Feature Interview with Dunlop White Part I
Having graduated from the School of Law at Wake Forest University, White practices real estate title work in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. White serves as an officer of the Donald Ross Society and is also an architecture and design panelist for Golfweek’s ‘America’s Best Courses’ and North Carolina Magazine’s ‘Top 100’. As a writer, White’s treatises serve as crucial pieces of literature for superintendents and green committees and have been featured in a variety of golf publications, including LINKS, Golfweek, Superintendent News, Triad Golf Today, North Carolina Business, and Paul Daley’s cult classic, Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. As an enthusiast of classical golf course restoration, White is an ardent conspirator of tree management and believes that such a commitment is critical for those clubs who want to reclaim their architectural integrity.
1. What was the general perception of trees and their role in classical golf course architecture?
At first, there was a blanket indignation of trees on golf courses. Certainly, it’s not a coincidence that many early American golf courses were fallow and barren. Classical architects were influenced by The Old Course and links golf in Great Britain, so they naturally embraced open, windswept landscapes as ideal sites here in America. If wooded areas were marked for construction, the clearing plans were typically spacious and wide.
Classical architects, like Harry S. Colt and C. B. MacDonald, seemed to condemn trees entirely for being unfair hazards. A tree’s tendency to stymie one ball without even bothering another ball merely two-feet away led some to believe that a tree’s primary purpose was to distinguish between those who had good and bad fortune. Many other classical architects, including Donald Ross, George Thomas, C.H. Alison, and Stanley Thompson, were more tolerant of trees if used appropriately. Basically, they thought trees should take on a secondary identity, as an important part of the scenery, but never as an integral part of the stage. Yet many others, like A.W. Tillinghast, Alister MacKenzie, and especially William Flynn, accepted trees as they grew more accustomed to their presence and permanence in the American aesthetic.
The quotations below illustrate a variety of original views and positions toward trees in golf, which serve as the foundation for numerous landscape architecture and tree management practices today.
Willie Park, Jr.: ‘Trees are never a fair hazard if at all near the line of play, as a well hit shot may be completely spoiled by catching the branches.’ (Circa 1896)
Charles Blair MacDonald: ‘Trees in the course are a serious defect, and even when in close proximity prove a detriment’. (Circa 1906)
‘No course is ideal which is laid out through trees. Trees foreshorten the perspective and the wind has not full play. To get the full exaltation when playing the game of golf, one should, when passing from green to green as he gazes over the horizon, have a limitable sense of eternity, suggesting contemplation and imagination.’ (Circa 1928)
Harry S. Colt: ‘There is of necessity a feeling of restriction when playing the game with 6-foot oaks paling on every side…The sense of freedom is usually one of the great charms of the game, and it is almost impossible to lay out a big, bold course in a park unless it be of large dimensions, and one needs some three or four hundred acres within the ring of fence to prevent the cramped feeling…It is essential to make the clearing bold and wide, as it is not very enjoyable to play down long alleys with trees on either side.’
‘Trees are a fluky and obnoxious form of a hazard, but they afford rather good protection, and if a clump of these exists as such a spot, it might well be considered justifiable to leave it standing.’ (Circa 1920)
‘In cases where the ground is covered densely with trees, it is often possible to open up beautiful views by cutting down additional timber. In such cases, it would be unwise merely to clear certain narrow lanes, which are required for play. The landscape effect should also be studied, and although great care must be taken not to expose any unpleasant view in the process, every endeavor should be made to obtain a free and open effect.’ (Circa 1920)
‘On the other hand, where very few trees exist, every effort should be made to retain them, and in every case the architect will note the quality of the timber with a view of retaining the finest specimens.’ (Circa 1920)
Max Behr: ‘It goes without saying that trees lined to hem in fairways are not only an insult to golf architecture, but the death warrant to the high art of natural landscape gardening, aside for the fact that, of all hazards, they are the most unfair.’ (Circa 1952)
Stanley Thompson: ‘In clearing fairways, it is good to have an eye to the beautiful. Often it is possible, by clearing away undesirable and unnecessary trees on the margin of fairways, to open up the view of some attractive picture and frame it with foliage.’ (Circa 1923)
George Thomas: ‘Trees and shrubbery beautify the course, and natural growth should never be cut down if it is possible to save it; but he who insists in preserving a tree where it spoils a shot should have nothing to say about golf course construction.’ (Circa 1927)
Donald Ross: ‘As beautiful as trees are and as fond as you and I are of them, we still must not lose sight of the fact that there is a limited place for them in golf. We must not allow our sentiments to crowd out the real intent of a golf course – that of providing fair playing conditions. If it in any way interferes with a properly played stroke, I think the tree is an unfair hazard and should not be allowed to stand.’
