Raymond Hearn Published Article

Is the Tree Program Working for Your Club? (cont)

Page Two

During my first visit I asked the greens committee chairman if the club knew how many trees where currently on the golf course. He responded that he did not know but indicated that the committee was aware of the existing tree program’s downside: This wonderful, formerly spacious design had wrongfully evolved into a tight course with fairways framed by huge tree canopies.

Again, the image is not unappealing in itself; but, sadly, the damage to the golf experience is immense. Even as the committee acknowledged the problem they were reluctant to have any of the trees removed. And my 20 years of practice suggest the prevalence of this attitude is roughly equal – 90 percent – to whacking that two-inch tree between you and the green. It is very difficult for club officials to give the green light to remove a tree that Jane Doe donated to the club, in memory of John, years ago.

It is implausible to ignore such sentiments in devising a tree program, so a little creativity is required. Acknowledge members’ contributions in the tree department via a substitute memento, perhaps a plaque in the grillroom, a bench on the course, that sort of thing -- a simultaneous nod to the traditions of the club and the benefits of at least some change.

My consultation at Bad Tree also duplicated a scenario common among previous clients, that is, failure to correctly prioritize the tree program, which they viewed as incidental to a comprehensive renovation involving new or revamped teeing grounds, bunkers, cart paths, drainage, the works. I conceded that these items needed attention, but insisted that their tree problem needed immediate action, pointing out that it had implications for all other design options being contemplated.

Shortcomings in the layout specifically related to trees included diminished playability. For example, impinging tree lines made using a driver off many tees – even ones where the hole’s yardage indicated it ought to be a necessity – a foolish choice, as the fairways were undulating and pitched toward the woods. The problem was exacerbated by landing areas seemingly apportioned for PGA Tour pros – 100-140 feet (tree line to tree line), in many instances.

The flip side is enhanced “playability” in ways that the architect of record plainly did not envision. Dogleg fairways are usually circumscribed by trees where such fauna exist. For better or worse, advances in club and ball technology, and therefore ball flight, have fundamentally altered the proportions of these older dogleg configurations. Whereas they once rewarded the shaping of shots around trees, modern shot trajectories simply fly the tree and the corner of the dogleg, often at the tee shot’s zenith. The tree can be returned to the strategic equation by juggling other proportions of the design. Moving the tees back is the most obvious one, naturally, but there are other tactics available. Narrowing the fairway opposite the dogleg with a hazard, to name one, can encourage players to try to cut the dogleg, while making it the low-percentage play.

Still, while the obsolete dogleg tree is, in effect, too small, too big is a much more ubiquitous problem in tree programs. Because of overgrown trees at Bad Tree, as little as one-third of the total square-footage of most tees was effectively usable. In come cases, overhanging trees dictated club selection and ball flight, even on longer holes – OK for those of us proficient in hitting that “stinger” 2-iron, not so good for the rest of us. The difficulty was compounded by generally inadequate “bail-out” areas for missed tee shots.

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