Bloom goes the dynamite: Azaleas explode into color for Masters Tournament
In Augusta, azaleas aren’t just flowers. They’re the splashes of spring color that typify Masters Week in the town nicknamed “The Garden City.”
Azalea experts have traced the mainly-Asian flower's Southern popularity to its first plantings at a Charleston, S.C., rice plantation in the 1830s.
By 1849, an Augusta merchant named F.A. Mauge had begun advertising his newly established plant nursery in The Augusta Chronicle, touting several species of ornamental plants, including azaleas.
But azaleas’ connection to the Augusta National Golf Club started in 1857 when Belgian nobleman Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans purchased an indigo plantation that once occupied the club’s present site. He and his son, Prosper Julius Alphonse, founded Fruitland Nurseries.
Berckmans imported plants from around the world, and Prosper’s efforts to popularize the azalea as an ornamental plant in the South proved successful. The nursery closed a few years after Prosper’s death in 1910.
"It has been often said that, without the influence of Berckmans, the azalea would have made little impression on the gardens of America," amateur local historian Tom Robertson wrote in the spring 2005 edition of the Georgia Historical Quarterly.
Color commentary: How do the flowers look? Cool nights bring azaleas into full glory at Augusta National
Course in bloom: Scenic views of Augusta National Golf Club at the 2022 Masters
After legendary golfer Bobby Jones retired from pro golf in 1930, he wanted to establish a top-notch winter golf resort. That led him to the old Fruitland property.
“Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course on it,” he said when he first viewed the land.
After purchasing the property for $70,000, he and friend Clifford Roberts cofounded the Augusta National, refurbishing the old plantation house as the club’s main building.
One of the club’s earliest members, Henry Parsons Crowell, founded Quaker Oats. The Chicago resident also was an avid amateur gardener who owned a winter vacation home in Augusta. After being appointed the chairman of the Augusta National’s beautification committee for 1932, he and Louis Berckmans, Prosper’s son, oversaw the planting of more than 4,000 plants and trees, including azaleas, dogwoods, honeysuckle and magnolias.
More azaleas bloomed throughout the city. Between 1949 and 1952, the city of Augusta planted thousands of azaleas and more than 3,500 trees in a community beautification campaign. In 1974 and 1975, the city planted 4,350 dwarf azaleas while it installed an underground sprinkler system and brighter streetlights along Augusta’s downtown Greene Street.
Over the years, more than 80,000 plants of more than 350 varieties have been added at the Augusta National.
The ability for the azaleas to bloom as if on cue, just in time for the Masters Tournament, is a trait that cultivated a rumor – that the National packs the plants in ice to prevent them from blooming until Masters Week. The story has since been discredited by horticulture experts who have pointed out the logistical difficulties of keeping azaleas, on the club’s sprawling 365 acres of land, consistently packed with ice in the Georgia heat.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Flower power: Azaleas define Masters Tournament, Augusta every spring