Golfers know that they play better with an overhang.

Trees are gone from course, which promises a rough game

Posted: June 13, 2007

By Robert Biller

A whirling chainsaw protruding from an oversize golf bag. Poet Joyce Kilmer crying uncontrollably on a treeless plain. Johnny Appleseed prostrate on the ground with a six-inch wooden golf tee driven through his heart.

What do these eclectic images have in common? They would be appropriate replacements for the bushy-tailed squirrel holding a golf ball that serves as the U.S. Open logo for Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh.

This week, the elite of the professional golfing world, along with a few amateurs, will be competing for the U.S. Golf Association's national championship at storied Oakmont. About 40,000 visitors are expected to make the daily trek to one of golf's hallowed shrines, and many will be rooting not for Tiger, Phil, or Ernie, but for the golf course.

If Oakmont is to remain among the best courses in the world, it must humiliate the contestants assailing it. Its honor must be preserved at any cost. Unfortunately, that cost was the removal of from 5,000 to 8,000 mature trees over the last decade or so. Oakmont now resembles a wee bit of Scotland, perched on a bluff, overlooking the Allegheny River. That sparse landscape is the way its founder envisioned it.

This botanical carnage may trigger apoplexy in tree-huggers and some arborists, but how can the production of oxygen, reduction of greenhouse gasses, removal of pollution from the air, and maintenance of the integrity of the water table not be ignored in the noble quest to prevent low scores during a "major" golf tournament?

Sure, trees can be perplexing. Their roots damage foundations and clog drains. Storms can knock them into homes and onto cars. They attract lightning, and raking their leaves has led to more than a few back adjustments. The shade they produce, combined with gnarly, semi-exposed roots, kills much of a lawn, and the squirrels living in the trees steal anything that's not nailed down.

But I oppose Oakmont's sylvan cleansing on practical - not moral - grounds. The only benefit extensive tree removal affords Oakmont is better security. Terrorists and gate-crashers will be easier to spot crawling on their bellies in the tall fescue than they would be darting from tree to tree.

Trees are a golfer's best friend for the following reasons:

They prevent skin cancer. Duffers who play on courses with tree-lined fairways never get a tan. They spend most of the round in the protective shade trying to hit impossible shots from stymied positions. Many only spend about 20 minutes in direct sunlight during a five-hour round if a 10-stroke maximum per hole is enforced.

Trees help golfers hit straight shots. Most golfers hit a weak slice or a snap hook, and the more they try to correct these problems, the worse they become. Only when a tree stands directly between them and the flag will they hit a perfectly straight shot into its trunk, often producing a deadly ricochet.

Trees help develop gamesmanship. Some golfers cheat. Trees allow creative players the opportunity to use their foot mashies when the opponent's view is temporarily obstructed.

Trees help golfers develop stoic patience. In the fall, a blanket of rotting leaves covers much of a golf course. Balls landing in this pigmented menace are difficult to locate and rounds seem to last forever.

Trees produce much-needed relief. I'm not talking about relief from life's normal anxieties and problems, but prostate relief. Many older male golfers "visit" dozens of trees during a round, and the trees provide privacy.

Trees save lives (unless golfers stand under them during thunderstorms). Years ago, I was playing in a golf outing when the heat was so stifling that we were the only golfers brave enough to be on the course. Of course, we were in canopy-covered carts that carried two golf bags and ice chests full of cold beer. On the 17th hole, one of our foursome collapsed in the ruff and we rushed over to help. We offered to quit playing and drive him to the clubhouse, but he refused and crawled under a large maple tree, still clutching a half-empty beer can while mumbling he would be fine until we finished the final hole and retrieved him.

We were the last group on the course, and apparently the most sloshed, because we completely forgot about our buddy for at least an hour after abandoning him. When we returned, he was peacefully sleeping under the benevolent tree. If we had left him out in the sun, I would still be in prison.

Oakmont will be poorer for its lack of trees, and it would be poetic justice if a guy named Woods wins the U.S. Open on a course that doesn't have any.

Robert Biller lives and writes in Fombell, Pa.

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