Geeked on Golf


Journey Along the Shores – Part 19 (All About the Trees)

Over the past several years, countless hours have been spent in the field and in meetings to assess the state of our tree population, and to chart a course forward toward making that population larger and significantly healthier.

Our findings will not be a surprise to anyone who has taken the time to look closely at the ecological picture at Canal Shores.  In many places, the property is a disaster area, and it has been for many years.  I am grateful to the members of the community who decided that the “gem in their backyards” was in distress and stepped in to save it.  For those who have not yet done so, now would be a good time.  We have a plan, and there are opportunities to target contributions of volunteer time and money to revitalize Canal Shores, including its trees.


We are not short of trees at Canal Shores, but as it turns out, we are short on good ones.  Planning Resources Inc. sent their Arborist out to do a tree survey.  They were looking for valuable trees to keep and incorporate into the ecological master plan for the property (full Plan coming soon…).  “Valuable” is defined as important native species, or large, healthy trees that are not invasive species.  The survey found that Canal Shores has 904 trees on our 82 acres.

At first glance, that number might seem big, but it really isn’t.  Given that the golf course occupies less than half that total acreage, a healthy tree population would number in the thousands.

PRI tagged every valuable tree they could find.  I encourage anyone walking or playing the course to look for tags to better understand which trees are desirable, and sadly how few of them we have.


Tagged trees are numbered and catalogued for reference, and have been geo-located onto the map that follows.  The map, along with the associated illustrations, is a great reference for learning more about where our desirable trees are, and what they are.  I have learned a great deal about trees from PRI’s work, and I have started to share that knowledge with my boys.

Valuable trees are circled, and “key” trees (meaning high value species and of size) are in orange.

















Invasive species are making Canal Shores unhealthy.  I am far from being an expert, but what I have learned is that a healthy ecosystem has layers, each layer ideally containing a variety of species:

  • An herbaceous (ground) layer of grasses, flowers and groundcover that are the home to pollinators and other important insects and animals.
  • An understory (shrub) layer of small trees and shrubs that provide food and habitat for birds.
  • A canopy of trees, of varying species and age.

The primary problem that Canal Shores has with its invasives is in the understory, specifically with buckthorn and honeysuckle.  That problem has manifested in three ways:

  • First, within the understory, buckhthorn and honeysuckle are extremely aggressive competitors and they have left us with almost no other shrubs, greatly decreasing biodiversity.
  • Second, they form dense thickets, starving the herbaceous layer of sunlight.  Where buckthorn grows densely, there is bare ground underneath which also creates erosion problems on the canal banks.
  • Finally, the buckthorn and honeysuckle leave no space for desirable trees to regenerate.

There are good reasons why it is illegal to sell or plant buckthorn or honeysuckle in the state of Illinois.  They are parasitic plants that take over and leave the areas they populate in much worse health.  To say that one likes buckthorn is the equivalent of liking a tapeworm.

IL Exotic Weed Act.png

In fighting buckthorn at Canal Shores, I have learned first hand the many ways that it fights back.  It has whacked me in the face, hit me in the head, poked me in the eye, cut up my arms and legs, and more.  Suffice it to say, I have never been a fan.  However, when I watched the video below, I was tipped over the edge.

Not only is buckthorn bad for the other plants around it, but the berries produced by the females have a laxative effect on birds, while providing no nutritional content.  Are you kidding me?  This demon weed must go.

Many thanks to Brandon from Ringers Landscaping for allowing us to share his webinar.  I highly recommend watching at least the first 18 minutes.


During the course of this lengthy process of assessment and learning through pilot projects, I have heard and read statements like “Save the buckthorn!” and “Can’t we just let nature take care of itself?”.  These statements are born of ignorance and are in direct conflict with the principle of land stewardship for which our community is responsible at Canal Shores.

Abdication of our stewardship responsibility has directly resulted in ecological degradation.  In the hundreds of hours that I have spent on the ground with fellow Buckthorn Warriors, I have seen what this degradation looks like.  We have saved desirable trees that were literally being choked to death by invasive vines.  We have watched in disappointment as a large, unhealthy tree falls over in a storm, taking with it several desirable trees that we hoped to save.  We have seen the bare ground under buckthorn thickets suffering from stormwater erosion.  And we have seen newly cleared areas spring back to life with grasses and flowers when sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

The results of doing nothing are obvious and incontrovertible.  It doesn’t work.  Based on our learnings and the counsel of experts, we are now moving forward.  Special thanks to Grounds Committee member Matt Rooney who drafted our Tree Policy, and then painstakingly revised it to incorporate feedback from numerous parties.  Click here to read the Canal Shores Tree Policy, which has been approved by our Board of Directors.

