No matter what our level of golfing ability, we all have that one obstacle that we find impossible to master. For the pros, it may be the infamous island hole at TPC Sawgrass, where it seems unavoidable to plop the ball in the water. For the less skilled amongst us, it may be that pesky windmill hole at our local, beachside crazy golf circuit where, no matter how hard and what you try, you can’t help but hit the windmill’s arms as it spins relentlessly round.

For US President Dwight D Eisenhower, his major obstacle at his beloved Augusta National was the giant pine tree situated to the left of the 17th fairway. As a club member, he hit that tree so many times he campaigned for its removal. But, the tree stayed and was named ‘The Eisenhower Tree’ in honour of the frustrated President.

It was labelled as ‘the most famous tree in golf’ and ‘one of the most famous obstacles in golf’ due to its history and prominence on the famous course but also due to its sheer size. The Loblolly Pine was around 65ft tall and was unusually wide.

Sadly, in 2014, the vicious Winter Storm Pax that swept across Georgia did what President Eisenhower never could and brought down the famous old pine. Its branches had suffered such extensive damage that there was no saving it, despite extensive attempts to do so. At the time of its death, the tree was believed to be somewhere between 100 and 125 years old. The Eisenhower Tree was gone and, somewhere up above, the President with a penchant for a hook off the tee was surely allowing himself a small grin.

Such was the status of the tree in the golfing world, its loss brought tributes from some of the greats of the game. 18-time major winner and six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus expressed his views on the tree.

“I hit it so many times over the years that I don't care to comment on the names I called myself and the names I might have called the tree,” Nicklaus said at the time of its removal.  “But looking back, Ike's Tree will be greatly missed."

US golfer Jim Furyk expressed his own frustrations with the tree over the years, saying: “I hit that darn thing probably twice a week so my game’s not going to miss it, but I know there’s some history that will.”

But the story didn’t end there for the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National.  In 1946, the President made a visit to Edinburgh, to receive freedom of the city. During his visit, Eisenhower planted an oak tree at Dalmeny Golf Club and, upon hearing of the death of the tree, the Scottish club sent cuttings to Augusta in the hope of replanting it.  Whether or not that offer was accepted is unclear, but Augusta this year announced that they had been able to preserve two grafts and a seedling from the old Eisenhower Tree and plan to replant it somewhere on the course in the near future. So, in years to come, a big old pine on the famous old course may frustrate many more golfers.

In general terms the tree was more of a hindrance to amateur golfers rather than the professionals targeting the green jacket every April. It stood approximately 210 yards from the Masters tee and so the hitting power of the modern player meant that they could drive beyond the pine if they struck the ball well.

That’s not to say even the best weren’t caught out by Eisenhower’s tree as we saw perhaps most famously during the Masters in 2011. Tiger Woods went left off the tee and was forced to play his second shot from under the tree. Unfortunately his left foot got caught in the pine straw and as he fell backwards he suffered an Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him until August.

Such injuries, whilst not commonplace, can occur on a golf course in a sport that has been labelled the ‘most litigious’ of all. There was once a case where a lady ruptured her Achilles tendon by standing on a piece of unmade ground whilst walking from the tee to her golf cart. She was a keen line dancer and couldn’t dance for months and sued on that basis. The golf club was forced to settle the claim for compensation.

Trees on the course that are aged and unstable can often prove to be health and safety hazards, whilst conditions underfoot, in and around them, can often be slippery and unstable.

Gauntlet Golf stresses the need for golf clubs secretaries to review all elements of their health and safety procedures and to carry out risk assessments to look at potential issues, both on and off the course. Whilst Tiger Woods was never likely to bring a claim against Augusta National, golf clubs can be held liable for such personal injuries, if risks are not properly identified and appropriately dealt with.

If you wish a Gauntlet health and safety consultant to review your golf club’s health and safety procedures, and produce a thorough risk assessment of all golfing obstacles that could hinder you – even if not as famous as the Eisenhower Tree – please call 0113 244 8686 / info@gauntletgroup.com

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