‘On the other hand, there is no need to ruthlessly cut down everything before us. If it can be arranged so that holes are slightly elbowed, trees can frequently be spared. On hot summer days they are most welcome around tee boxes.’
William Flynn: ‘The pleasantest type of course is one where holes are segregated. That is where the hole you happen to be playing is well apart from the others. In order to have this kind of course, it is necessary to secure property that is already wooded or to do considerable planting of trees…the old idea was to have courses as free of trees as possible. This notion, no doubt, was imported from Scotland because when golf was first taken up in the United States, we knew very little about the game and modeled our courses on those of the Scotch which were, for the most part, built along the seashore where there were no trees…. It is impossible to conceive that the Canny Scots would have denuded their courses of trees if there had been any there originally. Today, the old ideas have been discarded and the prevailing belief is that trees, most emphatically, have a fixed place on a golf course. This is true for many reasons: First – Because there are few if any sites that are devoid of trees and it is a very costly operation to cut them down and remove them. Second – Trees add beauty to a golf course forming picturesque backgrounds and delightful vistas. Third – Their shade is most refreshing on a hot summer day. Fourth – They are of great practical value in segregating various holes.’ (Circa 1927)
A.W. Tillinghast: ‘Often we find a large copse or a thick forest which must be penetrated. Those who grieve because of this necessity do not realize fully that opening up the fairway will not be a program of indiscriminate destruction, but rather a painstaking effort to cut through in such a manner as to bring to view the best trees which long have been hidden away among unlovely companions.’ (Circa 1928)
‘Usually the twisting of a fairway through timber brings to view prominently fine trees along the sides, which previously would have been lost in a general tangle. And here may it be remarked that fairways should be irregular in shape and not like bowling alleys extending through the woods.’ (Circa 1932)
‘Certainly some of the most notable courses have been constructed on land which was more or less heavily timbered…. But play through woods should not be overdone. It may be quite monotonous. Introduce just enough for variety.’ (Circa 1932)
‘In the case of a green played directly beyond the slope of a hillock and sharply defined against the sky. Barren of any nearby object, such as a tree for instance, the distance of the shot to the green is much more difficult to judge with accuracy than it would were there a tree standing forth against the sky or crest.’ (Circa 1931)
‘I sometimes take my very life in my hands when I suggest that a certain tree happens to be spoiling a pretty good golf hole.’ (Circa 1937)
Alister MacKenzie: ‘There are many debatable questions regarding general principles which occur to me, such as the value of trees as hazards. There are many fine golfers who unhesitantly condemn trees on a golf course, their argument being that there are no trees on an old sand dune course. This is so but, on the other hand, on an inland course the only way, except at enormous expense of providing hazards as high as sand dunes, is by the use of trees in groups.’ (Circa 1933)
‘Playing down a fairway bordered by straight lines of trees is not only inartistic but make tedious and uninteresting golf. Many green committees ruin one’s handiwork by planting trees like rows of soldiers along the borders of fairways. Alternative groups of trees, planted irregularly, create most fascinating golf, and give players the opportunity of showing their skill and judgment in slicing pulling around, or attempting to loft over them.’ (Circa 1933)
C. H. Alison: ‘We have noted some points of differences between inland courses in the United States and Great Britain…We are somewhat better off for trees, but Americans are enthusiastic tree-preservers and tree planters, and their park courses are pleasantly wooded. As a matter of personal taste, I would choose to come to our heather courses in preference to park courses in either country. This taste is shared by many, but a taste it is, about which argument is impossible.’ (Circa 1950)
Tom Simpson: [The17th at Woking] ‘The visible background is a wood a hundred yards behind the green. Between the green and the wood, the ground cannot be seen, and in that lies the glory, the devilment of the design. These terms are synonymous. You would only have to put the wood immediately behind the green to destroy the merit of the second shot, for the trees would then focus the green and enable you to judge the distance of the second shot with some degree of accuracy, which is now very difficult to do.’ (Circa 1950)