What does this look like on the ground?  Before areas can be revitalized, clearing has to take place.  We are prioritizing spots that directly impact the golf course – tees, greens, fairway landing areas are all of highest priority as we want to enhance the turf quality, playability and visual beauty for our paying customers.  We have selected specific trees (e.g. black cherries) to add to the tagged group for preservation, and buckthorn has been painted for removal.


The work is well underway on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12-18.  We have applied for a burn permit from the EPA to deal with the cut brush.  We are also recruiting a Landscape Architecture / Ecology intern whose focus will be on maintenance of cleared areas as well as site-specific habitat design and implementation.


Decades of neglect and mismanagement are not going to be undone overnight.  However, we have made a beginning and we will continue working toward our goal of making Canal Shores a healthy ecosystem that includes a variety of native and other desirable trees.

We hope that all members of the Evanston-Wilmette community join us.  Check the Greens & Grounds blog for dates of upcoming volunteer work sessions, or email me at to be added to the Buckthorn Warriors mailing list.  Inquiries about tree donations can be made with Dan Bulf (  This is a big job, but together, we can do it.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Journey Along the Shores – Part 8 (More Tree Management)

In a previous Journey Along the Shores post, I shared our initial approach to managing the trees in our care.  A recent event prompted me to circle back to the subject.

CanalShores12-HampsonsRedOakWe have been working on establishing tall grass buffer areas and walking paths with the intention of planting trees to create native savannah.  Our efforts on the 12th hole were noticed by our neighbors and they have generously offered assistance, including donations.  Specifically, we were the lucky recipients of a donated Red Oak tree that we happily planted in our nascent savannah.

There is a tremendous amount of work left to be done on clean-up and clearing of invasive tree species, like buckthorn.  Removal is only part of the process though.  Each cleared area needs to be enhanced with new vegetation and trees.  Therefore, as a starting point, we have created a Suggested Species List of trees (thanks to the efforts of Steve Neumann of Logic Lawn Care and our Superintendent Tom Tully).


The list, along with a picture of each tree follows.  Ultimately, we are working toward the look below, with healthy turf, tall grass, native areas, specimen trees, and vistas.

Photo by Dimpled Rock Photography (

Photo by Dimpled Rock Photography (


  • Gingko (male only)
  • Red Maple
  • Sugar Maple
  • Black Gum
  • American Hornbeam
  • Hackberry
  • Red Oak
  • Pin Oak
  • White Oak
  • Swamp Oak
  • River Birch
  • Beech
  • Northern Catalpa
  • Sycamore
  • Hickory
  • Cottonwood


  • White Pine
  • Jack Pine
  • Eastern Red Cedar
  • Hemlock

For further reading on the subject of tree management on a golf course / multi-use facility, check out this discussion thread on and this great article from Dunlop White.

Thanks again to our volunteers and generous neighbors.  We will keep you updated on dates/times for upcoming volunteer clean-up sessions.  And if you would like to make a donation for the purchase of a tree, or to help offset the cost of clean-up and clearing (haul-away and wood chipping), please contact Tom Tully at  Remember, Canal Shores is a not-for-profit, so all donations are tax deductible.

More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Journey Along the Shores – Part 5 (Tree Management)

CanalShores3-ReclaimedRidgelineOur tree management program has begun in earnest at Canal Shores.  Our strategy, which is built up on the Wide Open Spaces principle, is two-phased:

1.  Remove overgrowth and invasive species.

2.  Highlight remaining specimen trees while supplementing them modestly with conifer and deciduous species that we have selected for their beauty and native restoration qualities.

The list of selected tree species will be covered in detail in upcoming posts.  For now, focus is on phase 1.  Before sharing about our progress and findings thus far, let’s ask and answer a legitimate question:

Why go to all this trouble?  Why not just leave tree management to Mother Nature?

The members of the Board and Grounds Committee are inherently proactive and not keen on passively letting opportunities to improve Canal Shores slip by.  Beyond that quality of the people, there are several reasons why we have implemented a tree management program.

1.  Turf Health – Our Superintendent Tom Tully’s primary job is to grow and maintain turf on which it is enjoyable to play golf.  An overabundance of trees growing in the wrong places make that job more difficult and expensive.  Trees compete with turf for water and sunlight, and they usually win.  We do not have the funds to water more than the minimum, nor to continuously replace struggling turf areas.  Further, every golf course must be looking for ways to cut water usage in today’s culture of sensitivity to sustainability issues.  Simply put, we are tipping the scales in favor of our turf.

2.  Maintenance Costs – It might seem that doing nothing until one absolutely has to is the cheapest route to take.  In addition to the increased costs of maintaining healthy turf, improperly managed trees can cause costly course damage, property damage, and injury.  Any competent manager knows that proactive management of an asset is always cheaper in the long run than an approach of neglect that leads to the need for periodic crisis management.

