It always fascinates me to see how industry rumors spread. This summer one of the discussions was how some courses struggled with the seemingly never-ending heat. Some of these courses were quite prestigious – heck, even Magna had its stumbles this year when it came to conditioning, something that was extremely surprising given the club’s resources. Summit had its early issues as well – with the timing coming just as the club was preparing for its 100th anniversary celebrations. And Jasper had a horrible spring complicated by ice damage and endless rain.
But few were more discussed than St. Thomas Golf and Country Club. The club’s greens, many of which are surrounded by dense outcroppings of trees, literally cooked in the hot July sun. And everyone had their own perspective on why that happened.
Many clubs are reluctant to deal with their tree troubles until disaster strikes. For some reason many golfers connect trees with great golf. I link great golf with great turf – or at least the two often go hand-in-hand. Nonetheless, almost every club has some tree hugger on their board that thinks the club’s superintendent should be able to grow grass without sun or air flow. I, on the other
hand, would rather have far fewer trees and better grass.
St. Thomas has struggled with this for years. As I pointed out in my review of the club in 2011, St. Thomas has numerous holes being obscured by the canopies of trees. Dense forest lines holes or surround greens on #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16 and 17. That led to the problems the club had this summer – a difficulty as new management and a new head pro are attempting to correct. It is hard, after all, to market a club where numerous greens are struggling, even if it is regarded as a great golf course.
New GM Rob Mason is leading an ambitious program to put resources and energy into the club’s key asset – its Stanley Thompson/Robbie Robinson designed golf course. A few years ago the club floated the notion of redoing its clubhouse. Given the timing, it would surely have been a disaster. At the same time, St. Thomas has struggled economically, making it more of a challenge for a private golf club. Mason, who took the GM position last year, made the decision that the golf course should be the club’s focus.
So Mason, and superintendent Wade Beaudoin, are going to slowly transform St. Thomas. It has started with bunker work at the 10th and 7th holes, and will continue. As well, huge areas of trees will be removed – especially around 6 green and 7 tee and between 2 and 3 – to improve air circulation and sun access to the putting surfaces and tees.
Interestingly, apparently a small, but vocal minority have opposed tree removal in recent years. That’s common at basically every club that takes out trees. The problems St. Thomas experienced this past summer were a direct result of that. Often members seem to think trees were always there and blame the problems on the super. Frankly, the super can’t grow grass in a cave – and that’s what areas of St. Thomas had become, with leaves obscuring sunlight and limiting air flow.
St. Thomas will be a better club for it. I’ve yet to see a course that wasn’t improved by tree removal (Oakmont being the best example, but Cutten Club in Guelph is also worth noting). Hopefully, once St. Thomas is finished its tree removal and bunker work, it’s standing amongst great Canadian courses will rise. That would be the greatest indication the club is on the correct path.