by Sara Henderson, Director of Gardens
The last few weeks have seen the beginning of work on a portion of our Phase IV restoration that surrounds the grave of Robert Tyre Jones, the famous golfer. This area runs from Memorial Drive at the pedestrian gate north to Old Hunter Street, and east to the Confederate Grounds, encompassing almost two acres. Bobby, as we affectionately call him, is one of our most visited residents, and a steady stream of visitors stopping by to pay their respects has contributed the effects of time. Restoration is clearly needed and we are thankful for generous gifts from the Imlay Foundation and Southern Company Foundation that have allowed work to begin.
In 1931, Bobby Jones was looking for a piece of land on which to establish a golf course. He had considered various parts of the South without finding the right site when a friend suggested Augusta and took him to see property that had been the home of Fruitland Nursery. He knew immediately that he had found the property he wanted, exclaiming “Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come and lay a golf course on it.”
This property already had a rich history by the time Jones saw it, having been the site of an influential nursery from 1853 until around 1918. Fruitland began as a small nursery belonging to Denis Redmond, and quickly grew through sales of fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs. He sold a half interest in the business to Dr. Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans and his son, Prosper Jules Alphonse Berckmans, in 1857 and the Berckmans became sole owners in 1858. They were highly respected horticulturalists, contributing much knowledge and many new plants to southern gardens. The breadth of their offerings is seen in their catalogues, which included vast numbers of camellias, roses, azaleas, and peonies as well as such classic favorites as the tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans). Many of these were imported from around the world and propagated at the nursery for sale to their customers, with shipments going to China, Australia, Japan and everywhere in between. The Berckmans sold the nursery about 1918 and it did not succeed under the new owners. It had been virtually abandoned by the time Bobby Jones first saw it, however many of the original plants survived.
Bobby Jones chose Dr. Alister Mackensie of Scotland as the course architect, and it was planned that the 18 holes would recreate Jones’ favorite holes from other courses. He also wanted to maintain the beauty that had first attracted him to the site, and the course was developed to preserve these original plantings whenever possible. Prosper Jules Alphonse Berckmans, Jr. and Louis Alphonse Berckmans were hired to assist with these horticultural plans. It was largely these original plants that inspired much of the landscaping and many of the 18 holes were named in their honor.
Our plans for this portion of the grounds include the use of plants known to have been grown by Fruitlands Nursery and will include all of the plants named on the various holes. These 18 plants were planted near the grave several years ago, however many did not flourish where they were placed and a number of them did not survive, while others are in serious decline. Finally, the plant’s mature size was not considered in some cases, requiring others to be relocated to protect walls and allow easy passage along the walkways. We will preserve those that we can and replant others in new locations that we hope will be more satisfactory. Additional plantings in the area will be selected from Fruitlands’ extensive list of ornamental trees and shrubs. A combination of signage and brochures are planned so that the visitor can learn about these enduring southern favorites and the beauty that first drew Bobby to the site. This area will never match the beauty of Augusta National but we hope that it will reflect that beauty and the love Bobby Jones had for the site.