3.  Maximizing Pleasure – There is an overwhelming consensus among Canal Shore’s stakeholders that the overgrown state of the property is much less beautiful than it could be.  Unique features are obscured and vistas are limited.  Tree management is a key factor in increasing beauty, which in turn increases pleasure.  For Canal Shores’s golfers, excessive and misplaced trees reduce the playability of the course.  While successfully navigating a strategically placed tree can be very pleasurable, constantly threading the needles of playing corridors choked by trees…not so much.  Enhancing the beauty, interest and playability of Canal Shores through tree management maximizes pleasure.

The case for tree removal and management from a golf perspective are covered further in my previous post The Sweet Sounds of Chainsaws.

The bottom line is this:  There are important reasons to take affirmative action with regard to tree management.  As stewards of this special place, it is our responsibility to actively manage the land that has been entrusted to us.

The slide show below shares our initial efforts on the Jans Holes (#3).  We have already created more width for golfers, as well as discovered specimen trees, and gorgeous curves and contours along the ridge line.

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More updates on our progress to come…

More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf



“As beautiful as trees are, and as fond as you and I are of them, we still must not lose sight of the fact that there is a limited place for them in golf. We must not allow our sentiments to crowd out the real intent of a golf course, that of providing fair playing conditions. If it in any way interferes with a properly played stroke, I think the tree is an unfair hazard and should not be allowed to stand.”
– Donald Ross, from Golf Has Never Failed Me

First things first – I love trees.  They are magical to me.  Growing up on Chicago’s North Shore and finally settling in Evanston, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by big, old trees all my life.  Time spent hiking in the woods of northern Michigan is second in enjoyment for me only to golf.

My tree-hugging tendencies having been disclosed, I have to agree with Mr. Ross 100%.  On many golf courses, over-planting and invasiveness of trees are a detractor – they create turf health issues, add to maintenance costs, hinder playability, and block sight-lines.  Further, when trees are overgrown, true specimens are not allowed to stand out, reducing aesthetic pleasure.


What a shame it would be if the beauty of these specimens at Crystal Downs was lost in an overgrown tree line. (photo by Jon Cavalier)

In spite of high-profile tree removal victories such as at Oakmont, architects and superintendents are often saddled in their work by club memberships that apparently don’t know the difference in function and intent between a golf course and an arboretum.  To illustrate what they deal with, a superintendent friend of mine was confronted by a club member while overseeing tree removal and accused of “raping the golf course”.  The restoration of that same course, which included substantial tree removal, has subsequently been lauded by the members as an unequivocal success.

As the sunlight can better reach the turf once the trees are thinned, so is this page intended as an attempt to shine a light that gets through to tree-ignorant golfers.  Architects and superintendents are invited to share their tree removal before-and-after photos and I will keep them organized.  Hopefully, by creating such a resource with visual proof of the improvements, we can raise awareness and make the lives of GCAs and Supers a bit easier.

Photos and commentary can be submitted to me at or via Twitter @jasonway1493.



Arguably, Oakmont was the original spark that got clubs to stop planting trees haphazardly, and start thinking about what proper tree management looked like for them.  Obviously, the outcome at Oakmont is at the far end of the tree removal spectrum, but the impact of what Superintendent Mark Kuhns did starting in 1993 with support of key members continues to reach far beyond the boundaries of their property.


Click here to watch the Golf Channel story – How Oakmont Turned Back the Clock


The most amazing transformation that I have personally witnessed through tree removal is at Essex County Club.  Before my first play of ECC, I studied up and saw pictures.  The course I encountered in 2015 was not the same as the one in the photos.  The Essex County membership and Superintendent Eric Richardson were already well on their way down the tree removal road, and they keep going.  I have been back to play annually, and every time I visit, my jaw hits the ground again.

Following are before-and-after photos provided to me by Eric illustrating the extent of commitment that ECC has to bringing out the uniqueness of Donald Ross’s New England masterwork.

(click on images to enlarge)

The rock hill that is the central feature of the property, as seen from the 1st fairway:

From the 10th fairway, revealing the hillside:

From the 11th tee, uncovering the hill behind the green:

Looking back to the 12th tee, the drive plays blind over the hill:

From the 12th fairway looking back, with the movement of the land and skyline revealed:

From the 15th tee, with trees replaced by Ross mounds to separate 15 from 16 fairway:

Before, during and after removal of trees on 17, uncovering the wild topography on which this short par-4 is built:

The view back toward 12 from the 18th tee, set on the hill top:

From the 18th tee, looking down the fairway as it tumbles between the hills:


The club where I grew up caddying has undergone an incredible transformation.  The collaboration of architects Drew Rogers and Dave Zinkand, General Manager Kevin Marion, and Superintendent Curtis James has dramatically opened up the property so that the work of Harry Colt and Donald Ross can truly shine.  It is not the course of my youth, and all the better for it.  If I can ever pin Curtis down, there will be photos to come…


(click on mosaic images to enlarge)


2013-2014 Restoration by Frank Pont of Infinite Variety Golf Design.

