sport

Nicklaus: Don't replace the tree

Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player do not think the famous Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole at Augusta National should be replaced.

The 65ft loblolly pine was around 210 yards from the tee on the left-hand side of the par-four hole and named after former President Dwight D Eisenhower, who hit it so often he asked for it to be removed.

It was eventually removed in February this year after suffering serious damage in an ice storm, with Augusta chairman Billy Payne saying on Wednesday that the club did not yet have definitive plans on whether to replace it.

Speaking on Thursday, six-time champion Nicklaus said: "I look at the area, it does look a little naked. It's not only Ike's tree, but Little Ike and a couple other trees were gone.

"But they really had no effect on the play of the golf tournament. I think the statistics show that there's been an average of maybe five of six balls that have hit the tree a year by bad shots, and it affected the membership far more.

"Could you put a tree back? Sure you could put a tree back. But I personally think that the hole needs definition a little further up, not back."

Player added: "There's enough trouble, golf is a very tough game, particularly for members who don't hit many fairways. I think the tree, as much respect as I had for the name attached to the tree, I think it's best that the tree does not be put back."

In contrast, Arnold Palmer said: "I think I would probably put a tree right back where the tree was and try to get it about as similar as it was when it was taken out."

The legendary trio were speaking after performing their roles as honorary starters by hitting a tee shot on the par-four first hole, with Nicklaus just beating Player to the longest drive.

"I think Jack outdrove me by a yard or two, but it's not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50," Player said. "But he did hitch on a sprinkler, you didn't see that."