Trees and the Golf Course – a complicated relationship

Trees can be beautiful. They absorb potentially harmful gasses and release oxygen into our atmosphere. They provide habitat and food for animals. You can hang a hammock between two trees and have a nap, or you can take refuge on a warm summer day in the shade generated by a tree.

Trees are everywhere, including the golf course (with some exceptions, of course). Unlike the trees in the park which you may not pay much attention to, a tree on a golf course — the type, location, and the way it is maintained — plays a significant role. It plays a role in strategy, playability, it can provide protection from errant shots, and it plays a role in aesthetics. These factors can have a significant impact on overall golf experience.

When Tiger Woods built his latest golf course, Bluejack National, the trees were a big focus. Tiger made sure to reduce the density of treed areas on the property and have all of the underbrush cleared out. The intent was to provide players a fair opportunity to find their golf ball and hit a recovery shot — an important and fun element of the game. Using your imagination to hit a low, bending shot from behind a tree is fun — being stuck in a shrub, taking an unplayable, losing your ball, or only being able to move it a few feet in an overgrown area is not fun.

I have started to pay more attention to the trees on golf courses I play, and can’t help but be bothered when I see trees utilized or maintained poorly on a golf course. It can take away from both the fun and playability of a course, as well as the aesthetics. I’m all for a stern challenge, but the challenge should be fair, fun, and embedded in the essence of the course design laid out by the architect — not a quirky challenge as a result of overgrowth or poor planning.

If you didn’t catch Matt Ginella’s piece on tree removal at Oakmont, I highly recommend watching it. I am not suggesting every course should rip out all their trees, but it brings to light some interest points and potential benefits of reducing tree density. A benefit which stood out to me was healthier turf, since the grass isn’t competing with as many trees for water, nutrients, and sunlight.

Certain trees can provide a very distinct feel and aura to a golf course, such as the Monterey Cypress trees in California, but trees are rarely what make a golf course great. TPC Harding Park is one of those courses where I love the use of trees, and the course wouldn’t feel the same without them.

TPC Harding Park 16
The 16th at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California

At Harding Park, the Monterey Cypress trees help frame the holes and give the course character. However, the nature of this type of tree makes the challenge of a tree lined course both fun and fair. There are no high density treed areas where you can’t find your ball. Even if your ball is nestled near a tree you will have a fair chance at a recovery shot and can always get the club on the ball.

You can’t ever take a poorly designed golf course and salvage it with the use of trees, but you can easily take a well designed course and diminish it with poor use of trees, or letting them become overgrown.

What are your thoughts when it comes to how trees should be used and maintained on a golf course?

Happy golfing, and stay out of the trees!





18 thoughts on “Trees and the Golf Course – a complicated relationship

  1. Aloha Josh,

    I like trees on the golf courses, I get familiar with many. However, I want the area under them to be maintained because sometimes the rough is not enough – sometimes I want the challenge of playing from the trees.

    I have considered having a club made out of coconut palm wood since it frequently makes better contact with the ball than my driver does.

    A Hui Hou,

    1. Aloha Wayne,

      That is a fantastic idea. There would probably be a market for coconut palm drivers since I’m sure you’re not the only one who hits the coconut palms solid! I prefer the fairway, but I do love golfing among palm trees


  2. Interesting article Josh. I tend to agree. I love the proper use of trees as an aesthetic and as a hazard area so to speak. There are some famous courses who put a tree in the middle of the fairway. There are others in the pacific northwest that just golf courses cut out a heavily treed areas. I find them beautiful. I enjoy them aesthetically pleasing. But they can be penalizing for the wrong reason when they are not attended to correctly. Good read.

    1. Thanks, Linley. I too can find courses carved out of the forest beautiful. When these courses are well-designed the playing corridor provided is usually sufficient to keep the course fun, fair, and challenging. Holes 6-18 at Spyglass are a good example. One of my favorite courses in the world, carved out of the forest. Very tough, but fair, and when your ball does trickle into the trees, you can find it.


      1. Totally agree Josh!!! I’ve played on courses where the tree – typically some Christmas like tree- has branches that go all the way to the ground. A ball in there is hard to retreive let alone find.

      2. EXACTLY. A little branch trimming goes a long way towards keeping the course more fun and fair, and providing opportunity to use skill to recover (as opposed to taking an unplayable or only being able to move it a few feet). Plus it looks better. Those types of trees (pine and spruce) are popular here in Canada!

        Appreciate your comments Linley.


      3. Oh I am well familiar with those spruce and pine trees. Just north of Toronto by an hour we have a lot of those trees.
        Always glad to chime in on a good article.

  3. Josh

    I completely agree. On my last course, there were three birch trees in the middle of a par 5 at the 100 yard marker… the middle of the fairway!!! Trees are an important feature for North American golf courses, proper care and attention to how they affect the course is critical to making a course great!


    1. Hey Jim,

      Trees in the middle of the fairway! Punishing a player for hitting it down the middle isn’t a design feature I love. The only tree in the fairway I’m ok with is the 18th at Pebble, that one looks cool, there is lots of room to avoid it and you can still play a creative shot around/under it if you’re behind it.


      1. Josh

        I know! I suggested having the trees removed and was almost lynched at the general meeting. Funny thing, I would aim right at it and rarely hit the tree. Go figure.


  4. Totally agree! Courses like Banff Springs and Wintergreen in Alberta do a good job clearing the under brush, two courses that pay attention and understand where amateur players are going to miss, vital to growing the game and make and enjoyable round for all who play.

    1. Hey Erik,

      You’re right, those are great examples of tree lined courses who get it and try and maintain a fun and fair course. Some of my favorite courses ever are tree lined but they maintain them properly. Thanks for chiming in!


  5. I like Tiger’s thinking regarding trees on a golf course. My course has a lot of cotton trees that are very dense at the base and if you go under them it can be difficult to not only find your ball but to play a shot.

    I think trees should be an obstacle to get around but necessary a severe punishment for just missing a fairway by 10 metres.

    1. Hey Troy,

      Thanks for the comment, as you could probably tell I definitely agree with you! It’s something courses should be mindful of in their maintenance plans. Tree trimming could be a great way to stay busy in the off season!


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