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Augusta National's natural beauty was born in nursery

Monday, April 03, 2006
By John Boyette
Sports Editor

Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts get plenty of credit for having the vision to create Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.

Ken Mulherin, of the nursery crew, sprays down the lawn in front of the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf Club. The course was built on the site of a former nursery, and the flowers and trees have become part of the course's distinctive charm.

(Annette M. Drowlette/Staff)

But Belgian Baron Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans and his son, Prosper Julius Alphonse, deserve credit, too. Without them, it is doubtful Jones and Roberts would have selected the property that would become the world's most famous golf course.

In the 1800s, the 365-acre tract off Washington Road was an indigo plantation. That changed in 1857, when Berckmans and his son purchased the land and formed a partnership a year later to start a nursery.

Under the name Fruitland Nurseries, the two men began to import many different types of trees and plants from other countries. Prosper is credited with popularizing the azalea plant, which is found all over Augusta National. But the business ceased operations a few years after Prosper's death in 1910.

Enter Jones and Roberts, who were looking for a suitable piece of land on which to build Jones' dream course after he won the Grand Slam in 1930 and retired from competitive golf.

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

Jones knew immediately that the land was spectacular.

"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.

With a solid foundation left from the former nursery, 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 on each hole. According to club records, a few were already in the right location, but most had to be planted.

Each hole 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 is on the left side of the fairway.

A few palm trees can still be found on the property, too. 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.

More than 80,000 plants of more than 350 varieties have been added to the Augusta National grounds through the years.

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 are also well known:

- Magnolia Lane contains 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, 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 or john.boyette@augustachronicle.com.

Hole-by-hole guide

HoleNameCharacteristic

1.Tea OliveFragrant shrub with white flowers

2.Pink DogwoodTree with pink blossoms

3.Flowering PeachFlower can be seen in shades of white, pink and red

4.Flowering Crab AppleTree with pink and rose-colored blossoms

5.MagnoliaTree features large white blossoms

6.JuniperSmall trees with fragrant wood

7.PampasGrass with plumelike flowers

8.Yellow JasmineVine of the flower shows its color

9.Carolina CherryTree characterized by small white flowers

10.CamelliaFlowers with different colors depending on variety

11.White DogwoodTree with distinctive white flowers

12.Golden BellFlower flourishes behind green

13.AzaleaMultiple varieties of signature shrub line left side of hole from tee to green

14.Chinese FirExotic plant features ornamental cones

15.FirethornPlant shows small white flowers in spring

16.RedbudTree with pinkish blossoms

17.NandinaOriental shrub features creamy flowers

18.HollySmall tree with prickly leaves and red berries

Source: Augusta National Golf Club

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