If your course has trees or your members think they need to plant trees it’s important to create a master plan. The plan should create a planting scheme that prescribes the selection of species and their locations. Although the golf course isn’t an arboretum, it is an unusually large canvas for a designer and professional design advice from a landscape architect is the best bet. The plan should also set down the criteria for tree removals and replacements and for periodic management practices.

More specifically, the plans objectives should include:

• The replacement, moving or removal of existing natural or planted materials that do not permit the effective management of the turf required for the game of golf.

• Consideration for the effect, both positive and negative, plantings will have on wildlife and ultimately for the use of the property for golf.

• Opening vistas of interesting landscape features, on or off the site, without affecting the quality of golf.

• Avoidance for locating plants that will change the character of a hole unless such an effect is desirable and any negative effects of such planting (over the life of the plant) are fully understood.

• Consideration of trees that can provide a filter shade for players in areas where they will likely pause to wait for play to proceed ahead of them such as near par 3 tees.

• Use of plant material that are hardy and offer characteristics that will not present maintenance problems. Keep plants that threaten player’s comfort to a minimum (e.g. thorns or massive flowering which could attract bees during summer months).

• Formulate a plan for the eventual replacement of existing trees when their life cycle is complete.

• Use longer grasses or other native vegetation as a feature or in “out of play” areas if it will not be too lush to slow play and if in concert with the course setting.

• And otherwise utilize a composition of plants that will enhance the course setting and contribute to the overall enjoyment of the game.

• A commitment to sticking to the plan over the long term.

While I’m not an advocate of trees on the golf course, my landscape architecture background entices my interest in such a unique opportunity. When I am presented with a project that requires this skill it is something I enjoy. It is said that trees are our largest living individual organisms. It is unusual to have a property and budget large enough to permit the use of trees as a strong design element. The theory is largely the same as if the scale of the landscape dictated the use of understory trees or shrubs, but there are some differences.

Generally speaking, when dealing with the planting of golf courses, the scale, or vastness, of the setting largely dictates the use of “massing techniques” or the clustering of identical species or species with similar key characteristics such as form. And, in order to create a composition of certain elements rather than a mottled conglomeration of many, the use of several and sometimes many of a particular species of plant is required. Each plant’s ultimate height, spread, form, texture, color, etc. still influence the placement of the plants and therefore their massing.The inclusion of open, unplanted areas as a feature is critical to the success of the planting scheme in order to capitalize on the interplay of positive and negative space and to reveal other natural features. The specification of only masses or groups of single species entirely separate from each other would yield a static composition. Including drifts of a particular species to connect the various masses or drifting the masses themselves into each other allows the design to “move,” creating a more pleasing arrangement. “Drifting” plant material simply involves gradually spacing the plants out from a mass. Including an occasional single specimen as an accent or focus can yield a more interesting composition.

Each specialized area of play on the golf course has particular requirements that impacts the suitability of a given plant for that specific area. There are five major areas that have characteristics requiring different qualities in planting. Greens, tees, fairways/near roughs and far roughs have different maintenance and play circumstances dictating the critical plant requirements. Some have very restrictive requirements such as areas around greens and tee, while the remaining areas are somewhat less restrictive.Few trees have all of the characteristics required for areas around greens and tees, but certain of them can be mitigated by attentive design. For instance placement of dense shading trees on the northern side of greens, especially where that would be substantially out of play, will eliminate the concern for shading the green surface.

All other things being equal, a course with trees will never have the quality of turf that a treeless course has. However, a well-planned landscape that is consistent with the requirements of good golf practice can add to the beauty and tranquility of the setting.A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.