Rideau View superintendent Gord MacMillan raised his hand and ran his fingers over the exposed, scarred wood of an ash tree sitting close to the left side of the fairway and just short of the landing area on Rideau View's 17th hole.
The tree, like hundreds of others at Rideau View, has been decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer, a tiny green beetle that has killed millions of ash trees throughout Northeast North America since it was first detected in the Windsor, Ont., area in 2002.
It's believed the flying beetle arrived in North American in wood packaging from Asia, according to Natural Resources Canada. Since then it has eaten its way through Canada's ash trees which are defenceless against the bug.
The bug lays its eggs under the bark and the emerging larvae chew their way through the bark and down to the wood. This destroys the tree's system for transporting water and nutrients and starves the tree to death.
MacMillan and his staff, like other golf course, park and city staffs across the Northeast, now face the onerous task of having to remove the diseased, dying or dead trees before they fall, potentially causing great risk to people, property or other healthy trees nearby.
Canadian Forest Service (CFS) scientists estimate that costs for treatment, removal and replacement of trees affected by emerald ash borer in Canadian municipalities may reach $2 billion over a 30-year period, according to the Natural Resources Canada website.
"I planted these trees. I pulled them out of the bush," MacMillan said, touching the grooves chewed into the exposed wood by the parasites. "All these ash? I put them in and now I'm having to cut them all down. It's heartbreaking."
Rideau View members have likely noticed the removal of trees in several locations around the course, particularly off the ninth tee and between the 10th and 18th fairways. Some younger ash trees to the right of the landing area on the 10th hole have been aggressively treated to try and save them from the infestation, but it is not known if the treatments were administered in time.
Cedars between the 10th and 18th fairways were also removed on the recommendation of consulting architect Ian Andrew because of their negative effects on the quality of the turf in the area.
"A tree is a single plant and so is a blade of grass. Which do you think is going to win a fight for nutrients and water?" Andrew explained during his visit to Rideau View on May 2.
From a playability standpoint, cedars in the playing areas of a golf course are impractical because they pose a double penalty, often not giving the player the opportunity for a recovery shot because of their expansive and low hanging branches. They are also an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Some other trees, behind the eighth green, for instance, are being removed to improve the quality of the greens. The trees throw their shade on the green in the early morning when the grass plants are most in need of the sunlight for survival.
"The way I explain it is the turf needs to have breakfast," MacMillan said. "It can go without everything else. In the morning, that's when it's doing everything, it's getting all its sugars. In the afternoon when it gets hot, that's when it's shutting down. If it only gets the sunlight in the afternoon, it's too late."
To make up for the removal of some of the already dead ash trees and in anticipation of the inevitable removal of others, Andrew recommended the planting of other species, mostly oak and varieties of maple, to replace them. You may see stakes around the course indicating where the new trees will be planted.
In terms of the replanting, Andrew explained, less is more.
It has been his experience the planting of trees is usually overdone. It looks like a good idea to plant a cluster of four or five or six trees, but 25 years from now, they will be too close together, fighting for sunlight, water and nutrients to the detriment of the trees and surrounding turf.
"I'll be in a pine box (when the trees mature)," Andrew said. "Beyond my lifetime, how is it all going to fit together? I think that is my obligation to the next generation because I know better. I know how things are supposed to be spaced. I believe that is what I am supposed to do so we don't throw twice as many in and you end up pulling them out 25 years from now."
Trees from Rideau View's nursery (to the left of the second tee) and trees from other locations on the course will make up most of the inventory to replace the lamented ash trees