A WALK IN THE PARK - TREES ARE 90% AIR - copyright John Fleming 2010
If Trees are 90% air then how come that I am such a good golfer that my golf ball almost always hits the 10% tree?
Trees are a major part of Blankney Golf Club, in fact, they feature so much that a tree is the symbol on our golf garb, score cards and all sorts of golfing paraphernalia.
There are hundreds of different species of trees within the bounds of the golf course and, love them or hate them, they are a really important feature, as they are vital to the well being of many different other life forms.
Trees are responsible for producing oxygen, and this, of course, is needed by all of us. Trees do this by taking in nutrients and water and converting, through photo-synthesis, these into food for themselves as well as giving out oxygen and moisture. (A full grown tree can take around 250 gallons of water from the ground each and every day and this can give a water deficit problem for the ground staff.)
We have a very good diversity of tree species on Blankney Golf Course and I shall attempt to highlight some of these species on a hole by hole account.
I am sure that you are all aware of the two very large trees which are almost always in the way even after a half way decent drive. The nearer one is an Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) whilst the one nearer the green is a Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) Between the pair of them they form an almost impenetrable barrier which makes sure that we stay away from them.
There are two very prominent trees here, one either side of the fairway, at the roadside. They are magnificent specimens of the Lime tree (Tilea species) and on a still day in the summer time the sound of insects, feeding on the sweet sap produced, can be heard.
Along the left side of the third fairway there are a number of different trees, including Horse Chestnuts and Beech trees but the tree of note here is the mature Beech (Fagus sylvatica) on the inside of the dog leg. This is a tree of about 150 years of age, even older than some of the past captains, and forms a very good hazard if you try to cut the corner to shorten the hole.
This hole runs up alongside the heavily wooded old quarry area and this area contains a very good assortment of trees. The one tree which has dominated this hole in the past is now a huge dead trunk of a Beech tree. This was, up until a short time ago, a very large tree of a good age. It died during a long period of drought in the mid 1990s' but the trunk has been left in situ, and is covered in ivy. Replacement trees have been planted and as these mature, then once again the right side of the fairway will become more an area to be avoided again. Another plant worthy of mention on this hole is a shrub which is growing to the left of the path which goes beside the green. This is a Butchers Broom (Ruscus aculeatus). This shrub is notable for the very hard and prickly leaves so do not try to crush them.
The left side of the fairway is again covered by the trees growing in the old quarry area but it is the large trees on the right which dominates the eyesight. This is an old Ash tree which does appear to be in a sorry state. There were two of these trees until recently one of these was felled by strong winds. It is, however, showing strong signs of survival as it is pushing up shoots from the remaining trunk. Two other trees which are not so noticeable are to the left of the green, these are Walnut trees (Juglans regia) and stand about 25 feet high. They do bear fruit but you will have to fight the squirrels off if you want to get them.
The trees which dominate this hole, at the moment, are two quite large specimens of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). If you put your drive out to right side of the fairway then they will almost certainly come into play for the second shot. According to the Collins Field Guide to Trees, the Scots Pine is semi-wild on heaths in Southern, Central and North East England, truly wild in Central and West Highlands. Looking at the way that they react whenever I try to get past them I now believe that we have moved to the Highlands. The left side of the fairway is again covered by trees in the old quarry area. Having noted the trees that have already been pointed out you should now be able to identify the tree on the left as you walk toward the footpath to the 7th tee.
The teeing area for this hole contains some magnificent specimens of Oak (Quercus species) and Beech. These are trees of superb straightness and symmetry of trunk as they were possibly fighting other trees for light, before the other trees were removed, and this has produced the tall straight trunk with the majority of the leaf growth in the upper half of the tree.
One other really notable tree here is the trunk of an old felled Beech tree which has been carved into the shape of a Woodpecker. This carving was done, with a chain saw, by one of the tutors at Riseholme Agricultural College and is a thing of great beauty. It was originally intended to carve a tree in-situ but the artist could not find a suitable tree in the area but after a search he found the Beech trunk in the estate wood-yard and used that to produce a carving of great interest. It is worth noting the stranger than fiction thing that has happened here. Take a walk around the back of the carving and look for the holes being drilled by a real life woodpecker!!
