The turf at St. Thomas Golf and Country Club performed poorly for a number of years. The problem was caused by the extensive shade and lack of air circulation around many of the greens, tees and fairways. A tree planting plan was initiated at St. Thomas in the 1960s and 1970s and as the trees matured, the growing environments gradually deteriorated. The poor growing environments resulted in weaker turf, increased disease pressure and higher populations of Poa annua. St. Thomas also had a very small, closed-in, claustrophobic feel, and the extensive tree and brush plantings created a host of playability problems. The problems were so extensive that the solution required a multi-faceted approach.
Extensive tree and brush removal was needed along with repeated deep soil modification treatments to improve internal drainage. The first step after identifying the fundamental problem was to analyze individual growing environments and identify where tree and brush removal was needed. USGA agronomist David Oatis conducted the first tree evaluation visit in fall 2012. Large-scale tree removal was initiated in winter 2012 and has continued every winter since. Tree work can be expensive, and the topography at St. Thomas is severe, making it more challenging and expensive. Fortunately, a great deal of the tree-removal cost has been offset by selling the lumber.
There have been many noticeable improvements in turf health and playability. Disease activity has been much less prevalent and wear problems have become much less common. Irrigation, especially syringing, has been dramatically reduced. True water use reductions are difficult to identify as weather and annual precipitation amounts vary. However, recorded flowmeter readings since project inception are indicating a steady downward trend; 2012 – 13,079,000 U.S. gallons; 2013 – 9,902,000 U.S. gallons; 2014 – 8,171,000 U.S. gallons.
Improved air circulation also has reduced soil and canopy temperatures by as much as 11 degrees Celsius during hot, humid weather. Fall playability has improved and staff hours for leaf removal have been greatly reduced. In addition, the duration of frost delays has significantly decreased.
In spring 2014 and spring 2015, extensive winter injury was experienced at many area courses. The greens at St. Thomas where tree work had been accomplished experienced 80 percent or higher survival rates. Unfortunately, in 2014, the remaining heavily shaded greens experienced significant turf loss.