Trees on the Golf Course, pg ii
by Joe Sponcia
“The purpose of a golf course is to have the game of golf played on it, and not to be viewed as an arboretum. The ground features and playing surfaces should always be top priority, with trees playing a supportive role”. – Jim Skorulski, Senior Agronomist, USGA
Like most things in life, tree placement isn’t a black and white issue, but many in the architectural community can agree on several common points. As a general rule, trees should reside on the periphery, meaning out of the way of a properly played shot, with few exceptions. Trees should complement individual holes, not adversely affect them, especially when it comes to the least skilled.
Included below are common pitfalls and their consequences:
- Avoid planting in the corner of every dog leg. Dog legs can be defined by bunkers and/or rough just as easily as they can by a cluster of trees. Both are a more fair option for mid to high handicaps because they eliminate distance and trajectory as the primary defense of par. The golden age architects used bunkers extensively on corners to create risk/reward options, a design principle that has only recently begun to take hold once again. The worst scenario is when a player is in the fairway, and his/her only option is a lay-up or punch out due to over-treed corners.
- Remove trees whose limbs hang over fairways, tee boxes, and especially those who impede sunlight around greens. The USGA recommends tree canopies be set back a minimum of 10 yards from the edge of fairways and tee boxes. Green sites, which are more fragile, need much more room, literally, to breathe. And what about yearly pruning? Pruning is better than the alternative, but as Dr. Brad Klein points out, “if a tree needs to be trimmed, it’s easier and better just to cut it down altogether. If it needs trimming, it doesn’t belong there”. Some would argue that this position is too extreme but the benefits outweigh the costs in almost every case: Wider effective fairway angles, better turf, more fair conditions for all handicaps, and increased safety as players aren’t forced into hitting shots from roots, buried or on the surface. Width is a point of contention for the robotic ‘too easy’ crowd, but the fact is, as handicaps rise, so does the challenge of hitting fairways that have narrowed over time due to tree encroachment.
- Avoid planting in clusters. If one tree is good, four are better…or so it seems on many courses. The truth is, if you really like a certain tree and you really want it to have a strategic (not penal) impact on play, it is better to leave it on its own. Single plantings, while unfair in certain circumstances, do at least offer a chance for an exciting recovery. Clusters afford no such luxury more times than not. And is there any question aesthetically-speaking what is more preferable: A single specimen oak vs. a cluttered grouping?
“The key is to mix things up. Most courses cut from trees are repetitive, because the owners have tried to clear only the minimum amount, instead of trying to create a varied landscape. And most courses where trees are planted become repetitive, because if left unchecked, committees tend to plant in every available space, which leads to the same thing. As much as possible, one should avoid parallel holes separated by trees. If you’re stuck with that, sometimes make the clearing two holes across [or even three!] instead of one. Try to work on diagonals, or leave the trees tight along one side and very wide to the other side. Highlight the fine specimen trees [if there are any], use them as features, and remove all the clutter around them. Create longer views on the interior of the course; look for chances to open up behind the green” – Tom Doak
- Avoid creating ‘double-hazards’. The most common occurrence is pictured below where a tree is placed immediately in line with a bunker and the target. Situations like these are common where beautification committees ran unfettered many years ago. Not only do they unfairly hurt the higher handicaps, they greatly slow play hurting all players.
- Remove trees growing into cart paths. This should seem like the easiest point to get consensus on, but many clubs repave the same areas every few years. This is an actual excerpt from a blog post Steve Kealy, Course Superintendent, Glendale CC wrote: “Cart paths and adjacent trees are like oil and water, they don’t mix. When Glendale was built there were no trees on the course. The cart path routing was laid out and trees were planted. Maybe trees were planted to hide the paths, who knows? Fast forward fifty years and we have a lot of tree issues that need to be resolved.”
5(a). Remove plantings on the inside of cart paths. Trees don’t hide cart paths, they hide players behind trees that others will hit into.
Seldom is there a need to plant trees on the inside of most cart paths. This is especially true around greens, where larger-sized tree species should not be planted within 75 feet of a green. Avoid planting larger-sized tree species altogether on the southeast side of greens, where they will block the morning sun. – Jim Skorulski, USGA
A few examples of proper framing: