The ornamentals originally selected as signature plants for each of the holes at Augusta National are today, with some exceptions, the same ones that were originally planted at each of these holes when the course was first started. The same type of plants are still there.
Of all the signature plants you certainly could not miss the azaleas. There are 1,600 of these at the azalea hole, No. 13. Reputable sources state that the club has added 80,000 plants from 350 varieties to the grounds since the course was first started. If you can take your mind off of the golf tournament for a few minutes this weekend, look for these signature plants as you watch or walk the course during the Masters Tournament this month.
To me it’s like the game of golf is being played in a garden where everything possible has been done to enhance the beauty of the course. To me the signature plants on each hole that are so beautiful are one of the many reasons that golfers look forward to playing Augusta National and why the American public and people all around the world are attracted to it. Of course the genius of the architects and their creative design of the golf holes has made this place world famous among golfers because of the challenges these holes offer.
Put both of these things together — beauty and the challenge — and you have the game of golf being played on a unique course.
The Berckmans made a wise and natural choice in planting the azaleas and you will see islands of these beautiful plants everywhere, not just at hole 13. Many of these plants have huge blooms on them, just like an orchid. These are called Indica azaleas, which do well in the Augusta area but, unfortunately, are not as winter hardy in our area of North Georgia as some other popular varieties.
Many of the 1,600 plants surrounding No. 13 are the Indica variety that help produce such a good show. All the different varieties of azaleas on the course come together to contribute to the spring color most years at Masters time, however, depending on the weather, these plants may have already reached peak bloom before the tournament begins. No amount of ice could have saved them if ice was used because of the unseasonable weather in the Augusta area.
This happened a few years back, again because of an early spring. There was hardly an azalea in bloom on the course when the tournament was played. Mother Nature does not always cooperate with the club’s schedule because the time of spring bloom varies from year to year. Now this brings us to where the story of using ice on the course originated.
So how do you delay the buds from opening too soon in order to have maximum azalea bloom during the Masters when thousands come to Augusta and millions watch it from home? The rumor is that when the head nurseryman realizes that the azaleas will bloom too early, he will have his crew spread ice under each plant to reduce the temperature surrounding it and thus slow the buds from coming out so early. This story was heard by me long before I moved to Augusta and joined the nursery crew.
Now being an employee at the club here was a chance to talk with everyone from the head of horticulture at the club to long-term employees. My reason for coming here was certainly not to get an answer to this question. I joined the nursery crew for one year to obtain horticultural experience so I could come back to my hometown of Rome and start my own nursery and landscape business.
Before telling you what was learned from all these people just consider what putting ice around all those plants would involve. Just at the 13th hole alone with its cornucopia of plants, hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pounds of ice would have to be applied to the ground under all of those plants. Now if the weather has warmed up early in the season — the very reason bud break begins — it would not take very long for all that ice to melt. It would have to be replaced time and time again. However, realize that the 13th hole is not the only place where azaleas are planted on the course.
To delay bloom time ice would have to be spread at all these other locations too, which would be next to impossible. There are not roads that a truck can travel on to all the greens so the ice would have to be carried around the course by the small golf carts with a tiny bed on the back.
The answer that I found was that the story of the ice is nothing but rumor. It is not true. I was unable to find in my conversations with those at the club any one who confirmed this story. In fact most of those approached would laugh when this was brought up in our conversations. However, it is just possible that during the long history of this course someone did try to delay blooming this way and quickly learned how impractical this would be.
What is true, however, is that one of the holes in Amen Corner, if my memory serves me right, has something very unusual on it — there is a heat pump connected to pipes under the entire green that warms the grass in order to prevent the dew from making that hole difficult to putt on.
I found this out one day when working around this hole and saw this piece of air conditioning equipment hidden from view and running. My curiosity led me to ask the fellows what in the world was going on. At first I did not believe the answer they gave me, however, after some research in the library, I learned that it was indeed true.
This hole was so shaded that at certain times of the year the sun could not reach the green sufficiently to melt the dew early in the morning, thus delaying play. With the heat pump it disappears and the green is in prime condition.
If the Augusta National goes to so much effort and expense on such things as lightning rods and heated greens, you can imagine what is being done to nurture all the plants, trees, greens and fairways so that they are so thriving and near perfect.
All of these touches and, of course, the imaginative holes designed by Bobby Jones and Alister McKenzie are what make Augusta National such a very special place and, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful golf course in the world.