Golf Architecture Post: Trees and golf – Do they fit?

I like trees, particularly those fine specimens. Where an impressive tree exists on site I will try as best I can to keep it / incorporate it in the design  and then where possible highlight it. Certainly some trees, those located so as not to interfere with the golf shot, can enhance the golf experience immeasurably – of this there is no doubt.

for Trees:

1.) offer shade during the warm months and shelter during the wet ones.

2.) help guide the golfer. I had a wonderful conversation with a tour player, over coffee two weeks ago, and he spoke of how much he enjoyed tree-lined courses. One of his reasoning’s for this was that it made it easier to visualize the shot . How true. In addition trees can influence club selection as well….just think about the last time you used your driver on a hole tightly bounded by trees.

3.) can provide a wonderful backdrop and frame a hole (s).  Think of the Oak tree on the eighteenth at Winged Foot or the army of mature pine trees on some of the heathland courses around London.

4.) offer depth perception and help with distance control.

5) separate holes and create private avenues for golf.

6.) lastly impressive trees are a thing of beauty and will beautify the golf course.

There are many positives to having a healthy stock of impressive trees on site and as Architects we should look to preserve as many of these as possible  – at least where they don’t unfairly interfere with the golf shot

You see trees are a not the ideal golfing hazard. If the strategy of any one hole (s) is based around one or many trees there is a good chance it will be flawed moving forward… least when that trees or those trees die. Also, and this is important, the three dimensional  presence of a tree makes it particularly difficult to negotiate for the punter (or amateur golf)….at least when you compare it to a bunker or ground contours.

Having said that I personally have no problem utilizing impressive trees (existing) in strategic locations if they improve the hole…after all we should always strive to create the best we can in the situation presented to us.  I would not snub a tree just because it may work in the now but not in the future. The important bit being that I make sure there is enough “other stuff going on” such that the holes integrity remains intact when that tree(s) finally dies. 


Some fine tree species – looking out from the clubhouse at the Royal Golf Club of Belgium

Another point to consider, as a golf architect, is that I have to think about the agronomic conditions and general maintenance of the golf course moving forward. So what does this have to do with trees you might add……well in some cases it is necessary to remove a tree(s) to improve air circulation and sun penetration which are prerequisites for healthy grass. In particular I am focused on areas around tees and greens.

You know on site I am often looking to find impressive trees (many times hidden from sight) that can enhance the backdrop or focus ones view. Sometimes we need to clear smaller trees to expose the more impressive ones….and then in time these impressive tree(s) are likely to show off and improve their stature since they no longer have to compete for sun and air.

One thing I see a lot at existing clubs is a miss-mash of different trees sprinkled about the place  – this is usually the product of different superintendents, club captains and golf directors wanting to stamp their mark on the course over the years. This often “leaves” a course untidy and aesthetically unpleasant… most cases the initial design intent and strategy is compromised and as a worse case the golf course can lose its identity or sense of place.

Something else to consider is that more trees mean more maintenance…..for any golf superintendent will tell you how much time and energy they spend clearing leaf litter.

It really is a tough act, and I take the tree clearing exercise very seriously, but at the end of the day whilst “trees and shrubbery beautify the course, and natural growth should never be cut down if it is possible to save it, he who persists on preserving a tree where it spoils a shot should have nothing to say” (George Thomas)


Cornelia – Hole 7


Cornelia – Hole 7

When I worked in Turkey on the Faldo Cornelia course the site had some wonderfully impressive pine trees dotted about. During the days we spent walking the sand dunes working on a routing we would make a habit of marking all the impressive trees on the topographic plan….they were really that good that we had to keep as many as is possible. We must have marked hundreds of them. When I look back at this exercise I do so with pride since so much of Cornelia is about the trees that beautify the course. There is no doubt that these trees give so much back and certainly add to the overall character of the place.


Cornelia Hole 4

I leave you with some thought on trees by other golf architects:

  • The most important of the principles in designing and constructing a golf course is to make the fullest use of trees and all other natural hazards and features. Mackenzie (Spirit of St Andrews)
  • Trees must be removed where they interfere, but so many must not be taken away as to spoil the beauty of the golf course. Ross (Golf has never failed me)
  • I sure hate a naked golf course. Tillinghast (The Course Beautiful)
  • Whenever one of the fine old fellows rears his branches in solitary splendour it immediately occurs to the architect that here is something that needs nothing except a whole lot of letting a lone. Tillinghast (The Course Beautiful)
  • Trees I consider make a bad hazard, and they should be done away with where possible. Besides they are always a nuisance when the leaves are falling. Braid (Golf Greens and Greenkeeping)
  • The old ideas have been discarded and the prevailing belief is that trees, most emphatically, have a fixed place on a golf course. This is true for many reasons: First Trees foreshorten the perspective and the wind has not full play. To get the full exaltation playing the game of golf one should when passing from green to green as he gazes over the horizon have a limitable sense of eternity, suggesting contemplation and imagination. Macdonald (Scotland’s Gift)
  • While trees are generally considered poor hazards nevertheless they may be properly utilized in some cases, but should not be used as carrying hazards. Rather adapt them as impossible carries which must be gone around, often giving a reward for such play. Thomas (Golf Architecture in America)
  • An honest old tree can be very sympathetic and comforting if the golfer will take the time to look into its serenely complacent face and feel that way about it. Tillinghast (The Course Beautiful)


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