The one really quite magnificent tree on this hole is one the good golfers never see as it is only reached by those golfers who can hit a really good 'Power Fade' for right handed golfers, 'Power Draw' for left handed golfers. The tree in question is about 200 yards from the yellow tees and at an angle of about 40 degrees to the right. It is a lovely unspoilt example of an Elm tree (Ulmus sp.)
Many years ago there were many examples of these fine trees to be found at Blankney but they fell prey to 'Dutch Elm Disease'. This is a fungal disease which is carried by flying beetles which bore into the bark and carry the fungus inside with them thereby killing the tree. There are some other examples of Elms on the golf course but none of them quite matches the stature of this one.
The ninth hole has some quite memorable trees along the fairway but it is the trees which are not quite so noticeable to which you must direct your attention.
On the left of the fairway is an area which has been planted with a very good range of trees and these are all still in a juvenile stage. There is a very good diversity in these plantings but there are far too many to list here.
Just short of the green and to the right are a group of smaller trees, no more than bushes at the moment, which will eventually dominate the corner of the course. These are Yews (Taxus baccata). The Yew is a tree which features large in history as it is grown in many churchyards to help fight the Devil as well as being used to make the old English Longbow. Even now these trees are being used for cancer research as scientists search for cures for the disease.
This hole brings to mind the expression 'Shaking like a leaf', this is not because the tee shot is difficult but it is because of the tall leafy trees on the left which grow on both sides of the out of bounds fence. These trees are Lombardy Poplars (Populus nigra Italica), the same family of trees which include the Aspen (Populus tremula). The Aspen gets the name tremula from the fact that the leaves will always tremble in even the slightest breeze, this is due to the leaf being a large surface area and is only held on the branch by a very thin petiole. The Lombardy poplar will exhibit the same tendencies but not quite to the same extent and so, I imagine will some of the club members when faced with a shot into this green in a strong side wind!
If you can steel yourself to ignore the collection of magnificent trees on your left, the woods, then look down the right side of the fairway about 100 yards from the green and you will see a quite magnificent specimen of a Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) this tree is also called Great Maple. It is a tree of quite a considerable age, approximately 150 years old, which predates our centenary by at least 50 years. Just bear in mind when, next time your ball goes behind this tree, that it was there long before you began playing golf at Blankney.
The Sycamore is easily recognised in that the petioles are scarlet and the leaf buds are green on the winter twigs.
The one really outstanding and venerable tree on the course is on this hole but it is also possibly one of the most inconspicuous trees on the course. Only 20 to 30 yards from the green, on the left, is a wonderful example of an Ash (Fraxinus excelsior). To obtain a very rough approximation of the age of a tree the girth is measured at about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. For every inch of the circumference the tree is another year in age. This tree is over 18 feet around its girth and this would roughly equate to about 230 years of age. This is over double our Centenary period and encompasses a massive period of history. If only this tree could speak then I am sure that it would be able to tell some wonderful stories, possibly not least since the half way house has been built there, and it has seen more people stopping near. One time very recently I went for a closer look at this tree and was both surprised and delighted when a barn owl flew out from the hollowed out trunk.
The dominant trees here are the three Scots Pines, these trees threaten a shot when both the tees and the pin are positioned to the right and many a ball has been stopped in its' tracks by them. However, there is another tree which stands to the rear right of the green which is possibly of more interest for the future. This is a Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus x carnea 'Briottii'). This tree produces magnificent red sprays of flowers in the early summer but the fruits are not so noticeable as the Horse Chestnut. The leaves differ from the Horse Chestnut in that they are more crinkled and coarser toothed.
