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Treeless golf? It's par for this course

Published October 28, 2012 1:01 am

British Columbia club loses thousands of lodgepoles, leaving members "stumped."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Prince George, British Columbia • The founders did not foresee such a wide-open course when they carved the Prince George Golf & Curling Club here.

Lodgepole pines, not sand traps, were to be the greatest challenge.

But nature's trajectory hooked, making the game a little easier and the highway noise a lot louder.

Those trees — about 8,500 of them — are gone.

Just ask John Tsoutsouras, a member since 1993, who launched his ball from the rough over a field of stumps recently and watched it bounce onto the green.

"You see," he said. "Now I miss the fairway and I still make par."

Welcome to the dandier side of deforestation.

At the start, there were 9,000 lodgepoles from the surrounding forest on these links. But in 1999 beetles started chipping away at 15 or 20 a year. In 2004, the bugs wiped out 1,000 trees. The next year, they knocked off 5,000.

The damage was done.

Most of the course's remaining trees had been planted apart from the native woods. They tended to fluff out in the sun and suck up more of the moisture, perhaps gaining more strength to fight off the beetle intruders than the crowded natives.

So now, instead of a pastoral peacefulness, the course offers a clear view of nearby strip malls and an earful of the Yellowhead Highway, central British Columbia's east-west commerce route. Course managers left a row of stripped pines on one side to deflect balls that might bound onto the road and into a residential neighborhood.

The course used to attract a lot of drop-in players driving through Prince George.

"We were a wonderful golf course," Superintendent Murray Kutyn said. "It was like jewel of the north, eh? And now it's lost a lot of its appeal and its playability."

Replacing divots is nothing compared with replacing a forest. Members almost gave up — and they would have if not for bureaucracy. Thinking they never would restore the native forest and that they couldn't afford to if they tried, the golfers scouted for a new course and found a patch of ground outside of town. Developers coveted the current course's land, at the junction of Prince George's two major highways, and the deal would have brought in millions of dollars.

Zoning limitations squelched it.

Now the golfers are making the best of if, paying their $1,500 annual dues and expecting to sell their driving range to finance new tree planting. This fall they even staged their second annual "Stump Be Gone Tournament," $500 per foursome with proceeds going toward course beautification.

"It's still a good test of golf, and I enjoy playing here," Ted Perry said.

"You lose your trees and it makes a big difference, but you've still got to make the shot."

bloomis@sltrib.com