9 The Side Swept Undercut
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The Civic Golf Links on New York’s Continued Island was the aboriginal abundant American advance to appoint in massive timberline removal, about 1990. But it wasn’t until Oakmont abreast Pittsburgh started a deforestation affairs a few years afterwards that the movement acquired momentum, and a full-fledged war on balk was legitimized as “good for golf.” By the time the U.S. Open was played at Oakmont in 2016, the United States Golf Association acclaimed its “20-year apology plan [for removing] added than 12,600 copse in what will continued be admired as one of the best absolute architectural renaissances in golf history.” From Merion alfresco Philadelphia to Los Angeles Country Club North, hundreds of courses followed the trend. Alike Winged Bottom in Mamaroneck, N.Y., which already subtitled its club history The Golf, the Bodies and the Friendly Trees, removed those amiable copse by the thousands.
What started as an underground action in awning of black eventually went mainstream, and the aboriginal biographer to appraise the movement was Chief Editor Peter McCleery with this adventure alleged “Mission Unpopular” in October 2002. McCleery wrote and edited appearance for Golf Digest aback abutting the agents in the aboriginal 1980s, but his specialty was analytic advertisement and TV criticism. He additionally pioneered the use of clairvoyant surveys as a approved accoutrement of the magazine, for example, anecdotic Johnny Miller as the best admired and best hated anchorperson in golf—pure gold for a amateur abettor to sell. McCleery was not afraid to digging into controversy, so the accountable of timberline abatement captured his acuteness as clubs beyond the country, again as now, abide to agitation the subject. —Jerry Tarde
In the alpha there were no copse on golf courses, “links” acreage actuality decidedly inhospitable. Abounding of America’s best notable courses additionally had arid beginnings, but over time copse were buried and the “parkland” abstraction took hold. Indeed, so acutely abiding are copse with American golf that about one in every 10 courses has some affectionate of abounding advertence in its name (all those Oak Copse and Adumbral Oaks). But as those admired copse complete and branches spread, they become problems, impacting playability and accommodation quality. Courses civic are now advancing to grips with the emotionally and politically answerable realities of timberline removal, sometimes on a massive scale. Call it the de-treeing of American golf.
Nowhere is this changeabout or “restoration” added credible than at Oakmont Country Club alfresco Pittsburgh. The home of assorted U.S. Opens has gone through a decade-long affairs of timberline abatement that is ongoing. It started one day aback arch pro Bob Ford ushered a accumulation of associates out to a “double hazard” on the aboriginal hole—a alembic with timberline agitation amid it and the fairway. “See this?” Ford said. “Something’s gotta go here.”
But aback Oakmont’s tree-removal action began in ardent in the mid-1990s, it took abode surreptitiously, as it generally does to abstain apprehension by tree-loving members. Above Oakmont administrator Mark Kuhns accumulated a SWAT aggregation of 12 workers assigned to altered tasks, with headlights assuming the way. Their canicule would alpha at 4 a.m., while associates were still asleep. Huge tarps were advance out as the aggregation cut bottomward trees, mainly pin oaks, again hauled the limbs into no man’s land. A butt grinder was on hand, and two activating vacuums sucked up leaves. The greens administrator and an 18-member club lath were abaft the plan, but the aggregate of the associates were kept in the dark.
“We took bottomward so abounding copse afore anybody knew what was activity on,” Kuhns says. The aggregation was alive on removing a bracken of 13 ample pin oaks adding the 12th aperture and the 13th green. “We got bottomward to three of them still continuing aback somebody noticed what was activity on,” Kuhns says. “Then they bent up to my chairman, and it became a actual acerb issue.”
At one abounding associates meeting, above greens administrator Banks Smith recalls that all those against to removing added copse sat aggressively in the advanced rows, while those on lath with the affairs “ordered a alcohol and went to comedy cards.”
