AUGUSTA, Ga. — A tree doesn’t grow in Augusta anymore. Make that on Magnolia Lane at Augusta National.
There’s a gap in the stately row of trees that line one of the most famous drives in America, the aftermath of thunderstorms that swept through Augusta early Tuesday and damaged other parts of the course, too. Workers quickly cleaned up most of the mess, but even the meticulous caretakers at the course can’t replace a tree planted before the Civil War.
Certainly not on a few days’ notice.
“One-hundred-and-fifty-year-old magnolias are in short supply for transplanting,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday, a day before the start of the 75th Masters. “We were all very much saddened by that, and we will make the best out of a difficult situation. We will deal with it somehow but we just haven’t decided how to do it yet.”
Augusta National was built on 365 acres that was once the Fruitland Nurseries. Baron Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans and his son filled the property with plants and trees from all over the world, including two long rows of magnolias alongside the drive leading to what is now the clubhouse. The hardy tree is native to the South, able to withstand heat, drought and flooding, said Scott Aker, the head of horticulture at the U.S. National Arboretum.
“They were one of the trees settlers admired and would plant in home gardens before the nursery industry,” Aker said.
Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts bought the land after the Berckmans died and, as the Masters grew in stature, Magnolia Lane became its signature. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods — the greatest names in golf all have passed beneath the canopy of statuesque trees.
“I drove down Magnolia Lane the first time in 1959 and I thought that was pretty neat,” Nicklaus said Tuesday. “I get the same thrill of driving in every time. To me that’s the entrance to Augusta National and the Masters, driving down Magnolia Lane.”
The storm, which produced winds of about 50 mph, downed trees and power lines and littered Augusta National with debris. Payne said repair crews were on the course within an hour, and the club is so proficient at masking flaws that players didn’t even realize the eighth green had been damaged.
“I was surprised, you know, that (the tree) wasn’t replaced the first half-hour,” defending champion Phil Mickelson said. “I don’t understand what happened. I think Chairman Payne must have been sleeping.”
It’s one thing to repair a green. It’s quite another to replace an uprooted magnolia tree.
“One may think you could bring a large tree in there, but magnolias are notoriously difficult to transplant,” Aker said. “Chances are, you would have to start with a much, much smaller tree. You’re talking about another century to develop a tree of that size.”
Having a mismatched tree simply wouldn’t do at Augusta National, so officials just left the spot bare. Not that anyone could tell.
The trees are not uniform. Some soar straight up; others have thick branches that snake low to the ground. They’re not evenly spaced, either, so it looks as if there’s more room between two trees about a third of the way up the left side of the drive.
“This place does it right,” Mickelson said. “That drive, I guess it has 60 magnolia trees now instead of 61. But it did not detract from the drive up.”