2. Why then are there so many trees on our golf courses today?
Chances are, your golf course contains thousands of volunteer trees, which have naturally evolved from simple seedlings. Volunteers germinate predominantly in damp woodland areas and on the banks of moist creek beds. Presumably, trees can even germinate from bird droppings. Countless more, however, are the product of planters, typically well-intentioned club officials, who golf little and understand golf architecture much less. Basically, trees have a peculiar habit of growing taller and reaching wider — far more expansively than their planters ever envisioned. Besides the fact that memberships ordinarily have a strong emotional attachment to trees, there are many explanations why golf courses have become so ambushed with vegetation.
- Irrigation: Filler Trees: The advent of golf course irrigation triggered a national tree-planting barrage. Conventional irrigation lines were typically single-row units that ran down the middle axis of golf holes. Over time, the extent of the water’s throw — around 15 yards per side — gradually became the demarcation lines for fairways since the turf was naturally greener in these locations. Thus, wide-open fairways became much narrower, and their elaborate curvatures evolved into straight lines. In response, greens committees began planting droves of filler trees in the lateral areas that could not be reached by irrigation.
- Diseases: Back-Up and Replacement Trees: The Dutch Elm Disease also served as a contributing factor. The American elm was a beautiful hardwood with deep, unobtrusive root zones and soaring canopies. As the American elm perished, awareness of attrition escalated and the practice of planting ‘replacement’ trees became vogue. Oddly enough, a countless number of ‘back-up’ trees were also planted in close proximity to otherwise healthy trees, just in case they too perished.
- The Pine Valley Influence: Framework Trees: Naturally, elite golf courses will be emulated. The top ranked courses in the country often serve as an architectural model for all others. Such is the case with Pine Valley Golf Club in Clementon, (NJ) which most publications perennially anoint as the best. Because one hole cannot be seen from another at Pine Valley, numerous clubs have initiated tree-planting programs between holes in an attempt to create the Pine Valley ‘framework’. Interestingly, Pine Valley intersects 300+ acres of land, while the average classical course contains less than 120 acres. Framing golf holes with tree plantings on much smaller parcels of land will eventually impact play.
- Beautification: Ornamental Trees: Landscaping committees across the country have plopped ornamental saplings in virtually every remaining open space on golf courses as part of a nation-wide beautification frenzy. The idea was to transform golf courses into a lush and plush garden of vegetation. Case in point: Oak Hill Country Club (East) in Rochester (NY), a Donald Ross design which was once devoid of trees. The landscape experienced a dramatic change thanks to club member Dr. John R. Williams, who thought the course looked rather ‘cheerless’ without trees. So Williams took up horticulture as a hobby, planted varieties of acorn seeds from across the world in his backyard, grew them to saplings, and transplanted them to the golf course. Williams lost count after planting more than 75,000 ornamental hardwoods at Oak Hill, many of which still encumber the course today.
- Safety and Protection: Barrier Trees: Since awareness of liability has escalated, often the bone of contention is for safety between holes. In response, green committees have not only bulked-up the understory of wooded areas between holes, but they have also divided close, adjacent fairways with single-file rows of midget evergreens — all in an attempt to minimize the threat of legal responsibility.
- Defend Par: Penal Trees: Tons more have taken root as part of a widespread movement to toughen courses and defend par. The typical locations are alongside landing areas of tee shots or on the inside corners of doglegs. Case in point: Augusta National Golf Club, which exercises a powerful influence on public perception, has transplanted hundreds of loblolly pines in order to narrow landing areas and demand pinpoint accuracy from the tees. Worse yet, the publicists and the media usually endorse these plantings every spring at the Masters Tournament, sending a deleterious message to golf clubs around the world.
- Remembrances: Memorial Trees: Other clubs have established tree funds which encourage members to donate saplings ‘in honor of’ the dearly departed, ‘in memory of’ loved ones, or ‘in recognition of’ special occasions. Courses, which embrace memorial tree plantings, are usually inundated with remembrances. Determining desired tree types and locations are always at issue. Plus, their affixed cast iron plaques, which typically bare prominent names, lend a sense of permanence and sanctity to the tree that can become quite debilitating in an ever-evolving environment.
