Green speed and tree removal. I stray from pressing superintendents about specifics of both topics when visiting courses.
For starters, it’s annoying. How fast are the greens running? Are they running 11 or 12? What happens to turf health when they’re pushing 13? Superintendents are pestered enough about green speeds by members I find it surprising they don’t start running 12 miles per hour in the opposite direction of their daily interrogators.
When it comes to tree removal, I find numbers don’t work for somebody in my position. Ask a restoration-ready superintendent how many trees 96-year-old Wicked Field Country Club is planning to remove, and you’ll often get the same deadpanned answer: not enough. Golf Course Industry operates to help superintendents perform their jobs – not lose them. I save tricky tree questions for architects, builders, green chairs, club presidents and arborists.
For most of October, I felt like an architect or builder, visiting nine private clubs in four states. Speaking with superintendents and club officials, in generalities, and scanning storied land with my eyes, left me believing trees planted for the wrong reasons in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s are being removed for the right reasons.
The bulk of this work has occurred in this decade and it will continue into the next decade. As architect Ian Andrew tells us for this month’s story, “Really old school,” page 22, which examines the restoration work at venerable Knollwood (N.Y.) Country Club, tree removal conversations begin with agronomics before wading into aesthetics and strategy. I didn’t make it to eastern New York, home of Knollwood and dozens of other clubs removing trees as part of master plans, but I did swing through the western part of the state. The trip included a visit to The Park Country Club of Buffalo, where Andrew has worked closely with longtime superintendent Scott Dodson on restoring a Harry Colt- and C.H. Alison-designed course that hosted the 1934 PGA Championship.
With an elevated tee, colorful wetlands backed by Ellicott Creek, an approach flowing into a contoured green, a restored flat-bottomed, grass-faced bunker on the left and a wooden connecting bridge, Park Country Club’s par-3 13th hole is yardage guide cover material. The hole has more tee space because of an optional tee sitting right of the primary tee. Tree removal opened an angle for the optional tee, which boasts a dramatic view of a spectacular golf setting. The view doesn’t exist without a chainsaw.
The melding of agronomics and aesthetics will continue as restoration euphoria progresses. One of the materials guiding Aronimink (Pa.) Golf Club’s restoration, “See it then, restore it now,” page 6, is a 1929 aerial stored in a Delaware library collection. With a sizeable gap in my schedule between leaving Aronimink last month and a co-worker’s arrival at Philadelphia International Airport, I signed my literary life away to scour the glossy prints of the Hagley Museum and Library’s Dallin Aerial Survey Company collection.
The jitters of conducting work research in a camera-filled room subsided once I found 1920s and 1930s aerials of Philadelphia’s wonderful classic courses. The aerials depicted the clubs in their earliest and arguably most endearing forms. Trees encircled club property yet only in rare cases encroached golf grounds.
The Dallin collection has been digitized. But there’s something exhilarating about wearing white cotton gloves while clutching black-and-white aerials of storied courses, especially when you know the images you are studying will help improve 21st century agronomics.
I saved the tree-counting that afternoon for somebody else. I was too busy studying golf’s throwback future.