The forgotten season
Fall doesn’t get much attention when it comes to landscaping on a golf course. But there are plenty of ways superintendents can add a pop of color to their facilities at this time of year.
John C. Fech, Ph.D.
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common goal in the world of landscaping golf courses — or any landscaping, for
that matter — is the creation of four-season color.
Photo by Krivosheev Vitaly/shutterstock.com
about any competent golf course architect, landscape architect or
horticulturist will strongly emphasize the importance of the other design
considerations such as drainage, right plant/right place, gradation, scale,
texture, mass/void, erosion prevention, soil amendments/ adjustments, sun and
shade exposure, slope, winter hardiness, disease resistance, planting
diversity, eventual size, and so on. But without a doubt, the influence of
color on the golfer is most impactful.
appeal in various seasons — spring blooms of various colors, summer green
textures, winter bark/fruit/habitat (great when cast against the snow) — offer
tremendous value. Yet far too often, fall becomes the forgotten season, with
the opportunities for appeal lost in the midst of everything else on the
calendar. Sure, lots of great plants bloom in the spring, but there are so many
that bloom or have other attractive features in the fall, it just makes good
sense to highlight them.
the seasons, fall is usually the most stable and supportive from the standpoint
of a conducive growing environment for plant material. Actually, in many ways,
you could — and even should — think of fall as the start of the growing season,
not the last bit of green before the snow flies.
summer heat, stress and drought, replanting or regrassing the turfgrass portions
of the golf course has become a given for many courses. But just as it is for
turf, summer is stressful on trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers as
Can you say “In-your-face color?”
Photos by John Fech
wise course of action is to determine the reasons for poor landscape health
and/or function and take steps to correct them. Once those have been addressed,
new plants can be installed to meet the landscaping needs of the golf course.
Accomplishing this is a multistep process, with plant selection as the last of
it’s important to revisit the goals for the areas affected. Even though this
may seem to be a step backward, writing descriptions of the purpose for the
plant materials utilized is a good investment of a superintendent’s time. With
these descriptions in place and agreed upon, future modifications can be made
— or “program statements” — can be quite simple terms or phrases for defining
the intent of the site. For example, a statement for a passageway from a
turnaround to the next tee might read, “Establish a durable surface with views
of desirable, multiseason appeal plant materials that fa-cilitates golfer and
cart traffic.” Statements like this one provide a good foundation for short-
and long-term plantings.
and analysis come next in the process. Typically, inventory and analysis are
different procedures where the inventory is a simple documentation of the
current conditions and the analysis is a set of value judgments pertaining to
the worth and need for action on behalf of each landscape element. In the case
of enhancements for fall, thorough notes that describe each plant and the
potential for fall appeal should be made.
renderings can be daunting, especially if significant changes have been made to
the golfscape over the years. I encourage superintendents to simplify and not
worry about replicating them in terms of precise measurements. While few of us
can draw finished architectural renderings, everyone can draw circles and ovals
to create simple bubble diagrams to identify possible shapes of hardscape and
landscape, and potential masses of plant materials.
the plant specifications come last in the process. There is much value in
identifying where the turf, groundcover, trees and shrubs will be as a middle
step in choosing replacement plants.
vegetation is a consideration in any replacement plant decision. Where sketches
or bubble diagrams indicate changes, this becomes a good time to check the
irrigation system for leaks, coverage, distribution uniformity and overall
are good that changes from turf to groundcovers or vice-versa have created the
need for a retrofit in terms of spray heads, run times and updated equipment.
Superintendents can then calculate run times based on the combined needs of the
existing vegetation and the new fall features.
golfscape or any set of plants is never a finished project. Once the plantings
are installed and a growing season or two have passed, it’s important to take
the time necessary to further determine the success of the renovation and
re-evaluate, taking into consideration all of the parts of the process. Each
phase of the enhancement effort can contribute to or detract from the overall
program statements have been developed, site inventory and analysis performed,
specific site conditions have been taken into consideration, irrigation
adjustments made, traffic flow evaluated and existing vegetation evaluated …
finally, it becomes time to choose plants with fall appeal.
The wine-red color of oakleaf hydrangea leaves in fall is hard to beat.
many options are considered, the practice of “right plant, right place” must be
a guiding principle. For example, it can be fatally tempting to overlook or
ignore the soil requirements of a specific species in order to obtain the
overwhelming features of its fall color, texture and fruit.
considering the infusion or inclusion of plants with fall appeal, it’s helpful
to keep notes relating to the reasons for specific choices. Keeping such
information can be helpful when it comes time to explain their purpose to
stakeholders such as owners, greens committee members and other influential
golfers at the facility. Some fall plants tend to look a little on the ordinary
side in spring and summer, creating ques-tion marks
for those stakeholders. Thorough notes will help point out that solid green
plants serve to create a backdrop that will allow the specimens with spring and
summer interest to stand out, and that the course will look appealing in all
seasons due to the landscape renovation.
Develop a plant palette
The best recommendations for plant materials come from local
horticulturists and from local/regional information sources. Fortunately,
finding specific information for your course is as easy as 1-2-3.
Blackhaw is just one of many outstanding shrubs
for adding texture and color to the golfscape.
1. Use your favorite Web browser to find the botanical garden or
arboretum nearest your golf course.
2. Use their website to identify recommended tree, shrub,
perennial and groundcover species and cultivars.
3. Use Google Images (or a similar search engine) to help
visualize the appeal of each recommendation. University websites and suppliers
are also good sources of this type of information.
As these sources of plant material information are perused, it’s
prudent to think outside the box about underused species. Ask the question,
“What else besides the standard mums and sedum would make a real statement on
our signature hole/tee box/clubhouse patio?” After all, if one of the program
statements or overall goals at your facility is to develop uniqueness or to
make the course stand out from others in the area, then using unique or
different cultivars is a good path to explore.
And if you want to go beyond surfing the Internet to consider your
options, an equally good or maybe even better course of action is to visit the
arboretum or botanic garden in person. A picture of a plant is helpful, but
seeing it, smelling it, touching it and “experiencing” it is much better.
After visiting one or more of the demonstration gardens near your
course, develop a plant palette. This is an exercise that will encourage you to
think about plant diversity and selection for fall appeal in various sites.
Identifying five to 10 choices for each category is a good starting point, but
restricting yourself to that number could produce a course with too many of too
few species. A can’t-miss list will also come in handy when you need to choose
plants, but time is short.
John C. Fech, Ph.D., is a horticulturalist with the University of
Nebraska, Lincoln, and an ISA-certified arborist who is a frequent contributor