There were factions, a threatened petition, prayers for the trees’ adaptation from a adjoining church, alike a aroma of a lawsuit. But afterwards abundant quiet persuasion, politicking, four greens chairmen and, in the end, 3,500 felled trees, Oakmont has been absolutely and alluringly restored. Sure, a cardinal of copse remain, but the accent is aback on the bunkering and the affecting contours of its fairways and greens. A annular there this bounce with three of those above greens chairmen appear the alacrity of their mission, with actual copse still actuality discussed and targeted. “Those accept to go,” the accumulation agreed about a bracken of three copse larboard of the 18th fairway.
“They acclimated to say that you could see about every aperture at Oakmont from the additional adventure of the clubhouse,” says Bill Fallon, accepted administrator for the 2003 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont. “Now we’ve about got that back. You can now see the vistas from fairway to fairway or beyond several fairways. We’ve rediscovered the adorableness and ability of Henry Fownes.”
The thinned-out Oakmont stands as a alarm for others embarking on the chancy aisle to de-treeing their courses. “If any club thinks they would be affliction themselves by acid bottomward a few trees, go attending at Oakmont and see what they’ve done,” says Tom Meeks, the USGA’s chief administrator of rules and competitions. “They are the leaders in the clubhouse.” Representatives from abundant added clubs already accept fabricated the crusade to Oakmont for inspiration.
Tree-removal programs accept adapted abounding of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, including Merion, Winged Foot, Medinah, Civic Golf Links of America, Oak Hill, Garden City and Baltusrol. In the publinx arena, Tension Park, the hustlers’ paradise in Dallas, removed copse as allotment of a apology program—but not afterwards a fight.
A.W. Tillinghast apparent the perils of timberline abatement years ago. “I sometimes booty my actual activity in my easily aback I advance that a assertive timberline happens to be abasement a appealing acceptable golf hole,” he wrote in 1937.
Today, the action usually follows a agnate arrangement to Oakmont’s antecedent wariness, if not absolute opposition, giving way to an about accepted all-embracing of the results. So complete is the memberships’ turnaround at Oakmont, jokes Mark Studer, addition above greens chairman, that “people who were never complex are now aggravating to booty the credit” for the project’s success. (One notable barring to the movement: Augusta National, which has buried added than 250 copse while abbreviating alive areas as allotment of its architecture check by artist Tom Fazio.)
“No one that I apperceive who has any feel for aesthetics or attributes has annihilation abrogating to say about trees,” Fazio says. “How can anyone not like them? God put them actuality to accord us adumbration and shelter. But I don’t apperceive that anybody absolutely anticipation about them about to golf. They aloof consistently affected they were a absolute influence.”
John O’Neill is a affiliate of the USGA Executive Board who has been advocating timberline abatement aback the backward 1970s, aback he was greens administrator at his home advance on Continued Island, Westhampton Country Club. O’Neill says the activation to the charge for added active, advancing timberline aliment is continued overdue. “It’s like painting a allowance that hasn’t been corrective in a continued time,” he says of the process. “You anticipate the allowance looks accomplished until you get in there and realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this looks appealing shabby.’ The arch clubs are actual important. If Oakmont does it, removing copse becomes a lot added accepted for added clubs.”
‘TREES SNEAK UP ON YOU’
Jim Snow, civic administrator of the USGA’s Blooming Section, has accustomed seminars about the apple in which he labels copse the bigger botheration adverse American golf agronomy. “Trees are a accustomed allotment of our landscape, and they serve a lot of applied purposes on courses, cardinal as able-bodied as aesthetic,” Snow says. “But copse bastard up on you. They get bigger little by little, and over 20 to 30 years they accept a huge appulse on golf courses, alike admitting bodies about them all the time don’t apprehend what’s happening.” Snow says golfers abandoned charge attending in their own aback yards to be reminded of the inherent adversity of growing grass below trees.
Agronomy experts say there’s a simple basic tradeoff amid accommodation and trees. Accommodation needs sun and air to thrive, and if copse are blocking that, something’s got to give. Copse that overhang greens and tees actualize the best problems, mainly because those areas get the best bottom traffic.
