Driving across the 850 acres of golf course he tends to daily, Jim Roney pointed out a chestnut tree that sustained significant damage during the harsh storms of 2011.
"This is one my favorite trees," he said, "and it really took it on the chin. Hopefully, we can save it."
After losing hundreds of trees to the rain, wind and ice storms of last year, Saucon Valley is nearing completion of a project that will add more than 200 trees back to the grounds. But, as Roney said, the club isn't simply replanting trees where they fell.
As part of its long-range landscape plan established in 2007, during the renovation of the Old Course, the club is replacing trees with those better suited for the courses and the local environment. It's also addressing some of the old plantings that no longer fit with the club's mission.
"We're being very, very careful and serious about doing the right thing with the property," said Robin McCool, chairman of Saucon's greens committee. "It's our baby, and we want to take good care of it."
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused significant flooding and tree damage across Saucon Valley's 60 holes of golf. Then came a late October ice and snow storm that caused even more damage and forced course closures. Roney said the damage was as bad as he has seen at Saucon.
The club knew it would have to replant (it has two tree farms for such a purpose) but wanted to do so consistent with the maintenance plan established five years ago. That meant planting indigenous, non-invasive trees (such as hardwoods) in places where they made sense both strategically and environmentally. And not emotionally.
In golf, trees can become symbols. "Indiscriminate" planting, as McCool called it, has affected courses and clubs in the Northeast since the 1960s. Decades ago, members moved trees from their yards to their favorite greens, creating overgrown, chaotic forests that compromised healthy turfgrass.
Mid 20th-century overplanting has prompted many courses to cull trees from their grounds, most famously at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, which removed thousands of trees before the 2007U.S. Open. Saucon Valley removed trees during its renovation of the Old Course, primarily behind greens where shade and water caused problems.
But, as Roney said, trees are vital to traditional parkland courses, not only for environmental and aesthetic reasons, but also for design and playability. That is the foundation of Saucon's planting program.
"You don't want to lose the aesthetic and architectural appeal of trees on the golf course," Roney said. "That's all part of what we're doing. We're not just cutting down diseased trees or planting trees because we want to. You need to be responsible."
That means eschewing ornamental or decorative plantings in favor of indigenous ones. It also means using native species and removing non-functioning vegetation. Further, it means emphasizing the golf course.
"The golf ball has the right of way," Roney said. "You need trees, but you don't play golf in them."
Added McCool, "The overall objective is to give members a playable golf course that's beautiful to look at but also healthy."
WIN FOR WAGNER: Samantha Wagner, a 15-year-old Easton native, shot rounds of 68-70 to win the American Junior Golf Association's Exide Technologies Junior Open last weekend in Georgia.
Wagner, who now lives in Windermere, Fla., finished the tournament at 6-under par, five shots clear of the field. It was her first AJGA win of the season.
Earlier this year, Wagner gave an oral commitment to play golf at the University of Florida. She will be part of the Gators' 2014 recruiting class.
Wagner, who formerly attended the Windermere Prep School, transferred to the Florida Virtual School in November. By doing so, she intends to accelerate her graduation year ahead to 2014
"I love everything about the program at Florida, and I felt like this was the right time," said Wagner, whose family relocated to the Orlando area in 2008. "I've been looking at Florida for a while, and I just wanted to get it done."
Wagner is 30th in the Polo Junior Golf Rankings. She tied for 14th at the ANNIKA Invitational in January. Wagner entered the final round of the event tied for the lead following a second-round 67.