A tree can become a hazard on your golf course by doing more than just proving to be a difficult obstacle to play around.
This is particularly true for golf courses in northeast New York, where the migration of emerald ash borer in recent years means ash trees are at risk of dying and posing hazards to golfers, course facilities, turf, irrigation systems and other property.
In addition, the loss of a single, mature ash can greatly affect the character of the course by changing a hole or fairway in such a way that it no longer enhances the course designer’s architecture—let alone the view from the cart path.
EAB is an invasive, wood-boring beetle from Asia that has killed millions of ash trees in the U.S. since its discovery here in 2002. The beetle, discovered in New York’s four-county Capital District in 2012, targets specifically ash trees and leaves numerous signs of infestation, including S-shaped tunnels under the bark and D-shaped holes in the bark.
Gary Schermerhorn, district manager of Davey’s Albany, New York, residential/commercial tree care office, says the best way to approach dealing with EAB is to define the scope of the problem.
“At Albany Country Club we started with an ash tree inventory to determine how many ash trees the course had that could potentially create a problem down the road,” Schermerhorn says.
Davey started preventative treatment of ash trees for Albany Country Club to protect against the borer in 2014.
The club features an 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones. Club management decided on a treatment schedule that would see one third of the ash trees treated with an insecticide to protect against the borer in the first year. The remaining two-thirds of the course’s ash trees will be divided into two groups and treated in the next two years.
The plan will see all of the course’s ash trees treated on a rotating basis over a 12- to 15-year period. That should give the course’s trees enough time for the borer to move out of the region and greatly reduce the risk to the remaining ashes, Schermerhorn says.
There are four basic approaches superintendents can take to managing the ash trees on their courses:
The first is to do nothing, wait for the borer to kill the trees and then start removing them after they’ve started dying. By doing nothing, course managers invite the unplanned expense tied to ash trees that have declined to the point of becoming hazards to players and property and, therefore, must be removed.
The second approach is to proactively remove every ash tree on the course—whether it shows signs of infestation or not.
The last two approaches deal with treatment. Superintendents and course owners can use treatments as a means to stage removals over a span of several years by slowing the rate of infestation. Using treatments to slow infestations and stage removals does two things. It spreads the cost of any forthcoming removals out over the span of a few years, and it lessens the visual impact created when one or two trees are removed annually versus a dozen or more in a single year.
Lastly, in the case of Albany Country Club, managers can use treatments to preserve their tree canopy to try to protect their ashes from infestation. Using treatment to maintain their course play and aesthetics will help preserve Robert Trent Jones’ intentions when he designed the course in 1961.
Albany is treating its mature trees, which deliver the most benefits in terms of shade, aesthetics and storm-water absorption. The trees selected for treatment are also in prominent locations and places where removal would be difficult and potentially damaging to the course.
In general, there are other treatment options and remedial methods that superintendents and golf course owners can take when it comes to EAB. Effective pruning, depending upon the rate and intensity of the infestation, to remove dead, infested or dying limbs may help eliminate potential hazards in the short term thereby delaying the larger cost associated with removal.
Schermerhorn advises that the best approach to tackling EAB is to consult with a certified arborist to inventory your property’s ash trees and develop a plan of attack tailored to meet the budget, schedule, play, aesthetics, customer needs and other concerns associated with your course.