Updated: Thursday, 10 April 2014 02:51 | By Agence France-Presse

Ike's Tree gone but not forgotten at Masters

Augusta National has not yet decided how to replace "Ike's Tree", the iconic 17th-hole landmark removed from the famed course after damage from an ice storm last February.

Ike's Tree gone but not forgotten at Masters

The 17th fairway is seen during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia - by Andrew Redington

But club chairman Billy Payne said officials will be watching how the hole plays in this week's 78th Masters to help decide how to replace the "famous and beloved" giant, century-old loblolly pine.

"We do not yet have a definitive plan as to what, if anything, we will do to the 17th hole beyond this year's tournament," Payne said.

"We are closely examining play and scoring on the hole this week and will make a decision after careful observation and consideration."

Anyone who thinks Augusta National will be unprepared to challenge golf's greatest players has underestimated the club's resources, will and grounds crew.

"The ice damage was essentially limited to our trees and required a Herculean effort to trim and remove branches and significant debris," Payne said.

"Despite some of the worst weather conditions anyone can remember, we have never been more ready to host our tournament."

When Rory McIlroy, among the favorites in the showdown for the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy, was first asked about the removal of the tree in February, his startled reply was simply, "It's a tree."

But at Augusta National, it was far more, symbolizing a link to former club member Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th US President who served from 1953 to 1961 and died in 1969 at age 78.

"Ike" hit into the tree so often that he lobbied to have it removed in 1956, an idea rejected by club leaders but one that forever attached his name to the 65-foot pine left-center of the fairway some 210 yards off the 17th tee.

"Deep down he probably loved that tree just because it irritated him so much," said Arnold Palmer, whose fourth and final Masters win came 50 years ago.

The tree's fate is undecided as well. Past winner Tom Watson suggested the wood be used to make benches for the back patio area of the clubhouse to look out over the course.

Outside of past winners with long-term playing rights, only three pros in this year's field of 97 were alive when Eisenhower died, Steve Stricker the eldest at age 2 and Darren Clarke only seven months old.

But McIlroy, 24, now has a deeper understanding of the now-absent obstacle on 17.

"It was sort of like an iconic landmark for Augusta," he said. "I guess it makes 17 a little easier off the tee. I'm sure there will be something just as big and spectacular to take it's place next year."

Defending champion Adam Scott likes the look of 17 without the tree.

"It looks good to me. It's a little more open," Scott said. "It's a nice look off the tee. It's still a narrow fairway. It's still a very demanding hole at the end of the round."

Jim Furyk won't miss the tree that much.

"I hit that darned thing a lot," Furyk said. "The history of the tree will be missed and there is a lot of lore there but my game definitely won't miss it that much, put it that way."

"I've hit it a few times and I know it's a thorn in most players' sides," Stricker said. "I'm surprised there isn't a bigger one in place already."

Jason Day never found the tree an obstacle but appreciates the legacy lost.

"It's really sad. It goes along with everything, the history and tradition walking down 17. Now it's gone," Day said. "It's not the same but it's not going to take anything away from the experience."

Reigning US Open champion Justin Rose says 17 will be plenty tough without the tree.

"It's definitely a little wider, but it's still a chute. There's no room for error," Rose said.

"It's a shame to lose the tree and I think over time something will be done to frame the hole again but in a different way."

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