Fairway, variety of trees

Golf Course Sustainability: Environmental benefits of trees

Toso Bozic

Toso Bozic

Tree/Forestry Expert

According to Golf Canada “ Golf Facility in Canada 2017 Report”, there are 2,298 golf facilities in Canada and from that number there are 308 golf facilities in Alberta. For a vast majority, trees are the key component of any golf course. If the average golf course ranges from 50 to 160 acres in size, then in most cases trees occupy a significant portion of the golf course land.  Trees are either planted or naturally occurring at golf courses. Trees for sure compete for nutrients and water with turf and can create turf management issues to any golf course. Environmental benefits of trees range improving water and soil quality, providing wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration and overall increase in biodiversity

Golfers, golf managers and superintendents are in “ hate /love” relationships when it comes to trees at golf courses. Golf Course Tree Management is very little understood. Turf grass is a main priority for any golf managers and superintendents. Turf management has been understood well and there are many scientific researches on turf management. Environmental benefits of trees are way less understood, limited knowledge about these benefits, and staff training is usually minimal. .  

The key environmental benefits of trees  to any golf course facilities

Water conservation-Water quality is critical to the health of living organisms, including humans. Forests around golf course and wetlands are crucial to protect and enhance water systems at golf facilities. There are a number of benefits from forests on quality of water resources that landowners should think about. Some of them include:

  • Trees also significantly improve a water quality and quantity at golf courses.
  • Slowly recharge ground and surface water
  • Rain interception which prevents excessive water erosion and water runoff.
  • Filters out and traps significant amounts of pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer before they reach waterways.
  • Forest around water provides an important habitat for many wildlife species.

Trees are natural sponges with an amazing ability of collecting and filtering rainfall and slowly releasing it into streams and rivers. During the rain event in an open field/fairway, up to 80 % of water runs off the field while at the same time trees keep 80 % of the water in their canopy and vast root system. Some studies show that one tree can evaporate up to 2000 liters of water per day with an average of 250 to 400 liters a day, which is an incredible amount of water that is exchanged between the soil, trees, and the atmosphere.

Some trees handle better volumes of water after the storms or flooding than others. One of the key characteristics of water tolerant trees is their extensive larger root systems which can be damaging for a golf course. It is extremely important to know where to plant these species otherwise you will inherit problems with roots at your turf and irrigation.

The following tree and shrub species are excessive water tolerant or intermediate tolerant: variety of willows, black poplar, cottonwood, some hybrid poplars, water birch, green ash, river and speckled alder, aspen, Manitoba maple, American elm, as well as black spruce and tamarack ( European Larch is not flood tolerant).

Soil/Turf protection  – Even though many golf courses were built on relatively poor soil where agriculture is not recommended, the soil quality and quantity is crucial for turf management. Soil is a key component for turf management and ecosystems as well. Protection and conservation of soil quality in recent years or a decade are increasing among turf managers. Trees on many golf courses build on queries or landfills greatly improving soil structure in an otherwise very degraded environment.  The value of trees on soil quality at golf course includes: 

  • Reduce soil erosion – the effect of possible soil erosion on turf management and soil productivity could be substantial. Loss of nutrients and minerals in the soil from erosion and reduction on yield and productivity are considerable costs to farmers.
  • Trees absorb chemicals from fertilizers, heavy metals and other pollutants through their root systems and store it in the wood.
  • Some shrub and tree species have the ability to reduce salinity and sodicity in the soils.
  • Maintenance and improving soil structural properties such as increase porosity, reduce compaction, and improve moisture retention.
  • Improve soil fauna that is crucial for turf grass.
  • Some trees and shrubs are nitrogen “fixers” which will improve soil with nitrogen.

Wildlife habitat and biodiversity –  overall greens, fairways, teeing ground and roughs do not  contribute to the conservation of biological diversity. While trees and forests surrounding these greatly improve and increase the overall biodiversity of golf courses. Many golf courses are in urban areas where together with urban trees and forest create a significant wildlife habitat for many species. Trees/forest on golf courses provide shelter, food, and site for reproduction for many birds, small animals, and other wildlife. Many wildlife species use golf courses as traveling corridors as well. Trees are overall enhancing biodiversity allowing other shrubs, plants, bacteria, and fungus to grow in understory. Natural forest areas in many golf courses are hot spots for many wildlife species.

Reduce climate change impact and provide carbon sequestration – many golf courses are home of several thousands of trees which perform a great amount of carbon sequestration. Trees act as a carbon sink.  Many studies show that on  average, one acre of a new forest can sequester about 2.5 tons of carbon annually. Young trees absorb CO2 at a rate of 13 pounds per tree each year while in mid age they can absorb 48 pounds of CO2 per year. Therefore, trees/forests at golf courses can greatly reduce CO2 negative effects of turf management practices.  Tree biodiversity will improve an adaptation to climate change impact by reducing environmental stress and improve environmental security. Having tree diversity will increase chances against various environmental issues such as drought, flooding, frost, salt, and many others. Each variety has their own adaptation to those issues and will increase the chance of their own survival as well as the survival of the whole ecosystem. 

Tree selection and diversity

All trees provide environmental benefits to golf courses. Choosing “ right tree at right spot” is crucial thinking for any tree planting in the golf course.  Tree species diversity is crucial for the health and well-being of your golf course.  More diverse tree species will provide a habitat for a wider range of organisms, increase resilience to pests and disease and reduce environmental stress factors. The more variety of trees that you have on your golf course, the healthier it is and biologically beneficial then from having just a few of them.


As golf courses may perceive as not environmentally sustainable facilities due to intensive turf management that requires significant amount of water, a certain amount of agrochemicals and fertilizers, environmental benefits of trees are often forgotten. On other hand, trees are taken for granted in golf courses when it comes to the number of environmental benefits that they provide. The environmental benefits of trees in many cases outweigh the negative impact of turf management. Some actions can be taken to measure environmental benefits which include:

  • Perform tree inventory at your golf course using I-Tree Eco Tool  
  • Tree inventory will provide information on environmental benefits values to your facility.
  • Conduct plant and wildlife surveys at your golf course to better understand your environment.
  • Select tree species that are suited to your environment and adapted to possible climate change.
  • Identify and keep trees where it is high potential for soil and water erosion.
  • Provide training to your staff to better understand the values of trees.

How can we can help?

Yard Whispers or our parent company ATTS Group  professional and experienced Tree Expert and ISA Certified Arborist offers a full range of consulting and advisory services to Golf Course industry to meet its specific needs.

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