The golfing experience isn’t all about the score, clubs and camaraderie between playing partners. For some it’s equally about the green space — the quality time spent in the outdoors seeing, touching and feeling the well cared for turf and ornamentals. Providing a variety of visual and tactile stimuli is a key to whether golfers enjoy their outing, which has a direct effect on the likelihood of their return.

The provision of an attractive landscape during one season is relatively easy; creating one that’s appealing during all seasons is more difficult, but offers much more in the way of payback.

Need a plan

Bottlebrush buckeye is an example of a specimen that offers texture and color in the spring.

The old insurance agent line, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail,” rings true for this application as well as for financial planning. A half-baked random scheme of planting a few trees here and a few shrubs there is most certainly headed for failure; at best, such a routine is a waste of time and money.

With the theme of appeal in all seasons in mind, sit down with a golf course architect, landscape designer or horticulturist (or any combination of these three, depending on the need) to put thoughts down on paper before any holes are dug. The place to start is with the creation of program statements: simple but meaningful word sets, sentences or phrases that describe the intent of the collaboration. A good example in this case is: “Incorporate color and other attractive plant features on all holes of the golf course.”

With the program statement(s) in mind, a hole-by-hole examination can begin. Each tee/fairway/rough/green combination should be sketched out. Start with a line drawing using black markers, and then add existing trees, perennials and shrubs that offer color, texture, fruit, flowers, striking bark and interesting architecture with colored ink. This step will document existing plant materials as well as identify gaps that need to be filled.

Avoid temptation

Depending on which version of the Adam and Eve story you identify with, the temptation part is a good lesson for us. Human nature instills in us a desire to cut to the chase, to name a bunch of plants that we’ve seen elsewhere and start working them into the design.

Choosing specific plant materials early in the process is counterproductive for several reasons. First, it excludes other worthy choices. Second, it locks size and shape into place before the design is complete. Third, it forces the designer to use plants that may not be suited to the growing conditions.

Peeling, copper-colored bark adds value and interest in winter.

Instead of choosing species and cultivar, the next step should be to create a bubble diagram, drawing masses of plants, noting how they should provide appeal in a given season. If multi-season appeal is needed from a plant mass, that should be noted as well. For example, if holiday color and spring flowers are required near the front door to the clubhouse, this is the spot to make it known.

Once the needs are noted, the bubbles can be transformed to more specific masses and named by the types of plant material they are likely to contain. In a typical setting, “tall screening shrubs,” “spring flowering bulbs” and “fall color short trees” are reasonable monikers. After continued from page 29 CONTROL CENTER the masses have become more specific, representative plants can be noted, such as “crabapple/serviceberry/tree lilac,” with the realization that this group name simply means just that, a name that is descriptive, not necessarily the ultimate choice.

Focus on high-visibility areas

Transitions from spring to summer plants can enhance the impact of the golfscape in key locations.

In order to make the most impact right away, it’s wise to focus on key locations on the golf course. The clubhouse, refreshment stands, and the tees and greens of signature holes tend to be the sites where a golfer’s attention may be split between making shots and their surroundings. Others may also be important, depending on course history and theme.

In addition to the immediacy of the aesthetic appeal, focusing on certain sites makes sense from a budgetary standpoint as well. Instead of spreading resources thinly across the course, bunching them together bolsters the appeal and makes a greater statement.

Consider meat, then spices

If resources are tight — and they usually are — consider installing small trees as a first step. They will supply benefits in many ways including:

  • Screening — visual separation and special enclosure.
  • Windbreak — redirection of wind and snow to another location.
  • Color mass — everyone demands color.
  • Wildlife attractant — dense foliage and fruit offer food and cover.
  • Soften harsh corners — vase or rounded small tree forms reduce the strength of vertical lines.
  • Noise buffer — dense foliage helps to abate noise from busy streets.

Going back to the temptation theme, woody plants are the meat, while flowers, bulbs and vines are the spices. It’s important to get woodies in place so they can become well established before planting smaller herbaceous material. This also helps spread the cost out over time.

Spring and summer plantings offer great appeal.

Small trees offer the benefit of replicating Mother Nature. In the natural setting, plants don’t grow by themselves on 2-D planes. Instead, layers of plants develop, with some overlapping in terms of vertical space and root growth. Small trees fit well in a layered golfscape as the second layer. In general, nature creates landscapes in the arrangement where shade trees are overhead small trees, which are overhead shade-tolerant shrubs, overhead perennials/forbs/ground covers, all of which are separated from turf.

In parts of the golfscape where shade or framing trees may not exist, such as a parking lot or swimming pool, they can serve to provide structure. In these locations there simply isn’t room for a honey locust, Southern magnolia or red oak. Yet smaller trees, such as crape myrtle, paperbark maple, Kousa dogwood or Japanese tree lilac, offer the features that are necessary to address the goals of the four-season landscape. In northern climes, where snow covers the ground for several months each year, bark characteristics, fruit retention, summer green color and fall red/yellow add tremendous appeal to the golfscape.

Evergreen trees serve to provide backdrops in spring and summer and green color in winter.

Local resources

The resources closest to the course will provide specific guidance in moving from the representative plant stage to the specific choice stage.

In addition to the suggestions from the consulting golf course architect or landscape designer, local arboretums, botanic gardens and extension offices can provide excellent recommendations regarding native and well-adapted plant material choices. For example, in the front range of Colorado, many information sources exist including the Denver Botanic Garden, Spring Creek Gardens in Ft. Collins and the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden in Colorado Springs.

At each of these locations, extensive information is available, as well as staff horticulturists to consult with about the performance of each species. Taking the time to see and touch the actual plant material is well worth it. Locations such as these take pride in providing an outstanding display in all seasons, and superintendents can utilize these ideas on their courses.