One of the most demanding holes at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club just got a lot less demanding.
The sixth hole is guarded by a series of bunkers and until Tuesday a huge 80-year-old elm tree also stood sentry over the sloping, slippery green.
A single, mammoth branch reached out some 50 feet from the main trunk, dangling over the otherwise straightaway approach to the hole.
Like a giant arm with multiple fingers stretching skyward, that lone branch was renowned for reaching out and grabbing errant shots, or knocking down balls that seemed destined for glory on the green.
Old age, whipped by Lake Ontario’s winds and decades of dedicated destruction by carpenter ants made the elm a danger to anyone on the ground.
It was clear last fall that it would have to come down.
Assessing it Tuesday morning, Regional Tree Service co-owner Dustin Jenckes mused that “It’s a wonder it’s still standing” given it was hollowed out by ants and that wicked winds off the lake a few metres away have battered it all winter.
“It’s really dangerous,” said golf course superintendent Mike Magwood. “When it gets this bad, unfortunately, it just has to be taken down.”
The task of artfully removing the limbs, one at a time, fell to Jenckes, who scaled the decaying deciduous, looped a safety line over one of the main central branches and secured himself to the trunk.
With a chainsaw hanging from another line, he assessed which branches could safely come down first.
After removing a couple on the lakeward side he turned his attention to the massive guardian of the green.
Deftly slicing through the decaying timber, he and his crew watched as the giant dried-out arm gave out a mighty snap, as it cracked and fell to the turf with a thunderous, dull thud.
And with that slice of the chainsaw, decades of golfers’ frustrations quietly came to an end.
The crew’s work continued throughout the afternoon as they carefully removed the remaining branches and trunk.
By day’s end all that remained was a three-foot-high stump, a large pile of tree trunks and limbs neatly piled awaiting removal and memories of the tall tales of the magnificent gatekeeper that once stood there.
Golf course proprietor John Wiens said he hopes to plant two new trees near that spot on the right side of the fairway after consulting the land’s owner, Parks Canada. But it likely will be a few years or more before they could hope to loom as large as the lost elm.
If a tree falls on a golf course and no golfer is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
It most certainly does.