If your drive here moves sharply to the right then you will have every chance to admire, at close quarters, some wonderful specimens of the Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). These trees are definitely the Common Hawthorn and not the Midlands Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacanthoides) and they are in an unusual position. They are normally used for hedging plants and, as such, they are kept trimmed; in some circumstances they are layered to provide a stock proof hedge. This is a rare chance to see how these trees will grow in their natural state and, in early spring they are a magnificent sight when in full bloom. This of course leads to a full crop of berries later in the year and these berries form part of the food crop for many of the birds and small mammals on the course.
Whilst there is just one dominant Chestnut on the first hole then the fifteenth hole is totally dominated by a row of Chestnuts along the left side of the road. There are many other trees mixed in with this planting but it is the Chestnuts which dominate. Since the advent of the Bleeding Canker in Horse Chestnuts more trees have been planted to take over if the Horse Chestnuts die. The new plantings are all Lime trees. One thing about all these trees though is that they are fairly regular in their planting and this should make it easier for golfers to work out the yardage to the green. I am sure that many of you will remember when this was a feature of the old score cards of some 10 to 15 years ago when yardage was given to the green. Of course we now have a new green and I am sure that we all know the distances now!!
There are a couple of fine examples of Hawthorns on this hole but your attention must be drawn towards the small new plantation behind the 17th tee. This, I believe, has been planted to provide camouflage for the teeing ground and also to provide some protection for golfers on the 17th tee from a wayward tee shot from the 16th. In this plantation there are some very young examples of the Field Maple (Acer campestre). This is a fine tree when fully grown.
This is a hole which has many fine examples of the Whitebeam (Sorbus aria). This is an unmistakable tree, particularly in the wind, as the underside of the leaves are then shown in all their glory and obviously, they are white. These trees are a relation to the Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia). The Whitebeam trees all look well manicured as the growth habit is extremely neat and almost always finishes with the tree shaped like a giant lollipop. The fruits of these trees are generally green, turning red in the autumn. They are not very conspicuous and are very soon eaten by the birds.
I am sure by now that you will be able to recognise the majority of the trees you encountered as you attempt to battle your way towards the green but there is a tree on this hole which will be quite outstanding in years to come. When you have finished playing your round of golf and are quietly relaxing in the gazebo checking your score just look straight out of the doorway in front of you. You will see there a very young specimen of a Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Other common names for this tree include Giant Sequoia, Big Tree, Mammoth Tree or Sierra Redwood. You might expect for a tree to have such impressive names to be a really impressive tree but do not forget that is a very young tree. They have been known to live for 1500 years and longer, and include such famous named trees in America as 'General Sherman' which is currently some 83 metres high by 24 metres wide. The trunks on these trees are really big when they are full grown and there have been cases of roads being built through the trees themselves. This tree has been planted in a very advantageous position for the occupants of the house behind the 18th tee, currently the Parker family. Use your imagination to see the view from that position in three to four hundred years time. Impressive isn't it!!
I hope that your interest in trees has been stimulated and you see them as something more than just things that are in the way of your way to the green. There are, of course, many other sorts of trees out there on the course which are all worthy of our attention. For instance there is a Walnut tree between the Gents and Ladies 1st tee. There is an Alder (Alnus glutinosa) tree in the area of the 6th green, this is unusual as these are normally a waterside tree but is quite healthy here. There are some nice examples of European Larch (Larix decidua) in the woods bordering some fairways. These trees are, as the Latin name states, deciduous. The foliage turns a golden colour by the end of October and then all falls off during the winter to be replaced by fresh green growth in the Spring. Deciduous Conifers indeed!!
There is one other thing which should be known about the trees at Blankney is the fact that some of them could be providing a home to a very rare butterfly, the White Letter Hairstreak. This butterfly, if present at Blankney, is towards the Northern edge of its range in England. Something is certainly chewing the leaves on the Elm tree on the 8th hole and since the Elm is this butterfly's food source then there is always a possibility that there is a small community living here. A thorough search is needed to confirm or deny this. As can be seen now nature is alive and well on Blankney Golf Course.
If you are having a bad day on the course and the ball will not behave or do as you ask it then, I implore you, just keep your eyes open and enjoy the trees.