Thursday, 3 February 2011

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Trees in the Direct Line of Play

This hazard punishes the weakest the most
We can all think of memorable holes where a majestic Oak or Maple sets the corner of a dogleg or stages a great green site. We are awed by the scale of those trees and find it exciting to play a shot that flirts with the tree in order to reach our intended target. These are not the trees that I am about to talk about.

A.W. Tillinghast stated the trees can have strategic value as long as it “does not interfere with the sound play of the game” The problem that I consistently run into time and time again is that most courses have planted trees inside of the tree lines trying to reinforce “strategy” and ended up with a jail effect each time the player strays off line.

When you think about the tree as a hazard, it represents the only vertical hazard in the game. Even a perfectly struck shot can be knocked down by the branching structure and redirected into deeper trouble. Where committees have made their greatest mistakes is when they place trees they forget that they will mature and eventually remove all the options on the hole if planted in the wrong spot. As Donald Ross said, “Trees should serve perhaps as the scenery, but never as part of the stage.”

The most offensive of all trees is the one “in” the fairway proper. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a situation where a player can hit their very best down the centre of the fairway only to have their tee shot knocked down by the tree or become stymied on their next shot. There is not a single great tree found in a fairway in golf, each is as ridiculous and inexcusable as the last. Their only value comes one year after they are cut down when the firewood is dried out enough to make it to the clubhouse fireplace.


  1. I once played a hole where a tree was overhanging on the tee-box, so I had to hit a "knock down" driver in order to not hit the tree. Also, it was a 230 yard carry to the fairway so I played 70 yards to the right onto the adjacent hole.

  2. Hi Ian:

    IMO a fairway obstacle should be located where a reasonable drive from the correct tee block for the player's skill level will take the obstacle out of play. A poor shot on the other hand may find the fairway obstacle doing its job.

    IMO the player who complains after a poor shot that a tree is in his way, is much the same as the player who thinks that just because he is in the fairway he "deserves" a flat lie, as opposed to a downhill or side hill lie.

    You still have options to go left, right, under or over a tree. By grading the land around the tree one can always be assured that some shot is available.

    If adding interest, decision making, and thought process is an important part of design, the properly and well thought out fairway tree is all of those in spades. And it always gives you a choice!

    Not to mention the aesthetic value that it adds to a hole. The tree on #15 at LookOut Point is perfectly placed and perfectly sculpted around its base such that a good drive from the correct tee will take it out of play, and a poor drive will still leave options for a play toward the green.

    Another obstacle there, such as a bunker would neither be as aseptically pleasant, nor leave the options available that golfers of various skill levels could reasonably hope to negotiate.

    At the risk of running on, the majestic white pine on the back nine at North Granite Ridge near Huntsville (very under appreciated course) is a beautiful sight from the elevated tee. It certainly adds to the interest of the hole, though it is possible to be left with no shot there, which should be addressed.

    I know you are disagreeing but still interested in why you think I am wrong. I have in my interest in architecture always benefited from being open to changing my mind, so I'll be interested to see if you can show me a different perspective.

  3. Joe,

    I would never say your wrong, but I certainly have a different viewpoint.

    I'm far more supportive of an individual tree that influences play rather than dictates play.

    The problem with the 15th at lookout Point is that tree is only 1/3 of its final height and width.

    Ian Andrew