RSF Association discusses recent golf course tree removals

The Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club is following the set procedures for tree removal.
(Karen Billing)

Despite concerns raised by the Forest Health and Preservation Committee about “aggressive” tree removals on the golf course, the RSF Association has determined that the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club is following the set procedures with its tree management program.

At the board’s Nov. 5 meeting, RSF Association President Mike Gallagher said the Forest Health committee alerted the Association about the situation in a letter last month. Gallagher set up a meeting with Bill Beckman, the chair of the committee, and Blair Nicholas, president of the golf club board, to talk about what the club has been doing and its approach in tree removals. In a “spirited discussion,” the club asserted that it is maintaining healthy trees and both parties agreed that it was inappropriate to maintain diseased trees that pose a danger to both golfers and trail users.

In a 12-month period, there have been 12 tree removals and Gallagher said all of them were damaged trees or trees that were at risk of falling. A number of trees on the course have also been blown down by high winds.

“There can be confusion by people walking the trails that there were less trees than there were,” Gallagher said. “There is no active plan or past activity on the part of the golf club to remove healthy trees at all.”

In the last six months, there have been four requests for removal of trees that were based on potential risk due to leaning or structural deficiencies of trees, “These were very damaged trees that were likely to fall,” Gallagher said.

Two requests are pending regarding the review for removal.

The Forest Health committee also had concerns about the golf club’s recently updated master plan and how many trees might be impacted. Gallagher said the scope of the master plan includes less than five trees scheduled for removal.

“It was not the aggressive tree removal proposed in the previous master plan,” Gallagher said, referencing the tree management plan that caused controversy seven years ago for proposing the removal of 150 trees.

Gallagher said the Association and the Forest Health and Preservation Committee members plan to keep the lines of communication open with the golf club regarding tree management planning moving forward.

The RSF Golf Club updates its master plan every 10 years. The most recent update involves making improvements to the course’s playability as well as an irrigation system redesign. In October, the Association approved a contract with golf course architect David McClay-Kidd to develop construction documents for a proposed golf course renovation that includes reshaping bunkers and turf replacement. Club members will vote on any proposed course renovation.

Although the RSF Golf Club’s clubhouse is for golf club members only, the main clubhouse and restaurant are for the benefit and enjoyment of all Covenant members. In 2019, the Association approved a new agreement to share the cost of running the restaurant. A joint committee was developed to oversee how the restaurant should operate and look with the goals of increasing the use of the restaurant by non-golf club members and creating a central gathering place. The committee includes three representatives from the Association and three from the golf club.

At the Nov. 6 board meeting, Gallagher appointed Tyler Seltzer to join the committee. Seltzer is departing the Rancho Santa Fe School District board this month after nine years of service. The longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident and father of three is also the current chair of the Association’s trails and recreation committee, a RSF Golf Club member and a past president of the Rancho Santa Fe Little League Board of Directors.

Gallagher said he has asked Seltzer to represent the interests of families with school-age children, “That perspective is much needed in everything we do and Tyler serves that function very well.”

The committee includes Association Directors Sharon Ruhnau and Rick Sapp with Deb Gustafson, Steve Dunn and Bill Johnson representing the golf club. Ruhnau is the one committee member who is not a member of the club.