Friday, April 18, 2008

Eisenhower and Augusta National: A Love Story

Dwight David Eisenhower became a member of the August National Club in 1948. Prior to becoming president he managed to visit the course five different times.

Ike loved golf. Estimations go as high as 800 regarding the number of rounds of golf Eisenhower played during his eight years in office visiting various courses. Some of those rounds were played during the 29 visits he made to Augusta National. A Golf Digest article advises President Eisenhower loved golf so much he installed a putting green on the south lawn of the White House and during inclement weather he hit long irons into a net in the basement.

With the help of donations from club members a cabin was built for Eisenhower on the grounds of Augusta National in 1953 for a cost of $70,000. However, your idea of a cabin, my idea of a cabin, and Augusta National’s idea of cabin are totally different things. The Eisenhower cabin is a house as seen in the image here. The cabin was built to the specifications of the Secret Service and has an entire lower floor where agents resided when Eisenhower visited Augusta. The cabin served as the first real home President Eisenhower had known since graduating form West Point in 1915 and entering the army. When the President wasn’t visiting the cabin, it was used by other club members.

Accomodations were also made for the President to complete his business affairs----the business of the nation---in an office that was provided for him over the club’s pro shop. In fact, it has been reported that the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” where America announced it would use force in the Middle East, was announced within a fairway wood of the first tee. Today Eisenhower’s own cracker barrel, pictured here, sits in the Augusta National Pro Shop. The wood used for the barrel was once part of the White House roof.

Sadly it was impossible for President Eisenhower to attend a Masters Tournament while he was president. It would have been too disruptive. However, he would usually show up on the following Monday to play a round with the winner. The same Golf Digest article I referenced above states Arnold Palmer remembered Ike as “a regular guy on the golf course and a regular guy period.”

Palmer also remembered Ike was a fierce competitor who fought for a $1 nassau bet as if he were hitting a beach in France. “When somebody conceded him a putt,” Palmer recalls, “there was no discussion. He picked up his ball and moved on fast.”

At least once during the coverage for the Masters Tournament you will hear a reporter mention the Eisenhower Pine. The tree in question is a Loblolly Pine that stands 65 feet tall and is estimated to be at least 100 years old. It is located on the 17th hole, and is 210 yards from the Master’s tee. The tree and Eisenhower had quite a contentious relationship. The pine had a bad habit of getting in the President’s way. At a 1956 club meeting Eisenhower addressed the members in attendance and suggested the tree should be cut down. The Augusta National Club website advises that club president, Clifford Roberts, adjourned the meeting immediately instead of offending the President by rejecting his request outright. Citing Roberts Rules the club president ruled the President of the United States out of order.

Some of the changes to the Augusta National property President Eisenhower proposed were more positive, however. At one point Eisenhower mentioned he had found a perfect place to build a dam in order to form a fish pond. Today the dam is exactly where the President suggested, and the pond is referred to as Ike’s Pond.

One of the best stories concerning President Eisenhower at Augusta National is the time when the press corps was allowed to follow him on a full round of the course. At Rae’s Creek Ike hit two balls into the water. The President of the United States immediately stripped of his shoes and went after the errant golf balls. The reporters had a very rare moment on their hands, unfortunately I have yet to find a photograph of this moment online.

No comments: