One of golf’s most famous trees joins the big arboretum in the sky

March 6, 2020

The big golf arboretum in the sky has another member. (Of course, the exclusivity goes without saying, as most every golfer would put most every tree somewhere far, far lower.)

The “Hinkle Tree,” a spruce that was planted by the United States Golf Association between the first and second rounds of the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, to deny a shortcut tee shot, was uprooted by a gust of wind this week, the Associated Press reported.

Forty-one years ago, Lon Hinkle had uprooted the Open.

With the group ahead of them on the par-5 8th hole waiting to play their second shots, Hinkle and playing partner Chi Chi Rodriguez began to look around, Sports Illustrated reported in 2003. Hinkle noticed a gap in the trees through which he could see the 17th fairway — a gap that would cut the distance on the 8th by about 75 yards.

Hinkle smacked a 1-iron through the opening, was home in two and two-putted for birdie. Rodriguez and others followed. And soon, the USGA went looking for a long-limbed defender.

The shortcut at the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness.
GOLF.com

“The next morning, at about 4:45, I’m in my office, and the green chair for Inverness, Bob Yoder, came in and he held up a receipt and he just sort of let it flutter on my table,” said former USGA executive director David Fay, then a young staffer, in a GOLF.com video last year. “And I looked at it and said, ‘What’s this?’ He said, ‘Your people planted a tree last night.’ It had been placed there at the order of our then-USGA President Sandy Tatum. He didn’t like the idea of a shortcut.

“Well, in my opinion, it’s a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

Indeed. On Friday — after Hinkle and Rodriguez’s other playing partner, Greg Norman, said “Boy, things sure grow fast around here,” according to the Sports Illustrated story — Hinkle hit his tee shot over the tree and made another birdie. Rodriguez, seeking extra height, teed his ball with a scoring pencil (which is now illegal).

“There was maybe a couple hundred people at the tee, waiting to see what I would do,” Hinkle told the Associated Press in 2003. ”I used the full size of the teeing ground and went to the left corner of the tee box. The tree wasn’t really even in the way. This time, I used a driver and flew it over the tree and had only a 6-iron to the green.”

And the legend of one of golf’s most famous trees was born.

“People still associate me with the tree. I hear about it on a regular basis,” Hinkle said in the Sports Illustrated story.

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