Loran Smith: Masters Friday

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Loran Smith: Masters Friday

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

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 17th 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 17th 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 18th 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 sportscasters.

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.





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One response on “Loran Smith: Masters Friday

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