As Pennsylvania has moved to open their state to golf with one rider per cart, elevating our current status of no carts in the near future seems hopeful. Although rounds hit a historical high for March and April, seeing golf carts roam the course again will return a small sense of normalcy.

For this month’s update, we want to address a two areas: our Bermuda grass Practice Tee and trees.

In a typical year, we would open the turf on the Practice Tee towards the end of April. This is a departure from the past as the tee was converted to a pure stand of Bermuda grass last June. By the end of April, the Bermuda has broken dormancy and use of the turf by golfers would further stimulate growth. Fast forward to present times, and with staff numbers remaining low during the pandemic, opening the tee would warrant on-going maintenance of filling divots to ensure season-long viability of the turf surface. Until the Governor relinquishes the imposed modifications that limit revenue generating mechanisms, we will remain on mats at both ends of the practice field.

Over the past two winters trees have been removed due to (1) overall health of a tree with particular regard to safety and (2) improving sun and wind circulation to the green complexes. We currently use the app Sun Seeker available on either carrier’s app store. This useful tool helps us to identify tree(s) impacting morning and afternoon sun throughout the calendar year. Utilizing this technology allows us to make sound judgements in deciding what is best for the health of the greens, rather than of letting the chainsaws run rampant. With selective removal in 2019, the overall health of 5 South green improved and we are expecting similar results for 16 South green with the deduction of two trees to the rear of the green complex.

We determine the overall health and safety of the trees on property by examining the upper limbs and trunk appearance. A tree displaying a growth habit such as a twisted trunk (figure 1), is only living on borrowed time and needs to be removed for the safety of golfers and employees alike. This particular tree, a beech, posed a great threat for the well-being of all, as it would have fallen on its own timetable. Other trees show decay, but might not be visible on an everyday basis. The maple on 3 North (fig. 2) appeared fine from the fairway vantage point. However, on the cart path side of this tree (fig. 3), the severity of damage can be clearly seen. This decay extended upward throughout most of this tree causing dead limbs often referred to as “widow-makers.”

Trees survive best in forested areas without turfgrass beneath them. This is why three of our specimen trees on 3 and 13 North, and behind 14 South green are surrounded in wood mulch. A longtime agronomist of the USGA was famous for saying trees and grass do not mix. Stanley Zontek would often pontificate at speaking engagements, “If you want good grass, get rid of trees. Conversely, if you want good trees, get rid of the turf. However Ladies and Gentlemen, the game of golf is played on grass.”

The inherent dangers associated with trees on golf courses is ever present. Upon inspection during the course of several removals this winter, hidden internal decay was noted (fig 4) on the interior of trees. These include many of the native trees original to the property in the rocky corridor of 3, 6 and 16 South (fig. 5 & 6). Notice in these two photographs, other than the three specimen trees mentioned in paragraph seven above, this area contained a grove of hardwoods before the golf course was constructed. Virtually every other area of the Club’s landscape has been planted throughout the years. The reasoning for the decay we are experiencing is again that trees do not do well in situations out of their comfort zone. In addition, disturbance to root systems from course construction in the 1950’s, a tornado in the early 90’s, a renovation in the early 2000’s and every day compaction of rough mowers, tractors and golf carts, are all contributing factors that limit root development and speed the decline in tree health that we are experiencing today. When the opportunity present itself in the future to replant, every measure will be taken to remediate the ground and properly space specimen trees to ensure they have a fighting chance to survive the long haul.

Jon Urbanski
Director of Grounds & Golf Courses