A dilemma that divides clubs around the world

We get a little sentimental when it comes to the wood that lines our walkways. Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin tackle this divisive topic

If you want to easily annoy a section of the membership, take a chainsaw to a few trees and watch the disgruntled emails come through the air.

We have a strong emotional attachment to these inanimate objects – causing so much pain to many of us during our tours – and there are few club matters that could divide a club more.

However, clubs across the country risk the wrath of their members by cutting thousands of them or bringing in experts to implement forest management programmes.

Some courses, Woodhall Spa and Moortown being notable examples, have been converted by selective removal, but the clubs that go down this path do so with a hint of trepidation.

On an episode of the From the Clubhouse podcast, Tom Irwin and Steve Carroll dwell on the divisive topic of removing trees from a golf course…

“Once you get past the initial dissonance, the course gets better.”

It’s a sensitive subject. Says Tom Irwin. At my Alwoodley Club we did clear some trees but we did so with great permission and kindness.

The areas they did have improved the condition of the course and the playability of the holes immeasurably and restored some corners as well.

There are countless examples of places that have done it in quite the extreme way – at Woodhall Spa they did an amazing Tom Doak renovation where they unearthed bunkers they thought were lost and found huge sections of the waterway swallowed up by trees.

Once you get past those initial scars, and the dissonance the tree has reached, these places—and I’m talking wild lands—improve.

We’re trying to get heather, we’re trying to get delicate herbs to take. We know the agricultural reasons.

The tenets of a lot of these golden age architects, and certainly a lot of the modern companies trying to renovate golf courses, is the idea that the course can be played for the weaker player and remains a challenge for the better player.

This often means hard, fast runs and laps, and it means better players lose control of the ball or time.

Trees don’t help because they create mulch, they create meadow grasses, and they create softer areas. If you lose the angles that the width of these fairways gives you, in terms of large variable pin positions on huge greens, you lose the principles of holes.

The felling of trees on the golf course is a shame because they are part of a good environment, as are the animals, and they are beautiful to look at. But it is not always useful.

They can spoil the design of the golf course

I understand why people feel so emotional about trees, Says Steve Carroll. She is beautiful to look at. There is a sense of oneness with nature, and if any kind of idea or strategy had been implanted in the past, I would be less keen to bring some of it out.

But it was just random committee members from days gone by saying, “We’ll put them in the trees over there.” They didn’t take care of them and a few trees became too many trees.

My biggest problem is that the architect who designed the course didn’t do it with those trees in mind. Therefore, if it is not planted in a logical and sensitive manner, it destroys the design of the golf course. They rarely make it better. They make it worse.

Anyone who’s been to Moortown, who’s been to Woodhall Spa, or Ganton where they do a lot of work to remove the bell well, I’ll challenge them to say they’re no better at removing those trees.

I understand the ecological argument – trees are the lungs of the world – but we can replant them elsewhere and in better places.”

You can hear more of Tom and Steve’s thoughts on the From the Clubhouse podcast. But what do you think of the debate? Are trees suitable for golf courses? How will you go about managing it? Let us know with tweet.


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