3. Distinguish between desirable golf course trees and low performing ones.
Coniferous trees are poor golf course selections. Conifers are prevalent on golf courses today, because they were among the cheap, faster growing varieties that green committees readily purchased in a desperate attempt to beautify the grounds. How many times have you heard that a green chairman got a really good deal on the white pines that currently define every open space on your golf course? Like white pines, other coniferous trees, including hemlocks, spruces, firs, and cedars are a maintenance burden, as they possess shallow surface roots, which protrude obtrusively along of the turf. Surface roots are not only mowing hazards for superintendents, but they are playing hazards for golfers as well.
Conifers and evergreens can also produce winterkill damage. Because they never lose their dense leaf material throughout the cold season, conifers and evergreens provide permanent shading that delays thawing and prolongs ice coverage. Worse yet, these varieties manifest low extending limbs that interfere with the golf swing and obstruct fair opportunities for recovery. When engaged, golfers are simply forced to punch the ball laterally out of harm’s way thereby negating one of the most interesting thought-provoking aspects of the game — recovery play.
Structurally, deciduous trees, such as oaks, poplars, elms, birches, and some maples, are better performing golf course trees, because they grow deeper root zones and possess lofty, more elegant looking canopies. Higher crowns promote recovery play by allowing golfers to utilize their shot making skills to shape the ball under, through, and around trouble instead of becoming stymied in a jungle of limbs and vegetation.
The primary shortcoming with deciduous trees is that some species make a seasonal mess. Most deciduous trees shed their leaves just before every cold season. Birches and Ginkgos constantly exude bark, while oaks trash the course by dropping thousands of acorns and pollen strands. Additionally, maple trees deposit ‘helicopter’ hires, all of which affect maintenance programs and playability.
4. How do trees impact the quality of the surrounding turf?
If critical turf areas on your course are lean and brown, likely trees are the root of the problem. You don’t need to go any further than your own backyard to see how grass suffers near trees. Turfgrasses simply cannot thrive in soggy, damp locations. They possess thinner blades, shallower roots, tolerate much less traffic, and are more prone to diseases. Trees are dominant plants to grass, and when competing for nutrients and water, trees will invariably win. Plus, their canopies and foliage screen air circulation and obstruct the necessary exchange of gases for photosynthesis to take place — one of the chief reasons why high-powered fans are becoming so fashionable beside shady green sites today. Trees also conceal and filter essential morning sunlight from eastern and southern exposures. Thus, trees must constantly be evaluated, pruned, and removed, especially to east and south sides of play, to stimulate airflow and enhance sunlight. The main question is how far to the south and east sides of play must we remove?
Some architects use a simple in-house formula whereby they compute the size of the tree in relation to its proximity to the green. For example, southern states maintain high sun angles. Thus, a 1/1 ratio in the south may be used whereby 40-foot trees should be removed if they are within 40 feet to the east or south sides of tees and greens. In contrast, northern states maintain lower sun angles. Thus, a 2/1 ratio in the north may be used whereby 30-foot trees should be removed if they are within 60 feet to the east and south sides of tees and greens.
Arborcom Technologies, a Toronto based company, can be quite scientific when evaluating light and shade. Arborcom utilizes a computerized sun-mapping device that charts the amount of sunlight every square foot of a green receives per day throughout the year, taking into account surface grade, seasonal sun angles, and horizon lines. Thereafter, it identifies in what capacity each surrounding tree contributes to the shade profile of the green and recommends culprits for removal.
Without six hours of unfettered sunlight each day, wet turf cannot possibly dry. After all, moisture and shade do go hand in hand. Soggy turf attracts diseases, which must be chemically treated with herbicides and fungicides or else continuously re-sodded. Too often, a chainsaw is the better remedy. The many benefits of good agronomy — including firm and fast conditions, closely cropped turf with deep root zones, and tawny, off-colored fescues with minimal undergrowth — cannot endure in moisture-laden shadows.
