It's known as the Eisenhower Tree. Ike's Tree. Perhaps the most famous tree in golf. A loblolly pine (pinus taeda) that juts into the left side of the 17th fairway of the Augusta National Golf Club about 210 yards from the Masters tees. Not the tallest pine in the woods, but tall enough (70 feet or so) and fiendishly placed. More than a century old, it covers half of the left side of the landing area of a drive with four low-hanging branches reaching out to grab balls in flight like a quartet of coniferous catcher's mitts.
Or rather it used to.
Oh, don't get me wrong, the tree is still there. But while it has grown incrementally, the skills of the competitors dueling it have increased exponentially, turning its presence in tournament play into a charming anachronism. For these Masters sharpshooters, 210 yards is a briskly hit 5-iron.
Ike's Tree today is as big a nuisance to the field as a gnat is to a 747. Or a balsa-wood wall is to a charging iron-plated rhino. Like logic to a politician. But a tee shot from you and me with our patented tree-seeking balls -- big trouble. And apparently the 34th president of the United States was one of us.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame two years ago, due to his status as the American politician most associated with the sport. According to a Golf Digest article, this Texas-born, Kansas-bred, West Point-educated son of an engineer may have played 800 times during his two-term presidency, which -- with even my rusty math skills -- would make it out to be once every 3.65 days. Such an avid golfer, the architect of D-Day installed a putting green on the South Lawn of the White House.
He may have been Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in WWII, but he proved to be no match for the clutches of the dreaded overhanging pine on Augusta's penultimate hole. The record shows he smacked the tree so often that during a Club governors meeting in 1956, he proposed cutting it down, inciting Chairman Clifford Roberts to adjourn the meeting so as not to refuse the request of a sitting president. (Though Roberts, in his autobiography, hints the exchange may have been an inside joke between the two of them.)
A member of Augusta National from 1948 until his death in 1969, Eisenhower forged a life-long friendship with Roberts, who was influential in the five-star general's decision to run as a Republican in 1952. And his mark on the course is as pronounced as a triple-bogey in the last pairing on a Sunday.
During his second visit to Augusta, Eisenhower strolled around the course announcing he had found the perfect spot to damn a spring. Boom. Verily, it was erected, and Ike's Pond came into being. Then, after his first presidential election, the Eisenhower Cabin was built off the 10th tee to Secret Service specifications, and it remains there today.
Eisenhower presided over the greatest growth period America has ever seen, and the irony is that no aircraft carrier or public school or tunnel or bridge will ever be as famous as the tree named after the man with a propensity to hook into it like ordinary duffers everywhere.
Of course, considering his love for this course and Club, it's a lasting legacy he would cherish.