Because copse on the south and east ancillary of greens block the sun for added hours than any others, they are the best problematic. “If you appetite a timberline abutting to a green, put it on the arctic side,” Fazio says. The golf-course superintendents’ argument on the accountable is titled, tellingly: “Shaded Greens: Turf, Copse and Politics.
PAYING THE PRICE FOR OVERPLANTING
Tree-planting programs that were accepted in the 1960s and ’70s during the “make America beautiful” movement were generally agitated out haphazardly, with altered breed placed too abutting together. Copse get in the way of anniversary added and sap nutrients from the clay if not appropriately spaced.
Some affecting golf bodies are hard-liners aback it comes to hardwoods. Asked about trees, USGA Admiral Reed Mackenzie says, “I abhorrence them.” Why? Three reasons, really: The agronomics (“Trees end up costing you a lot of money; you get areas area you can’t abound grass”), the affections they activity (“People become absorbed to trees, and their adapter is irrational”) and the applied realities (“Trees get afflicted and they abatement down”).
Others, including acclaimed artist Jack Nicklaus, booty a added counterbalanced approach. Nicklaus cites Pinehurst No. 2 as the “best advance I apperceive of from a tree-usage standpoint. It’s a absolutely tree-lined golf advance afterwards one timberline in the arena action of that golf course. I adulation what Donald Ross acclimated to do at Pinehurst. Every year Ross would airing through the copse and say, ‘That timberline has gotten too big; you can’t comedy a accretion attempt from in there anymore. Booty that timberline out and cut the branches off that one.’ Again if you hit it in there, you could get in and comedy a accretion attempt aback out. Too abounding copse anticipate accretion shots, and I anticipate the accretion attempt is a admirable allotment if the game.”
Safety issues additionally beleaguer trees. Although advantageous copse accommodate a absorber amid holes, old, afflicted or dying copse affectation absolute dangers. “We’ve had a lot of copse abatement bottomward that were in that 70-year-old range,” says Jim Lucius, administrator of golf at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. “I generally anticipate that golf courses can die of old age because of trees.”
Selective pruning is generally a acting aboriginal footfall for clubs, but it doesn’t absolutely get at the basis of the problem. “Pruning improves ablaze situations, but it doesn’t fix them,” says Scott Robinson, carnality admiral of abstruse operations for ArborCom Technologies, a close that provides computer-generated affidavit of how copse block sunlight to greens (see accompanying story). I’ve never apparent a light-penetration botheration apparent by pruning alone.”
If you’ve anytime apparent electric admirers on a golf course, you’ve apparently noticed ample copse nearby. Admirers accept been installed at abounding courses in the accomplished decade to advance the air apportionment that copse inhibit. If those clubs would cut bottomward some trees, “there ability not be as abounding admirers or a charge to run them for the continuance that they do,” says Clark Throssell, the Golf Advance Superintendents Association administrator of research. Adds Snow: “Fans are big-ticket to run and article you’d aloof rather not see on a golf course. But a fan is bigger than asleep grass.”
Thus far, the above advance of timberline abatement has taken abode at the earlier Eastern clubs area copse are earlier and bigger than in added genitalia of the country. West Coast courses additionally “seem to be a lot added advanced of Poa annua in their greens,” says ArborCom’s Robinson, “and ablaze requirements are a lot lower with Poa.”
THE STILL-POPULAR OFF-SEASON PLAN
If all-embracing timberline abatement is activity added mainstream, it’s not absolutely out in the daylight. Secrecy still seems a big allotment of the action at some arresting clubs. “They don’t say abundant about it,” says an official at one of the big Eastern clubs, in hushed tones. “It’s a political bombshell.” Says John Zimmers, Oakmont’s superintendent: “We still, to this day, do not aloof go out and cut a timberline down. We do it in the morning or aback the club is closed.” Associates who acknowledgment to a club that has been de-treed in winter tend to attending about and apprehension article different, but they’re not abiding what. “It’s amazing how little they do notice,” says USGA agriculturalist Kimberly Erusha.
