‘Thud and then a crack’: Patrons react to trees falling at Augusta National

augusta national trees down

Security staffers were all that hung around the fallen trees shortly after play was suspended at Augusta National Friday.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia had just played from the greenside bunker on 15. Larry Mize was sizing up a putt on 16. Play had been suspended once already at Augusta National but the golfers were getting in as many holes as they could before inclement weather arrived. 

In an instant, that’s exactly what happened. At 4:21 p.m. local time, two of the towering pine trees that have become synonymous with the world’s most famous golf club and tournament began to uproot. It had been blowing a decent bit, according to patrons in the vicinity, but suddenly a much bigger gust arrived, followed by the sound of wood splintering. The trees came from the left side of the 17th tee. They moved slowly enough, and loudly enough, to warn most everyone in the area.

“We just felt the wind pick up and then all of a sudden we heard some cracks and people yelling,” said Maria Moses, who was in the grandstand on 16.

Patrons shot up out of their chairs. Some watched and others ran. Amateur Harrison Crowe cringed from where he stood on the 16th green. Mize was crouching down to read a putt but popped up and whirled around to watch. Min Woo Lee watched in horror. His caddie Stuart Davidson covered his ears and turned away. “You hear a thud and then you hear a crack,” said Greg Janes, who was in a grandstand on the nearby 15th. “So it sounds like thunder and lightning.”

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The timber slammed into the earth just beyond the tee box, across the walkway to the 17th fairway. On their way down, the trees snapped a third tree about 50 feet up. Tournament staffers raced into action. About 100 others followed, according to spectators who watched. Others began evacuating the grandstands immediately. Miraculously, no one was injured. And coincidentally, not a single player was on the 17th hole, thanks to a pace-of-play gap in the tee times. A minute later, the horn was sounded again to suspend play. 

“We thought it was lightning,” Janes’ wife Marilyn said. They had done some reporting themselves: “A guy who was standing right there said people froze and some branches scraped them.”

“Just thank God no one was hurt,” Greg added. “It was frightening.” 

About 90 minutes after the incident, Augusta National released a statement, saying, “Augusta National Golf Club can confirm that no injuries were reported from three trees that were blown over to the left of the No. 17 tee due to wind. The safety and well-being of everyone attending the Masters Tournament will always be the top priority of the Club. We will continue to closely monitor weather today and through the Tournament.”

The incident was the talk of the walk as spectators were ushered off the property. Some had no idea it happened, and just assumed the steady rain that arrived was the reason they were evacuated. Others reiterated that they thought what they heard was lightning, including numerous patrons who were as far away as the 13th green when they heard tree hitting ground. 

Because there are cameras littered across the campus during Masters week, there is some alarming footage:

The mood of most patrons was lightened when they heard that no one was injured. But it didn’t outweigh the look of relief for the luck that played out. It’s difficult to tell how tall a tree is until it’s laying on the ground next to you, and in this case, the pines were no shorter than 150 feet tall, perhaps 200 feet.

Within 20 minutes of that fateful gust, barely a single spectator remained in the area. Security guards continued urging any lingerers to move on, nothing to see here. An automated speaker system rang out from seemingly every corner, telling spectators to find any updates online. Maintenance staffers began raking up the debris of branches sprayed out on the turf. A lone man in an olive green jumpsuit paced around quickly, ripping a chainsaw through one of the trunks. A couple helpers had lassoed a blue rope around whatever remained standing of that third tree. This one was much skinnier and easy to manage. Within a minute it hit the ground, too.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

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