During the winter, trees also block precious sunlight, which prevent frozen turf from thawing. The end result is winterkill. Evergreens and conifers are too often the offenders as they do not lose their leaf material and shield the low-lying, winter sun.
When all attempts to grow grass fail, bare areas beneath trees are frequently smothered with costly landscaping materials. Worse yet, mulch and pine bark are routinely shaped into inverted pods around virtually every sapling on the course. When crucial areas of play have been mulched, the playability of the golf hole is compromised.
5. How have tree plantings and overgrowth negated the strategic playability of golf holes?
Nothing has spoiled the strategic character of golf holes more than the loss of fairway acreage due to haphazard tree plantings and overgrown vegetation. It’s difficult to notice during any one season, but over the course of 70 to 80 years, hole corridors have lost nearly half of their intended playing areas. Nowadays, countless golf holes are simply too narrow as straight patterns of trees tend to squeeze fairways from both sides.
Unfortunately, laser straight ball flights are required, and good shots are restricted to the dead center of play. As a result, golf can no longer be approached like the game of billiards — where the lateral angle of the first shot can be chosen with the diagonal of the next shot in mind. Strategy is all but lost when alternative angles of approach have been straightjacketed by tree plantings and overgrown vegetation. Today, tree management involves peeling back the outstretched trees and re-establishing the preferred avenues of play back along the outer perimeter of golf holes.
However, it is important to understand that width alone will not revive the strategic character of golf holes — even though it’s an essential ingredient. In addition, clubs must readopt their original bunker patterns and bring distinct landforms back into play from the tee. Clubs should also restore the slopes and irregular shapes of their greens, which challenge golfers to approach from wide lateral positions in order to get the ball close to the hole, particularly when conditions are maintained firm and fast requiring golfers once again to account for how the ball will react after it hits the ground. Add a little wind and vary pin positions and golfers must carefully plot their course to the hole.
Many skeptics insist that width makes golf holes easier, but that’s not the case for lower handicappers. Choices demand decisions and decision-making ultimately breeds suspicion and doubt. Uncertainty in the mind of a skilled player is a far better defense than requiring straight shots to a central target.
6. How helpful is archival material, such as design plans and old aerial photographs, when trying to recapture the strategic width of a golf course?
Through tree removal, architects are reclaiming spacious fairway widths that offer alternative strategic angles to the hole. However, it is most difficult to determine the original tree lines with the naked eye. Instead of indiscriminately cutting, club officials should do their homework and try to locate the architect’s original design plans. Check with the club’s senior members or search around clubhouse storage. If you happen to have a Donald Ross design, make the pilgrimage to the Tuft’s Archives, the Ross repository at the Given Memorial Library in the village of Pinehurst, to uncover rare artifacts — including the original routing plans and field drawings of the legendary Scottish-born architect — that show exactly how wide the original golf holes were when the course first opened. The results can be quite revealing.
Mr. Walter Irving Johnson’s routing plan above displays the original positions and locations of all trees throughout this Ross design in 1925. Of note, not a single drip line overhangs a fairway. More importantly, with a map scale of 200’/1”, you can calculate the approximate fairway widths of the original design. Many of the longer holes measured 7/8” (or 175′) wide, which equates to approximately 58 yards in width. Many of the shorter holes measured 5/8” (or 125′) wide, which equates to approximately 42 yards of width. I compared these computations to our current fairway widths and quickly realized how much the trees have closed-in on our golf course. At places, merely eighteen (18) paces took me from one drip line to another. Some thirty (30) paces took me from a tree trunk on the right to a tree trunk on the left. Six more paces per side placed me in the woods. Only then could I distinguish the younger volunteers and secondary plantings from the mature overgrown originals.
Historic aerial photographs are also indispensable. Club officials should try to locate all old aerials to expose the approximate scope and scale of the architect’s original hole corridors. Overheads also allow you to trace the evolution of tree plantings and tree growth throughout a golf course. In addition to the Tuft’s Archives, the United States Department of Agriculture operates natural resources, soil, and water conservation agencies in local counties throughout the country, which typically house collections of old aerial photographs. The Victor Dallin Aerial Survey Collection (www.hagley.org), which is located in Wilmington, (DE) at the Hagley Museum and Library, and the Fairchild Aerial Photography Collection (web.whittier.edu/fairchild/home.html) in California are other invaluable resources.
