To Tree, or Not To Tree?

tree-injection / tree micro-injection technology by Mauget

When deciding how much to allocate for next year’s golf course budget, there’s a perception that tree-care maintenance falls somewhere between parking lot light bulbs and replacing old GPS markers. The belief is, for many golf course superintendents, all they care about is their beautiful green turf and keeping it looking that way.

Turf Versus Trees

No doubt about it, trees can be challenging. Falling limbs, unknown diseases, pests, and they need water. Golf course superintendents are expected these days to make sound tree decisions that are “green” and most importantly, don’t interfere with the game.

“Superintendents are turf experts; they are always looking down at the green, and trees become an obstacle in their quest to grow perfect, playable turf,” explains Michael Bova, an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist and Certified Tree Risk Assessor, based on the West Coast. “Because turf is king on the course, trees tend to take a backseat. “
Traditionally, trees receive attention when there’s a problem. No wonder trees might be perceived as a pain in the grass for golf course superintendents of a certain age.

Do I Really Need Trees?

Since what’s being called, “The Oakmont Decision,” more clubs are feeling the freedom to prune their fairways and beyond of trees. Once Oakmont Country Club in 2016 (the hosts of many US Opens) removed more than 14,000 trees from their property, the cries of “Timber” could be heard from doglegs across America.

On the other side of the apron, there was a country club whose giant elm on the 11th hole tormenting its members for almost half a century. But eventually, the elm’s giant personality won over the haters and would be described by sportswriters as the “greatest tree in golf.” And when it was cut down, the overwhelming grief felt by its members propelled them to take out an obituary in the New York Times for the fallen American elm they loved.

“I love the Northeast courses because of all the old trees.”

– Lee Trevino

How To Care For Golf Course Trees?

“To properly care for the trees on their courses, superintendents must think more like urban foresters,” Mr. Bova advises. “Being proactive instead of being reactive keeps maintenance costs in check. Think of a golf course as a mini forest. A properly maintained property provides essential benefits to the local community including boosted property values, carbon sequestration, and improved air quality.”

An immense knowledge-based weight of expectations is placed on today’s club superintendents. A presumption of possessing scientific knowledge of golfscape architecture is required. Regarding the arbor world, the GCSs are assumed to be familiar with each species of tree. They should be conversant in tree diseases and the solutions required for their recovery.

Sounds daunting? No worries, Grounds Control. Science has your back.
Alongside of Mr. Bova are scientists, environmental specialists and other ergonomic thinkers who’ve studied golf course trees and their issues for years and have created geographical blueprints for efficient, Earth-friendly golf courses that includes trees!

The experts agree, the first step is to inventory all your trees on the property before proceeding. Your fairway and dogleg’s trees are most visible, but don’t forget the parking lot trees and the trees that border the edges.

A Green Course Checklist

When choosing trees for your club, confirm they are the correct species of trees for your golf course and area. You want the kind of trees that are not going to shed for most of your season. The perfect tree won’t be dropping leaves all summer and will keep a low-profile in terms of maintenance and water.

Don’t put all your trees in one basket. In the past, many courses had a very small cross section of trees populating the property. Pests, diseases, and even viruses target certain species of trees. It was a rampant elm disease that brought America’s greatest golf tree down to its stump.

A well-conceived golf course should try to have not more than 10 percent of any one species and 20 percent of any one genus. A diversity of tree species and ages properly placed will up your odds against disparate external conditions such as severe weather, insects, and diseases. If you only had one species of trees, like elms, a new virus could sweep in taking out every elm tree on the property.

Finding the right balance of hydration between trees and turf is manageable with the correct forethought and research. If the course is focusing mainly on turf irrigation, thirsty trees will expand their roots searching for water.

The solution is to provide these trees with networks of drip irrigation systems incorporating the correct pH balances of water encouraging the tree’s roots to grow deeper rather than reaching for the surface. Combined with a drip system and normal amounts of rainwater, the properties’ trees can reach sustainability on their own.

According to the National Golf Foundation, there are now over 16,000 golf courses in the United States, which makes up nearly half of the world’s courses.

Audubon International, an organization that provides education and assistance for responsible management of land, water, and wildlife, estimates that the average American golf course uses over 300,000 gallons of water a day.

Trees do have their place on a course. They can control the path of play and establish doglegs and other obstacles that challenge a golfer’s skill set. Trees are shade providers, which is good for the golfer, but bad for the turf. Again, tree placement and knowing how tall they will grow is critical for the success of your trees and keeping the grass green. As we learned when “America’s greatest tree in golf” was taken down, a beloved big tree can become the course’s signature shot.

Proper pruning of trees and canopy thinning are vital to the health of trees. This allows for healing powers of the sun to shine through to the fairways and tees.

Improper pruning may lead to structural defects, such as falling limbs. Knowing your tree growth habits is crucial.

As already stated, tree and turf roots will compete for water and nutrients. Dense turf roots may outcompete tree absorbing roots and result in reduced growth and tree vigor. Surface applications of granular fertilizers in turf areas do not benefit tree roots.

A simple, effective proven solution for dispensing fertilizers, nutrients, antibiotics, pesticides, and other tree remedies is via micro-injection technology for trees. This easy-to-use system taps into the tree’s vascular cell walls delivering the needed treatment with no muss or fuss. Unlike other treatment methods, because you are injecting directly into the tree, there is no spraying or drift. It’s safer for your workers and members. Micro-injection for trees is built upon a closed system allowing for use in public locations, unlike spraying. Micro-injection eliminates having to close off an area with red or yellow caution tape in order to treat trees during business hours.

A plan including an in-house tree-person or at least one staffer who has the ability to spot potential problems can be beneficial and cost-effective in the long run. Having a staffer who understands the relationship between the turf and the trees, and how they can coexist is crucial to a successful long-term maintenance plan.

At some point, you may need to consult with an arborist. You’ll need someone who can survey the situation or diagnose a tree’s disease and make reliable suggestions for treatments. Besides references and reputation, you want an arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and carries a Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) to thoroughly evaluate your arbor needs.
Today, anyone who has the responsibility of managing any vast property needs to see the whole picture in terms of resources meeting conservational criteria requirements. You might say the ability to see the forest from the grass. The beauty of golf is walking down a fairway and feeling like everything is exactly where it is supposed to be.

That includes trees.

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