Loran Smith’s Masters Column: Masters for Friday

Published 2:16 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

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AUGUSTA – Even in inclement weather, there was a reverent

gathering on Thursday under the Big Oak which towers gloriously over the

grounds between the clubhouse and the first tee at the Augusta National

Golf Club.

It is the club’s most famous tree now that the Eisenhower tree at the

17 th hole no longer exists. It succumbed in an ice storm back in 2014,

nature eliminating a tree that a President of the United States could not.

Legend has it that at a Board of Governor’s meeting that Eisenhower, a

member of the club, proposed that the loblolly pine on the left side of the

fairway at the 17 th hole be cut down. He hated the tree, which stood about

65 feet high, 200 yards from the tee. The story goes that Cliff Roberts, the

crusty chairman on the club, ruled that Ike was out of order and adjourned

the meeting.

Trees and shrubs, flowers and plants have always been prominent in

the function of the Augusta National. There is a palm tree growing on the

fourth hole. It is the lone palm on the golf course, but palms are not

uncommon in Augusta. Although sparse, you can find them in the

neighborhoods of the city.

The Big Oak Tree by the clubhouse dates to the 1850s and is of

supreme importance to officials of the club. Suspension cables hold up

some of the big limbs and there is a lightning rod to protect the tree if a

storm should pass through.

Mother nature, as it was with Ike’s tree on No. 17, will have to

eliminate the Big Oak as the club will do anything possible to keep the tree

alive and healthy.

There are many golfing aficionados who say that this sprawling oak is

the most famous tree in golf, even outranking the famous Cypress tree on

the 18 th fairway at Pebble Beach.

Although President Eisenhower was preoccupied with the existence

of the loblolly pine on No. 17, likely he swooned to the beauty and

stateliness of the Big Oak Tree by the clubhouse.

We know that, in addition to frequent trips to Augusta, Ike also quail

hunted in Thomasville and was smitten by Thomasville’s Big Tree at 124 E.

Monroe St. He photographed the tree himself which makes one wonder if

he planned someday to paint the tree. There is an oil painting in the

clubhouse by the former President.

The Big Oak Tree is a gathering place for all types of people from

players to caddies to sports agents to family members to sportswriters and


In the old days, you might find Hollywood celebrates such as Bing

Crosby and Tennessee Ernie Ford mingling about under the Big Tree.

Local television announcers were always eager to score an interview with

some of the celebrities and former champions who found their way to the

Big Oak Tree.

I remember Ben Hogan’s last trip—for the champion’s dinner—in

1978, he walked out under the famous tree and was swarmed by the

media. It would be his last interview at Augusta and his every word was

taken as gospel.

He exercised uncommon patience (if memory serves correctly for at

least 45 minutes.) He was peppered with questions about a lot of topics,

but the one I remember most was about Johnny Miller’s 63 in the final

round at Oakmont in 1973.

Hogan could not fathom anyone posting such a score in the U. S.

Open and expressed contempt for the circumstance. “Who ever heard of

such a score in the U. S. Open?” he asked.

Then he added this about John Miller’s unbelievable round, “Maybe

he did not know what he was doing.”

Hogan, referring to Miller’s sensational score, would not have been

more surprised if the Big Oak Tree had collapsed in a light breeze in July.