Even though tree removal is a key component of the restoration process — that doesn’t mean that contemporary tree patterns must correspond precisely with the historical images. Unfortunately, committeemen often point toward an old aerial, like a blueprint, as justification that trees either should or should not be in that location today. Wouldn’t it be impractical to timber all towering pines in Pinehurst (NC) just because the old images disclose a vast treeless sandscape? Instead, focus on reviving the basic open character regardless of whether a certain tree was in a certain location fifty years ago, or not.
7. Provide a couple examples that readers may be familiar where trees add to, instead of take away from, the strategy of a golf hole?
Hole 9 at Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach (FL), a reachable 495-yard par 5, is a good example. Because a jetty of palm trees pokes out midway into the fairway from the left side at approximately 325 yards from the tee, the position of the drive will effectively set up the strategies and shot making options remaining to the hole. From the tee, golfers must challenge a fairway bunker on the right to attain an unimpeded site line to the pin. While the jetty of palm trees won’t influence long approaches from the right, they will however interfere with a golfers approach from much safer positions in the middle of the fairway. But because these trees are located beyond typical hitting areas and landing areas, the trees will not obstruct the next shot entirely. Rather, these trees may affect the curvature or trajectory of the next shot in proportion to the error of the drive away from the preferred right-hand side of the hole. Strategic positioning and shot making alternatives would be compromised without the cluster of palms.
Another case in point is the 422-yard par-4 seventh hole at Old Town Club in Winston-Salem (NC). Here, a specimen oak tree positioned in the center of the hole obviously served as the strategic cornerstone or lynchpin of the tee shot. Typically, central hazards in the direct line of play forced all golfers to make a very distinct risk/reward decisions on the tee — to go right or left. Fairways, like this, with central hazards were generally wide enough to accommodate such lateral options. Here, most golfers preferred to take the high road to the left, but that required a long forced carry over a trio of cross-bunkers. The lower right-hand option comes armed with a more difficult uphill approach over a carry bunker to shallow green. It appears that Perry Maxwell very much matched the green contours and bunker pattern to those lateral tee shot options.
8. How does aesthetic landscaping enhance the beauty of golf courses and promote recovery play?
Selectively clearing trees from the interior of golf courses can open up some of the most attractive vistas. Gorgeous landscapes can be recaptured when your eyes don’t always bump into a dense framework of trees. Newly planted saplings tend to clutter open spaces, plus their shadows tend to hide intricate ground game contours. Instead, golf courses should embrace the visual appeal of long, sweeping perspectives. Besides the beauty, golfers will experience a unified spirit and a sense of camaraderie with other golfers throughout the course, as their site-lines will periodically meet during the round.
Instead, golf committees should utilize a tree’s ability to screen on the perimeter of the premises. Evergreens, which do not lose their dense leaf material, can partition the golf course from unattractive structures and bustling noise, so long as they do not follow some formalized arrangement, such as a single-file line. Rows of evergreens appear much too ornamental and contrived in a natural setting. Canadian Hemlocks, Eastern White Pines, Leyland Cypresses, and large shrubs, such as Burfordi Hollies, Eleagnus, Wax Myrtles, Ligustrum, or Illicium Anise are customarily used for screening purposes. The appropriate species often depends on such factors as aesthetics, climate, growth rate, growth height, and ice tolerance.
Every attempt should also be made to expose grand signature hardwoods. Bring to view the prominent trees, which have always been hidden among impinging vegetation. Mature oaks and other specimens will become visually accentuated and illuminated upon the extraction of unattractive neighbors, such as native understory volunteers.
Plus, dense woodland areas prevent fair opportunities for recovery. All too often golfers are forced to punch the ball laterally out of the thick vegetation. Recovery play is much more thought provoking from wooded areas that have been selectively thinned of all low-branched species. So implement a program of cleaning out the underbrush and raising the canopy of specimens to a reasonable height.
