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Masters history lives through greenery

February 16, 2012 - 4:40 pm
The 13th hole is named after the azaleas that line the area.  File/Staff
File/Staff
The 13th hole is named after the azaleas that line the area.
By John Boyette |

All golf courses are not created equal.

Some - Pebble Beach comes to mind - boast spectacular ocean views. Others have island greens (TPC at Sawgrass) or mountainous terrain (Castle Pines).

Augusta National Golf Club? Its backdrop includes towering pines, and azaleas and dogwoods that seem to bloom on command each spring.

The property was an indigo plantation until 1857, when Belgian Baron Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans purchased the land. He and his son, Prosper Julius Alphonse, formed a partnership a year later to start a nursery.

Operating under the name Fruitland Nurseries, the Baron and his son began to import many types of trees and plants from other countries. The business thrived for more than 50 years but ceased operations a few years after Prosper's death in 1910.

The property remained stagnant until the early 1930s, when Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones entered the picture.

Jones had won the Grand Slam in 1930 - all four majors he was eligible for - and the celebrated amateur promptly retired from golf. He set out to build his "dream course" with Roberts' help.

Roberts and Jones decided in 1931 to buy the old Fruitland property for $70,000. Dr. Alister Mackenzie was selected to help Jones design the course, and construction began that summer.

Jones' love affair with the property was immediate.

"Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course on it," Jones said when he viewed the property for the first time.

The emphasis on plant life was evident from the start. With a good foundation to begin with, Roberts and Jones enlisted the help of Louis Alphonse Berckmans, son of Prosper Berckmans.

He returned to Augusta during the construction of the course and, at age 74, helped decide where the varieties would be located. According to club records, a few were already in the right location but most had to be planted.

Each of the holes at Augusta National is named for its distinctive plant. Some have changed through the years; No. 14, for example, used to be known as Spanish Dagger but is now known as Chinese Fir for the exotic plant that can be found on the left side of the fairway.

Similarly, a few palm trees can still be found on the property. The fourth hole was known as the Palm hole in early years but is now distinguished by the Flowering Crab Apple trees on either side of the fairway.

Over the years, more than 80,000 plants of more than 350 varieties have been added.

Pine trees, dogwoods and azaleas are still the most identifiable plantings on the course. Many of the pines are more than 150 years old, and there are more than 30 varieties of azaleas at the course.

Other trees and plants also are well-known:

  • Magnolia Lane is lined with 61 magnolia trees that were planted before the Civil War.
  • The Eisenhower Tree, located on the 17th hole, is a loblolly pine that stands 65 feet tall and is believed to be more than 100 years old.
  • The "big oak tree" behind the clubhouse was planted in the late 1850s.
  • The wisteria vine, located on a tree near the clubhouse, is believed to be the largest vine of its kind in the country.
  • The privet hedge at the club was imported from France in the 1860s and is the source for most hedges of its kind in the South.

Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 orjohn.boyette@augustachronicle.com.