first, not the two yards TW described. Here is why it matters: The process for every drop “as near as possible” is covered in Rule 20-2 (b). The rule does not require any particular intent. But it does require a re-drop, without penalty, when the ball ends up more than two club lengths from the spot where it lands. Forgetting what was intended or said, if the ball landed precisely on the previous divot, and finished two feet away, he could not have dropped again and the ball would have been deemed “as near as possible to the original place”. No one, including the Tournament Committee, the USGA or the R+A mentioned Rule 20-2, and that is where they were all wrong.

    • Robert says:

      As someone who is very familiar with the Rules of Golf, the incident of which you speak, and the context in which your comment was made, I feel uniquely qualified to pronounce the following official judgment: oh brother.

      • Not very helpful for someone so uniquely qualified, Robert.

        Yes or no, does Rule 20-2 dictate the requirements of every drop allowed under the Rules of Golf?

        Which Rule and/or which Decision, provides authority for the ruling that a drop under the stroke and distance language of 27-1(a) and by reference, 26-1(a), requiring a ball to be dropped “as nearly as possible…” means that the player must intend to drop the ball precisely on the spot where the ball was originally played?

        So the majority of players who don’t strike the ball first are required to drop the ball in the divot hole? Before or after replacing the turf? If the idea is to recreate the shot as nearly as possible, the turf should be replaced first, yes?

        What would the proper ruling have been if TW had not spoken about what he intended?

        • Robert says:

          What I meant by “oh brother” is that you’re trying to hijack this thread to relitigate an issue that has already been talked to death. Here’s something else that happened on April 14, 2013: Joe wrote a post in this very blog on this very subject. I suggest you post your comment there and see if you get any takers.

          • Could see how you could come to that conclusion, but no intention of that at all. Only cared about reaching joe because I just learned he started his career at the Augusta paper, so wondered if he had read the story. My bad for not respecting that this was off topic, so apologies to the other bloggers. Thanks for the reference, interesting also. See you at the next Bar meeting…

    • Berfenium says:

      I’m sorry, but what is the point of this comment? This lovely post has nothing at all to do with Tiger’s drop last year, which has been discussed to death.

      Please, just stop.

      • And yet you continued to read a comment that was clearly intended for joe, about his writing career as it relates to Augusta and The Chronicle. When you see a post that starts with a person’s name that is not Berfenium: just stop reading, if you can…

        • Berfenium says:

          It’s not “clearly intended for Joe” – this is a public comment section intended for discussion of this article. Everyone else seems to understand this and is commenting on… yes, this article. If you have a private comment for Joe I suggest you send him a private email.

          Post in public, I will read if I choose and reply if I wish. If you don’t like that, too bad.

  9. Missy Troutman deSouza says:

    Great story about the tree and the AGNC being the Happiest Place on Earth!! Thank you from another former Augustan (who return to be buried there…)

  10. AJK says:

    I post this as a big fan of Joe, but it seems neglectful not to mention the club’s history of segregation when remembering the club’s history, especially in a “remember when” sort of way like this piece. Joe is so often careful when discussing the history of baseball to remind us of the segregation in its past. It’s worth remembering when reminiscing about the days of yore of Augusta National, too (i.e., the early 1990s, I think).

  11. Linda says:

    Awesome as always. “The food is cheap”, must be old, really old.

    • Ed says:

      I’m not totally sure what you mean by “must be old, really old” — it’s definitely possible I’ve misinterpreted you and am going to sound like an idiot, but here goes anyways:

      The food IS cheap at the Masters. It’s the opposite of basically every other sporting event. I went a couple of years ago (and will be going for the second time this year) and got a Coke, a pack of crackers, a sandwich, and a bag of chips for $9 or $10 total. It was amazing… would cost almost that much just to buy a Coke at many events..

  12. piehead says:

    I did not cry when me own father was hung for stealin’ a pig… But I’ll cry now.

  13. RB says:

    Joe, the official backstory about Ike’s complaint involves a meeting chaired by Cliff Roberts, during which Ike made the motion that the tree be removed. Roberts said, “Mister President, you’re out of order”, then adjourned the meeting.

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