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.
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!