To tree, or not to tree
Presented by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America
Have you ever wondered why golf course superintendents have what seem to be perfectly
healthy trees removed at the course you play?
To the golfer, the biggest hazards on the golf course are bunkers, ponds, creeks
and gullies. To the golf course superintendent, the biggest hazards on the golf
course can be trees.
To hear one complain about trees is almost blasphemous. After all, poet Joyce Kilmer
wrote that “poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” It’s
not that superintendents dislike trees. To the contrary, one of the primary reasons
superintendents choose the profession is because they enjoy working with the environment.
In fact, golf course superintendents closely monitor the health of trees because
they do enhance the environment and are an integral part of the golf course. Trees
filter dust, lower temperatures by creating shade and provide wildlife habitat.
But the first responsibility for any superintendent is to provide a high-quality
playing surface based on the available resources. Unfortunately, trees compete with
turf for the basic nutrients needed to flourish – oxygen, water and sunlight. This
battle is waged most often near putting greens and tees where trees often form an
amphitheatre-like setting. As the trees encroach the closely cropped turf on the
putting and teeing surfaces, they restrict airflow and sunlight while using up the
available nutrients. To compensate, fans will be placed in these areas to aid air
circulation, but sometimes that tactic is but a short-term solution. With apologies
to Kilmer, even God could not grow grass on the golf course if he did not have a
proper tree management program.
Perhaps unlike any sport, golfers have a special affection for their playing surface.
Golfers talk about golf courses with a reverence that should be reserved for a temple
or shrine. Rare is there such admiration expressed for a tennis court, a soccer
field or a basketball court. Because of their affinity for the golf course, golfers
often cringe at the prospects of having trees trimmed or removed. After all, the
tree could be a memorial to a friend or family member, it may have been planted
by school children or its life may parallel that of the golfer. Whatever the reason,
tree maintenance is not as easy as pulling the chainsaw cord. The most important
part of a tree maintenance program may be communicating the reasons why such action
Turf health is one issue and human health is another. Tree maintenance programs
are important to reduce the risk of falling limbs that could potentially harm golfers.
As a means to reduce their liability, some golf facilities have communicated and
have enacted well-defined policies regarding tree risk reduction policies.
In addition to turf quality and safety, the strategy of play is frequently determined
by trees. Golf course architects use trees to define boundaries such as separating
fairways, creating doglegs, providing for depth perception and making challenges
by blocking a certain angle of entry.
Superintendents must take into account how the course was intended to play before
tree modifications or plantings are enacted. Often times the golf course designer
is long gone after a course has matured and grown. Trees that did not affect the
strategy based on the original layout mature and create shot making that is contrary
to the original intent.
Despite the emotional attachment to trees, a well-planned and executed tree maintenance
program often gains quick acceptance, even among the most ardent foes. Under the
direction of the golf course superintendent and assisted by a golf course architect
and skillful arborist, tree maintenance can be executed with the results being barely
noticeable to even the keenest eye. In the end, all benefit as turf quality improves,
safety is enhanced and the course plays in the manner in which it was intended.
For more information regarding golf course management practices, contact your local
superintendent or the GCSAA at 800-472-7878 or www.gcsaa.org.