Broadstone2 Broadstone1


2015 tree removal performed by Superintendent Brian Bossert as a continuation of a 2013 renovation by Jim Nagle of Forse Design. (Learn more about the project here)


2008 Restoration by Kyle Phillips Golf Course Design



Tree removal performed by grounds staff, video courtesy of Deputy Course Manager Graeme Roberts.



Renovation work by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Meade.



1999-2000 Restoration by Bruce Hepner and Renaissance Golf Design (full course review on


2007-2008 Restoration by Mike Benkusky.  – According to Mike, more than 500 more trees have been removed since the renovation was completed, and the membership continues to love the new look and playability of the course.

Photos courtesy of Superintendent Michael Vessely, who continues to polish this special Langford & Moreau 9-holer.


2014 Restoration by Infinite Variety Golf Design and Patrice Boissonnas (more pics and information at



2007 Renovation by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Meade.



2013 – 2014 restoration of this Langford & Moreau gem by Jim Nagle of Forse Design. Before pic courtesy of Scott LaPlant.


2015 off-season tree removal performed by Course Manager Grant Peters



2009-2010 Restoration by Hanse Golf Course Design with Geoff Shackelford (see the LinksGems Tour here)


December 2017 Tweet from the Lulu team (@lulucountryclub).  Superintendent Matthew Stout and his crew have been doing tremendous work polishing up this Donald Ross gem.


July 2015 tweet from the Meadow Club Grounds Dept. (@meadow1927). In collaboration with Mike DeVries, Superintendent Sean Tully and his staff are bringing out every bit of beauty from this architectural treasure.

MeadowClub-BeforeAfter.jpg OAK HILL COUNTRY CLUB

June 2016 Tweet from Superintendent Jeff Corcoran (@ohccturf1), before and after pictures of #15 on the West course.



The title of tree management’s greatest champion goes to Dunlop White.  Not only was he integral in the restoration of Old Town Club, which included significant tree removal, but he is also the keeper of the best set of resources on the subject that I found.  Visit Dunlop’s website here.


2007 – 2014 Restoration by Keith Foster (before photo from Gib Carpenter’s wonderful article on, after photo by Evan Schiller from course renovation timeline on

Photos posted to Twitter by Graylyn Loomis (@grayloomis).


Tree removal directed by Superintendent Adam Garr.  This video illustrates perfectly the necessity for proactive tree management to ensure turf health (for more information, check out Adam’s PHCC Greens blog).


2014 tree removal pics courtesy of RV member Steve Demers (on Twitter @LuckyDemers).


August 2015 tweet from the Ridgewood Grounds Dept (@RCC_Grounds).  Beautiful work across the board by Superintendent Todd Raisch and his staff.



May 2015 Tweet from Superintendent Andrew Boyle (@Boyle_turf) highlighting OCCM work, which included improved tree management.


2006-2007 Restoration by Gil Hanse and George Bahto, with subsequent additional tree removal. (pre- and post-restoration photos from course review on  For more on Sleepy Hollow, see the LinksGems Photo Tour here.



Renovation by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Meade.  The opening up of the property that resulted from the tree removal allowed for the combination and creation of new holes (click images for slideshow).


December 2017 Tweet from the Dept. of Agronomy (@TPCPG).  Superintendent Steffie Saffrit revealing the beautiful movement of the land more fully.



Under the direction of Bruce Hepner, Superintendent Mike Bremmer and his crew have been peeling away the layers of overgrowth for 7+ years.  According to Mike, “We are finally getting to the point after 750 removals where parts of the course come to light after falling one tree.  Before we had to remove what felt like 100 to see progress.”  More on Mike’s work at


  • Recent Tree Removal Update by Chris Tritabaugh, Superintendent at Hazeltine National – This post from the club’s blog details reasoning and strategy behind selective off-season tree removal in preparation for the 2015 season, and 2016 Ryder Cup matches.
  • Timber! by Golf Course Architect Jeff Brauer – This column from Golf Course Industry Magazine makes a case for the benefits of thoughtful tree removal.
  • A Tree Removal Before-and-After thread on GolfClubAtlas, showing other wonderful examples of the visual impacts.
  • Why Oakmont Waged a War on Trees from the Wall Street Journal in the the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Open.
  • Below the Trees by Dunlop White, a wonderful opinion piece on GolfClubAtlas, packed with historical perspective, information, and a nice dose of sarcasm.
  • A Tree Removal List by state was created in this thread on GolfClubAtlas, and although never completed, does contain interesting removal stats.



Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf