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Payne talks Masters parking, field size and trees

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club’s horticulturists are bringing the Eisenhower Tree back to life through genetic grafting.

Plans are in the works to extend the club’s boundaries past Berckmans Road to beautify Masters public parking lots so that they match the look of the club itself.

And the tournament’s field size will continue to be monitored with a plan to scale back if it’s deemed to be getting too large.

Those were among the topics club chairman Billy Payne laid out Wednesday in his annual Masters news conference to “positively address the mandate of continuous improvement established by our beloved co-founders, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.”

Payne showed photos of new growth sprouting from genetic grafting of the Eisenhower Tree, the iconic loblolly pine at the 17th hole that was removed after suffering major damage in an ice storm before last year’s event.

“Not surprisingly, they have already become some of our most loved and cherished possessions here at Augusta National,” Payne said.

The club also unveiled a large cross section cut from the trunk of the tree that will be displayed in a glass-enclosed case at the club this week and later permanently displayed at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan. A similar display will remain at Augusta National.

Payne said there are no plans to replace the tree, but added “who knows what the future holds.”

Payne also talked about the club’s extension of its property across Berckmans Road in a land deal with the city that will allow the club to beautify the gravel and worn-grass parking lots that currently sit just outside the club’s gates.

“Imagine parking, in a few years from now, in a very beautiful park, walking to the admissions gate without having any interference by cars or carts,” Payne said. “It will be a straight, uninterrupted walk, a beautiful walk. We're pretty good at landscaping, as you know, so you can kind of imagine what it would look like. So, we're right in the fun part of planning that. But it's going to be good. That I promise.”

With 97 players teeing it up in the Masters this year, Payne was asked if there were plans to limit field size.

“We look at that periodically, and we are prepared, if necessary, to make changes to the qualifications,” he said. “However, more than the merits of the Top X versus the Top Y, the restricting factor to the field size is the amount of daylight hours during early spring. We already push the envelope very closely when we get at or about a 100 players. If it regularly got more than that, we would have to do something. I don't know what it is, but we would do something.”