Golf Course Trees – They Need a Pro too

Steve Shreiner, former Eagle Scout, high school wrestler and son of a college professor, decided as a teenager that he loved being outside and took an interest in trees. He’s now an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist. Mike Kachurak has a BS in Agronomy and after 15 years in the golf course maintenance field became an ISA certified arborist and has been working with Shreiner Tree Care (STC) for the past 3+ years. After one of the busiest fall seasons ever for severe weather and tree damage on golf courses in the Philadelphia Region, I sought to learn more about trees and their agronomic and economic impact on golf courses and clubs.

One of the great debates at many clubs occurs when it’s time for tree removal, especially the club president’s favorite tree or that tree guarding the right side of the 12th green. There are those who seek to remove as many trees as possible and those who suggest planting 2 trees wherever one is removed. This debate occurs at numerous clubs. These decisions should be made by the professionals, not the overzealous chairman of the green committee who either wants to rid the course of trees or plant way too many.

This year, however, maybe more than most STC has been inundated with damage related removals and clean-up assignments at many golf courses and clubs in their market around Philadelphia. In 2020 there was even a death at one club from a tree being struck by lightning and falling on a building. Accordingly, they are recommending Tree Health & Hazard Assessments to golf courses. What is a tree risk assessment, I asked? Shreiner says such a project can include the following:

  • Sunlight/Shade studies;
  • Tree Risk assessments;
  • Tree Inventory;
  • Agronomic impact to golf course playing conditions;
  • Root Pruning (Fairways)

They have technology that can provide a golf course or club with objective data on the impact their trees have on the health of the golf course turfgrass. Unfortunately, very few golf courses actually embark on such studies. They wait until it’s too late and then it’s clean up time.

Shreiner and Kachurak, being in the Philadelphia Area see lots of golf courses from the early 1900’s built during the golden age of golf course architecture, hence there are numerous mature trees to deal with. As the golf courses are stretched out to meet the modern game, they work with golf course architects to address architectural intent, safety concerns and turf-related challenges. When large, mature trees aren’t properly maintained and managed, they get heavier and often can become safety hazards. They consult with golf course architects on a regular basis. As shown in Mike Hurdzan’s book Golf and Law, there’s good legal reasoning for tree management programs.

When I asked how they make an economic case for tree management (in addition to legal exposure), they explained that while costly to establish an ongoing tree management program, it’s critical to the health of the surrounding turf and thus impacts the club’s most significant asset, the condition of the golf course. The presentation of the course is what generates dues and fees. Shreiner says trees can impact the amount of sunlight, air circulation and moisture the turf gets and thus can compromise turf surfaces and playing conditions. Pruning of trees is essential to maintain a balanced environment.

Shreiner and Kachurak both say that the key to getting a club to make the right decisions about trees is about building relationships with superintendents, club leaders and other club officials. They say that tree management is a long-term investment in the reputation of the course. There is no immediate payback. It’s incumbent upon golf course owners, clubs, superintendents and others to understand the impact trees can have if not properly managed. They need to appreciate the mutual reliance trees and turf have on each other. While not suggesting that all trees be removed, Shreiner says “you can’t grow happy trees and happy turf next to one another.”