Five Things Every Golfer Should Know About Trees on the Course October 4, 2017 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By USGA Green Section Staff

Trees offer many benefits to golf courses, but also add potential playability and maintenance issues. (Courtesy/USGA)

Trees have a complicated relationship with golf courses. They can create stunning visual backdrops, help define the character of a golf course, provide habitat for animals, improve air quality and screen undesirable views. However, when the leaves begin to fall we are reminded that trees also have their costs. Having the right trees in the right spots maximizes their benefits and minimizes the negatives. Here are five things every golfer should know about trees on golf courses: 

1. Trees Grow

Decision-makers at golf courses often underestimate the extent and speed of tree growth. A tree that seemed harmlessly out in the rough can crowd the line of play sooner than people think. Poorly placed trees cause difficulties for golfers and superintendents that will only worsen over time. The best way to avoid these problems is to account for the full size of a tree prior to planting. If a tree is already too close to the line of play, the options are limited and removing the tree is probably the best solution. 

Pruning or removing trees that shade playing surfaces can improve course conditions and reduce maintenance costs. (Courtesy/USGA)

2. Grass Needs Sun

When trees and turf compete for sunlight, trees win. Shade limits turf growth and prevents areas from drying, causing poor playing conditions. Shade also extends frost delays and leaves turf more vulnerable to winter injury. Pruning trees to allow light and air to pass through, and removing trees that block sunlight from key playing surfaces will improve playing conditions and reduce maintenance costs. 

Greenside trees that drop leaves, sticks, fruit and bark lead to costly and time-consuming cleanup efforts. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

3. Cleanup Costs Money

Certain trees drop significant amounts of leaves, sticks, fruit, bark and other debris. When these trees are located close to greens, daily cleanup could be required before the greens can be mowed and made ready for play. In addition, some courses spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on autumn leaf and debris cleanup. 

Trees with aggressive surface roots can create issues for golfers, superintendents and cartpaths. (Courtesy/USGA)

4. The ‘Root’ of the Problem

Trees’ extensive root systems often spread well beyond their canopy. Tree roots compete with turf for water and nutrients, which is why you often see dry, thin turf in areas surrounding tree trunks. In addition, trees with aggressive surface roots can damage mowing equipment and cartpaths, and create poor playing conditions. Pruning tree roots with specialized equipment helps superintendents manage these issues without injuring the tree. 

When there is adequate space between trees they are healthier, turf conditions are better and golfers have plenty of room to play. (Courtesy/USGA)

5. We Need Room to Play 

As trees squeeze the lines of play, golf courses can become too challenging for the average golfer. This slows pace of play and makes golf less enjoyable. Courses that provide adequate space between trees and playing corridors, and between the trees themselves, improve playability and enhance the quality of trees on the course.

To learn more about trees and other important Course Care topics, visit the Course Care section of