Improve your course with strategic tree placement

The reasons for planting trees on a golf course vary. The course may be newly constructed in an open area, or plant material may have been lost as a result of storm damage, Dutch elm disease or other factors. Many courses simply never bother to budget for a tree-planting program, even though the need has existed for many years. However, no golf course, regardless of how well-planned, has trees perfectly placed in every fairway.

Why plant more trees? The decision to plant additional trees generally stems from one or more of the following needs: * For protection and safety. A careful analysis of play and possible errant golf shots should show you where you can locate trees to protect players on a tee or green from an overshot or a sliced or hooked ball. Trees placed between fairways in general landing areas or slightly off the tee can protect adjacent fairways from a badly sliced ball by catching the ball in the leaves and branches.

* To help the course "read" better. Fairway tree plantings define a golf hole, particularly a dogleg, and tell the golfer on the tee how the fairway plays. Proper design can often enable tree locations to serve more than one purpose. Protective plantings around a green can also serve as a visual backdrop to help players "read" it from the tee or fairway. These are visual placements and provide scale and depth perception as well.

A large open area of parallel fairways often confuses golfers. Trees help make each hole "read" individually in both direction and scale and help golfers judge distances during play.

* To change playing characteristics. Another way you can use trees is to bring them into play in strategic locations. For example, if you use a tree to reinforce the turning point of a dogleg hole, you can provide a golfer with the choice of carrying a shot over the trees for a more advantageous lie or playing it safe by going around the trees. You can make a short, easy hole more difficult by encroaching with trees from both sides of the fairway near the green, requiring a more accurate approach shot. A tree also can take the place of a fairway bunker--planting one at the edge of a fairway can provide a hazard and is much less expensive to maintain than a sand bunker.

* To mark distance on fairways. Trees often serve as 150-yard markers in the edge of the fairway to aid golfers in judging distance. For this purpose, you should choose specimens with colored foliage or bark, or a distinctive shape, so they will stand out better due to their contrast with existing vegetation.

? To provide screening, shade or frame views. Lastly, you can use trees for the more typical landscape purposes of trees: to screen out a service yard; to provide shade and setting for the clubhouse; and to frame good views and screen out bad ones.

Plant with care As you can see, several good reasons exist to plant additional trees on your golf course. However, poorly considered design, placement and species selection can defeat your purpose. Following certain guidelines helps ensure that your tree planting program achieves its objectives. * Plant trees no closer than 20 to 25 feet on centers. This will facilitate maintenance with gang mowers.

* Use trees in odd-numbered groupings, such as 3 or 5, in a random or natural-looking planting. Avoid placing them in rows or other patterns that look artificial.

* Never plant in a straight line down the rough. Nature abhors a straight line and a golf course should enhance nature, not fight it.

* Beware of establishing too much foliage around a green, particularly low-level foliage. It can inhibit air movement and affect the health of the turf on your greens.

* Trees with low-hanging branches or thorns are poor choices for golf courses. Golfers may be able to avoid them, but your mower operators will have to wear a suit of armor.

* Use trees with moderate to small leaf size to minimize leaf-removal operations. Conversely, avoid species that drop fruit, seed pods, branches or that are especially susceptible to storm damage.

* Plant reasonably fast-growing trees that will provide a large mass of foliage in relatively few years. Small evergreens do not have much visual impact, so use them only for accent, variety or screening.

* A large-scale planting program can be costly. If you prepare a master planting plan, you can allocate an annual budget for phase planting and set priorities for each year's work. It is surprising how rapidly you will achieve your goals as each phase adds up to a better and more beautiful course.

Don Childs is a golf-course architect who has been in professional practice since 1970. His firm, Don Childs and Associates, is located in Sylvan Lake, Mich.

When leaves are on trees, we often look at the trees without actually observing the individual character each provides. After the leaves have fallen, however, trees take on a new look. The structure of trees becomes more evident as we are able to view the size of their branches and twigs. The density or openness of branching that we were not able to see in summer suddenly appears. And in winter, the shape of trees becomes more obvious.

The growth habit of trees, such as spruce (Picea spp.) and many other evergreens, is usually quite precise. Most deciduous trees have less dominant shapes, but each is distinctive in its own way. The basic growth habits of trees are columnar, weeping, pyramidal, horizontal branching, vase shaped, round headed or globe shaped.

In selecting trees for your own landscape, consider both summer and winter impact. Try to envision the forms that best fulfill landscape needs. The forms themselves can provide different feelings. * Pyramidal. Pyramidal trees give a feeling of formality or organization. * Columnar. Columnar trees provide a stately feeling. These are more often used in groups or in lines as a series of tall sentries or sometimes as single accents. * Weeping. Weeping trees add grace and movement to most landscapes and are normally used very sparingly as specimen trees. * Horizontal branching. Large, broad horizontal-branching trees are strong and durable and provide many uses without becoming dominant. * Round headed. Round-headed trees provide a similar feel but with more formality. * Globe shaped. Globe-shaped trees also give a formal feel. Globe-shaped usually applies to smaller trees. * Vase shaped. Vase-shaped refers to trees that are narrow at the base and broaden at the top. The American elm (Ulmus americana) was the prime example of a vase-shaped tree. It often lined streets to form a natural Gothic arch. Since it has been killed by Dutch elm disease, no similar large tree exists. However, you'll find smaller trees with this shape.

Many trees fit into each category. With some experience at observing trees, you can identify some trees by shape and branch structure. Among more common pyramidal trees--other than evergreens--is the pin oak (Quercus palustris). Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) generally also has a pyramidal shape as does the smaller-growing Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford'). Pyramidal trees, as they mature, often begin to broaden at the top, but they hold their pyramidal shape for many years during their development.

A popular small tree with horizontal branching is the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Horizontal branching is also a characteristic of the black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), which is known for its striking fall color. Many pines, as well as deciduous trees such as Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), feature this structure.

Round-headed varieties include many maples (Acer spp.) and flowering crabapples (Malus spp.). Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) develops into a basically rounded form. One of the best known globe-shaped trees is the globe locust (Robinia pseudoacacia 'umbraculifera'). Weeping trees are usually selections of common trees that also have a normal growth form. This is also true of most columnar trees. Each has a special purpose. The species you select depends on need and availability. The weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is the best-known weeping tree, and the Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra 'Italica') is a familiar columnar tree. Each has problems, however, and better trees with these forms are available.

When selecting tree forms, keep winter in mind and envision the impact of graceful or stately shapes in your landscape.

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