Memorial trees, of course, can be abnormally sensitive. “They’re the worst,” Mackenzie says. “You can’t move grandpa’s tree.” Or can you? That’s appealing abundant what admiral did at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. Over the accomplished 50 years, Oak Hill had committed 35 copse for acclaimed golfers on its “Hill of Fame” surrounding the par-5 13th hole.
As Oak Hill began removing alarming trees, some associates became “very concerned” about the Hill of Fame, says Bill Reeves, an Oak Hill affiliate and administrator of its Hill of Fame committee. “To us, those copse were about sacred.”
But aback associates saw the rapidly bigger action on greens area added copse had appear down, Reeves says it didn’t accomplish faculty to accept “17 superb greens and one in characterless condition.” So Oak Hill absitively to abolish 13 copse on the Hill of Fame, including those committed to Dwight Eisenhower, Charlie Coe, Gerald Ford and Miller Barber. Nicklaus’ tree, on the southern-exposure side, charcoal complete afterwards some austere pruning.
“If we were to booty bottomward that tree,” says Oak Hill administrator Paul B. Latshaw, “it ability break all our ablaze issues on that aperture from actuality to eternity. I don’t apperceive Jack Nicklaus, but alive what he charge apperceive about agronomy, I’m abiding he’d be admiring if it came to that.”
In an accessible analgesic for the dethroned, Oak Hill reaffixed those honorees’ plaques to added copse nearby. “We’ve got bags of copse at Oak Hill,” Reeves says. “We’re not activity to run out of trees.”
Thankfully, no one anytime will. Which is apparently why added and added of them are advancing down.
IS YOUR COURSE OVER-TREED?
How do you acquaint if your home advance is over-treed? To digest Ben Hogan, don’t attending up, attending down, because the acknowledgment is in the dirt. The bloom of the accommodation provides an important tipoff to a abeyant timberline problem.
“You about accept to go by what’s accident to the grass,” says Jim Snow, civic administrator of the USGA’s Blooming Section. In particular, greens beneath too abundant adumbration will be accountable to a accepted abrasion of the turf, or in acute cases, no accommodation at all. Aback holes are in adumbral spots, cartage about the aperture will aggravate the abrasion and tear. And already the accommodation on a blooming loses its density, “that’s aback the weeds will invade,” says Clark Throssell, administrator of analysis for the Golf Advance Superintendents Association of America. “When the accommodation isn’t that competitive, that’s area these added breed get started.”
Tees additionally can be susceptible, and the admonition assurance will be that abandoned one allocation of the tee is anytime used, either because the black allocation is in bad appearance or because overhanging limbs or interloping copse advanced annihilate that angle. “Tees ache a lot at the easily of golfers,” Throssell says. “Letting the ablaze in so the accommodation has a reasonable adventitious of accretion is actual important.”
Should your club or advance adjudge to undertake a affairs of timberline removal, John O’Neill of the USGA’s Executive Board recommends a bit-by-bit approach. “Don’t shock the members,” he says. “Start slowly, demography bottomward the copse that best affect agronomics. Don’t booty bottomward being that could be the best controversial. Get the associates into it, and already they see results, they’ll get abaft it.”Beware the alarming “double hazards.” This is aback you hit into a fairway bunker, for example, and additionally accept a timberline to accord with amid you and the hole.
Exposed, above-ground timberline roots. Not abandoned alarming for arena shots, but timberline roots attempt with the grass for clay nutrients.
A accepted faculty of claustrophobia. If you alpha to feel as if you’re in a bowling alleyway instead of on a golf course, some austere timberline abatement ability be required.
Where’s the rough? Best courses were advised to accept 15 to 20 yards of asperous amid the fairways and timberline lines.
Overhanging limbs. From the average of the fairway, you should be able to admission any aperture area on the blooming afterwards timberline trouble. “Your admission attempt shouldn’t be blocked by timberline limbs overhanging the blooming or the fairway,” O’Neill says.
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