The standard practice places select tree trunks (the keepers) at a minimum distance of twenty-five (25) feet apart. Plus, their limbs should be lifted to a minimum height of ten (10) feet above ground. Under these aesthetically improved conditions, the golfer may assess the risk of his next angle of attack, and depending upon his skills, may shape the ball through alternative openings to safety. Simply tempting golfers with both conservative and aggressive recovery shot options will often lead to higher scores. For instance, do you remember when Phil Mickelson’s errant tee shot found the woods on Hole 16 at the Bay Hill Invitational? After careful deliberation, Mickelson selected a more challenging route of recovery only to have his problems multiply. Many ambitious golfers, like Mickelson, too often compound their mistakes by choosing the more perilous route of recovery. But for tree management in this area, Mickelson would have been forced to pitch out of the vegetation, and conceivably his score on the hole would have been much lower too.
Occasionally, superintendents claim that maintaining self-contained woodlands should fall outside their scope of responsibility, especially when clubs haven’t prepared a maintenance handbook defining maintenance protocol and procedures. Sure, I understand the burdens that superintendents face when memberships expect wall-to-wall landscaping and conditioning. Plus, no one is a bigger fan of leaving peripheral areas unkempt with wispy, native fescues than I am. However, there’s a difference. Native areas should be reserved for the remote open spaces and marginal brushy areas of the golf course — not for in-play woodland stands that border prominent course locations. Together, they would form a double hazard, which further negates recovery play. Though there is a fine line distinction between tree management and wall-to-wall grooming, select woodland areas need to be prepared for golf, and maintenance budgets should be beefed up to reflect this need.
9. How do trees visually assist golfers with shot execution? At the same time, how can they be used to alter perceptions of sizes and distances?
When assessing the length of an impending shot, your eyes can play tricks on you. How often do you feel that a marked distance does not look the yardage? Oddly enough, much of it depends upon the physical scenery left behind the green. Backdrops of trees, for instance, can be visually accommodating.
Trees can steer golfers toward the target by operating as points of visual reference. During pre-shot routines, a golfer’s intended ball flight can be visually connected to specific trees just beyond the site-line of the pin. Ultimately, these trees aid golfers in establishing their aim and alignment. A framework of trees also gives the target a visual sense of scale and dimension.
Without a background of trees, however, a green can appear much like a basketball hoop without its backboard. Can you imagine? In any sport, it’s quite difficult to find your range without definitive points of reference backing the target. This boundless effect is best achieved in golf when vast expanses of continuous color and space loom beyond the green. Whether the panorama consists of an open body of water or a barren span of terrain, golfers often lack visual orientation and must trust their sense of depth and distance in the approach shot to the hole.
Skyline vistas also distort a golfer’s perception of the actual distance to the flag. Nowhere are these perspectives more prevalent than on the great links courses of the British Isles where a vast, low-lying horizon frames countless green sites. On parkland layouts, where trees are bountiful, the skyline concept doesn’t really work unless the putting surface is perched up on top of a hill or knoll. As flagsticks typically appear as part of the distant horizon, even accomplished golfers are inclined to use a stronger club. Consequently, approach shots may carry the green despite all the handy yardage information available.
Higher handicappers normally have a different impression of treeless depth. They tend to approach the boundless target more timidly, and often wind up playing short of the hole. Much like a pitcher would throw to home plate without the security of a backstop, the lack of visual containment behind the green can discourage higher handicappers from playing as aggressively toward the hole. After all, their worst nightmare is knocking it through the zip code into an unknown area of trouble.
The width of golf holes can also play optical illusions with the target. An example of this is when a shot must be played between two clusters of trees. The smaller the gap or opening, which golfers must bisect, the more their perception of the distance to the other side will lengthen. Also, a green typically looks much larger than it really is when the perspective is carved through a narrow corridor of trees, while the same size green appears much smaller than it actually is when positioned in an open breadth of space.
Pat Ruddy, one of Ireland’s outstanding architects, explains that these delusions are enhanced when different presentations are offered in a single round. Ruddy says, ”give a variety of enclosed settings in trees followed quickly by panoramic vistas over miles of countryside or sea, and the eye will fairly quiver sending the wrong information back to the command post.”
Like different light settings, a golfer’s vision can adjust to any one perspective even if it’s practically dark. However, if golfers move back and forth between bright and dim settings, they may lose their sense of orientation. Shifting between treed and treeless areas of play has a similar effect on a golfer’s ability to focus on sizes and distances.