Augusta tight-lipped on tree falling problem that plagued last year’s Masters

Fallen trees Masters -  Augusta tight-lipped on tree falling problem that plagued last year's Masters
Not in the script - trees fell on the 17th last year sending patrons running for their lives - AP/Mark Baker

You may recall there was a bit of a commotion over trees at last year’s Masters. Specifically, three big loblolly pines which came crashing down to the left side of the 17th fairway on the Friday afternoon, following a brief storm delay.

Given you could eat your dinner off what passes for rough here – let alone Augusta’s perfectly-manicured fairways, on which not a blade of grass is out of place – it was rather shocking to see the illusion of perfection shattered for a moment and patrons sent running for their lives.

And they did run for their lives. If you think that is over-dramatising events, read the piece on last week in which the author caught up with two of the women who were sent running, and the man who lifted the ropes for them, barking at them to run across the tee box (an act that in normal times would be grounds for expulsion at a tournament where you can be ejected for possession of a mobile phone).

One of the women returned to find her fold-up chair “crushed” by a 100ft pine, and her backpack’s sides “blown a sledgehammer would a bag of potato chips”. She suffered nightmares about trees for months after the incident. “I would just hear the cracking sound and scream again,” she recalled. “Then I would wake up kind of sweaty, kind of, like, just thankful to be alive.”

Another woman, a lady in a black dress, failed to run. Miraculously, two of the loblollies landed on either side of her.

Fallen trees Masters
One woman had two trees luckily fall either side of her - Shutterstock/Justin Lane

Treegate certainly generated headlines, with pictures of the pines with their roots ripped out of the ground beamed around the world. And so, 12 months on, it seemed reasonable to ask what Augusta had done to prevent a possible repeat.

The answer is: we do not really know. That is often the way of things at Augusta, a private members club which is not obliged to answer any questions it does not want to. It does not have to put its head groundsman up for interview if requested, or answer whether the fallen trees have been replaced (there is a new one there, albeit only around a third of the height of the old ones).

Media who asked about trees this week were told there would be the opportunity to put questions to chairman Fred Ridley in his traditional eve-of-Masters press conference on Wednesday. But after a lengthy monologue from Ridley to kick things off, which took up much of the allotted time, the compere never got around to many reporters with their hands up. That may or may not have been intentional. At Augusta, they know from our passes who we are before we ask a question.

Either way, no information was forthcoming. We can only presume Augusta has done as much as it can to mitigate against a repeat. It is understood the club has a full-time horticultural team and certified arborists on retainer, who have carried out exhaustive checks.

But there is only so much they can do. Trees do come down from time to time, particularly old ones or heavily manicured ones, or ones which have been planted as mature trees (the absence of much in the way of root systems on last year’s fallen trees suggests that was perhaps the case). They just do not normally fall during play.

In 2012, an overnight storm during Masters week brought down a pine which crushed a bathroom facility by the 16th hole, but most patrons were blissfully unaware since by the following morning, the club had fully repaired the hut.

That is the way Augusta prefers to manage its business. Discreetly.