Art Jury approves golf course tree plan, requests more eucalyptus

A tree along the RSF Golf Club trail.
(Caitlyn Kreutz)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association Art Jury has approved the new trail beautification plan, “an artistic approach” to enhancing the two miles of trails around the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. The tree plan creates a natural wooded feel, a canopy of trees shading over the trail lined by split rail fencing and roses, the skyline filled by the Covenant’s signature silhouette of eucalyptus trees.

The plan was developed by consultant Arnold Keene, the former Association assistant manager who for many years headed up the parks department, overseeing the community’s trees and trails. At a June 6 session, the Art Jury recommended the plan for approval to the Association board—the board was anticipated to review the tree plan at its June 13 meeting, in order to get funds flowing for plantings to begin and to get eucalyptus seedlings sprouting as soon as possible.

Art Jury member Janet McVeigh stressed that this approval was for the trail beautification tree plan only, not the golf course renovation replanting plan which the Art Jury has yet to see, addressing the number of trees lost during the course overhaul. Since the trail beautification plan’s first review last month, revisions were made to reflect the Art Jury’s encouragement to add more trees, specifically more eucalyptus trees, and to “socialize” the plan for more community input on tree selections.

McVeigh said she appreciated Keene taking comments heard to heart: “The plan is fantastic, it’s going to be a huge improvement.”

Art Jury President Beth Nelson said the Art Jury received quite a lot of input and reviewed the plan meticulously for its tree choice, color palette and critical view issues. Art Jury members walked the golf course completely and looked at everything carefully. The Association’s Forest Health and Preservation committee also provided detailed comments, hole by hole.

“We understand the importance of the trees and the trails,” Nelson said. “It is a very passionate issue for a lot of people so we’re going to give it the care it deserves.”

Nelson noted that they don’t want perfection to be the enemy of progress, the hope is to keep the plan moving forward despite not everyone being in agreement on all things. Keene said that the goal is for the plan to be a living document, flexible as conditions change and with consideration from course adjacent homeowners.

It can be a challenging task—during public comment, two residents shared how their golf course views will be negatively impacted with the addition of several tall skyline trees. Keene said he is trying to navigate the perspectives of all residents and work within the palette to find alternatives.

Since the prior month’s Art Jury review, the plan was adjusted to include 59 eucalyptus trees, up from the originally proposed 14. The Art Jury approved a minimum of 59 but recommended adding 70 to 80 eucalyptus, particularly in the long stretches without any skyline trees, to create a canopy to walk through: “There used to be more sections of shade…we’d like to see some of that put back,” Nelson said.

They have also asked for more sycamore trees and to increase the number of assorted shrubs from 50 to 160.

During public comment, resident Holly Manion said she appreciated the additions of more eucalyptus trees: “If it wasn’t for the eucalyptus, Rancho Santa Fe wouldn’t be here.” She recommended that the plan stick to low-water use trees and to reduce the number of flowering trees, supporting the perspective that a more limited palette is the hallmark of a great golf course.

Resident Sally Koblinsky shared her concerns about the arbutus marina trees included in the plan. Also known as the strawberry tree, the arbutus are currently faring poorly on the course and she suggested replacing the 33 arbutuses in the plan with Catalina or Carolina cherry trees.

Keene said there may have been some maintenance issues with the existing arbutus but noted that it is “a spectacular tree” with a broad crown and unique reddish bark: “When maintained, they are a stunning plant to walk near,” he said.

Maintenance on all of the trees will need to be stressed, Keene said, as members want to ensure that the investment pays off. In regard to the tree selection, Keene said he would consider a mix of cherry trees with the arbutus.

With their detailed comments, the Art Jury shared their concerns about the color palette and the use of deciduous trees, trees that are bare for a season. They had the most reservations about the pink blooms of the pink trumpets (which can be seen in the Village parks) and the forest pansy, which flowers purple in spring and shifts to a maroon color.

Keene said he stands by his palette and he believes it complements the golf course.

He explained that the deciduous trees make for more interesting landscaping: the leaves turn a variety of colors and they give a different perspective. As for the flowering trees, he said they are a “minor player” —for example, there are 12 pink trumpets and 34 forest pansy over the two miles of the trails.

“The big player here is the eucalyptus,” he said.

Keene said his major takeaway from Art Jury and member comments was the strong desire for tall trees. Keene said he has incorporated as many as he thinks make sense into the plan, being mindful of how taller trees impact the health of the golf course turf.