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Trees can be a highly controversial topic on a golf course and their impact on turf health and playability are significant. Managing and removing trees are often two of the most contentious topics at many facilities. To help guide tree management decisions and create consensus amongst decision-makers, it is valuable to seek input from outside experts, such as golf course architects and USGA agronomists. Many courses find working with an agronomist to develop a tree management plan to be extremely helpful. One of the key components of a successful tree management plan is having well-defined criteria for how trees are evaluated. Some key questions to ask are outlined below:

Does the tree negatively impact the turfgrass growing environment? Shade, limited air movement, root competition and traffic problems are all things to evaluate when it comes to trees and turf. Keep in mind that the sun’s path varies during the year and different grasses are impacted differently by shade. It’s no coincidence the worst turf quality is often found near trees.

Is the tree healthy? Unhealthy trees are unsafe, unsightly, drop debris and become more challenging to remove as they continue to decline. Some species are more susceptible to pests and should be avoided as new plantings.

What impact does the tree have on playability? The wrong tree in the wrong location can penalize high-handicap players unduly, cause playing corridors to shrink over time and alter the design intent of a hole.

Would removing the tree expose a great view or highlight other surrounding specimen trees? You would be surprised how often great views of natural features such as streams, rock outcroppings or horizons are blocked by trees. Also, if you are fortunate enough to have large specimen trees throughout the property, take a look to see if smaller, less-desirable trees are negatively affecting them.

What species of trees are best suited for your golf course? Some trees are inherently flawed with undesirable characteristics such as surface rooting, weak or low-hanging branches, or the production of debris that requires regular cleanup.

These are just a few questions to ask as you evaluate trees throughout your golf course. Hopefully, answering these questions helps create consensus amongst decision-makers at your facility. If you would like additional assistance developing a tree management plan, do not hesitate to contact your local USGA agronomist.

Central Region Agronomists:

Zach Nicoludis, regional director –

Paul Jacobs, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff