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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters got very lucky Friday afternoon when the three trees that crashed to the ground near the 17th hole missed dozens of fans gathered nearby.

The videos of the trees falling were stunning; the stories of those who were there were harrowing.

“I was sitting, looking, waiting for the next group to come up to the tee and it fell maybe 8-10 chairs to our left,” spectator Megan Hill told the Augusta Chronicle, part of the USA TODAY Network. “I stood up and screamed and thought, ‘Is it going to fall on me?’ It fell to the left of us and it was so scary.”

“Pinecones were hitting us in the back, we turned around and looked up and heard a huge cracking noise and the tree basically crushed 10 chairs that were sitting there,” said another fan, Deshey Thomas.

Yet no more than 90 minutes after the incident, the Masters announced that ticket gates for spectators would open as scheduled Saturday morning at 7 and play would begin at 8.

In other words, fans will be back on the grounds in droves and it will be business as usual at the first men’s major golf tournament of the year.

Masters Leaderboard: Live leaderboard, schedule, tee times

Clearly, the leaders of Augusta National are gambling that in the midst of severe weather that is expected to continue throughout Friday evening, including heavy rain and high winds, all their other trees — thousands of them — are safe and stable and nothing like this will happen again.

In its statement, the Masters offered this sentence: “The safety and well-being of everyone attending the Masters Tournament will always be the top priority of the Club, which will continue to closely monitor weather today and through the Tournament.”


— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 7, 2023

While it is unclear what would happen if there were another incident involving the trees on the course, in wording that appears on every spectators’ badge at the Masters, the club attempts to absolve itself from any liability. This is not dissimilar to wording that often appears on the back of other tickets for various sporting events.

The badge says: “By entering onto the grounds of ANI (Augusta National Inc.), Holder agrees to assume all risk and danger arising from attendance, including risks associated with COVID-19. Holder releases and holds harmless ANI, its affiliates, directors, officers, employees, volunteers, agents and all Tournament officials and participants, from any claims of liability, including claims based on their alleged negligence, arising from the Agreement or Holder’s attendance at the Tournament, all as set forth in the Agreement.”

The shocking scene of the trees falling amid a gallery filled with spectators as golfers putted on a nearby green stood in stark contrast to the image Augusta National tries to project to the world: that it is a place of uncommon beauty, where attention is paid to every blade of grass, every azalea shrub and every massive tree.

As the club found out Friday afternoon, there are some things that are beyond its control.