RSF Association sets protocol, oversight for golf course tree management

The fifth hole at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.

The Rancho Santa Fe Association has created a collaborative approach to the management of trees on and around the golf course in response to community concerns about trees being cut down during the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club’s ongoing course renovation.

Last month, residents raised alarm that trees had been removed in excess of those approved as part of the golf club’s master plan. At the board’s Aug. 5 meeting, Rancho Santa Fe Association President Bill Weber said they have established a process going forward to make sure that trees are not removed without reason or authority, working with both the golf club and the Association’s Forest Health and Preservation Committee.

“We didn’t get 100% approval from either one of them, therefore I think it’s a good compromise,” Weber said. “I think it reflects the general intent of moving forward.”

The unanimously approved plan establishes a protocol during the golf course renovation and beyond for evaluating trees to determine how or whether they should be removed or protected. It also establishes a plan for periodic review and maintenance and sets up steps for the replanting of trees.

Per the approved protocol, a board-appointed group will recommend tree types and locations and prepare a plan for replanting including cost and schedule that will be presented to the community.

The Forest Health committee has proposed replanting 360 new golf course trees over the next four years.

Under construction since April, the renovation of the golf course includes the installation of a new irrigation system, new turf on the fairways, reshaped bunkers and new practice range and short game areas.

The golf club master plan called for the removal of six trees (identified for course playability, not evaluated for health) and the replanting of 16 trees.

In July, residents and members of the Forest Health committee claimed that as many as 27 mature trees had been taken down in the last several months. Tom Huesgen, golf club director of agronomy, said that the majority of the removals were trees that were dying or dead, at risk of falling and a danger to both trail users and golfers. Some trees that were removed did have structural damage due to the course construction or could not be worked around.

Bill Beckman, the chair of the Forest Health committee, said this issue is not new as the golf club’s “significant and noticeable” tree removals have come up several times over the last 20 years. At the meeting, resident and committee member Chet Koblinksy shared photographs of the course’s previous and current conditions, showing the removal of skyline trees on several holes that once framed a fairway, posed a challenge for golfers and provided shade on the trail.

“Our course is suffering from the impacts of the substantial loss of trees,” Koblinsky said, noting many places on the course appear “barren.” “As a community, how do we want our future golf course to look and how do we ensure its benefits to all residents?”

“The past is past,” added committee member Anthony Alario. “We ask that going forward a specific plan is put into place that will improve the protection, care and maintenance of all trees on and around the golf course.”

Blair Nicholas, president of the RSF Golf Club Board of Governors, said he believes that the Association’s proposed plan going forward is workable from the golf club’s perspective.

He said that the golf club values trees and considers them to be an important part of the Covenant that should be preserved. Nicholas said the club has done everything it can to protect healthy trees but there were circumstances where trees had become diseased, unstable and dangerous.

“There is absolutely no concerted plan on behalf of the golf club to remove healthy trees, never has been,” Nicholas said.