The Trees at Sand Moor

This is a guide to the trees around Sand Moors 110 acre golf course, written by Sand Moor member Chas Newstead.


This is a guide by an amateur to some of the trees that can be found on and around the course.
I am a golfer with an interest in the scenery around and about, sometimes more pleasure can be got from that than from the pursuit of golf.

As you drive into the car park on the right is a Monkey Puzzle tree. The name is said to be from when it was said "it would puzzle a monkey to climb that". Although the native range is small along the Chile / Argentine border it was a widely planted specimen tree by the Victorians. It is tough and withstands pollution so is quite often seen in urban planting - there are a half a dozen at the very bottom of the East end of the Headrow at the roundabout in Leeds. It is slow growing at only about 30 cm a year and any tree can be relatively easily aged by counting the regular levels at which branches arise. So this tree at Sand Moor would have been planted in about 1990.

The introduction to the UK was by the botanist and scientist Archibald Menzies who on an expedition down the West Coast of what is now USA and Canada gave the first descriptions of many of the world's great conifers. He could not collect seed and had no cold store (in the 1790s) nor could keep plants alive for the three year voyage. His foliage collection gave the first scientific description of many of the world's largest conifers. When invited as part of the squadron to a banquet by the Governor of Chile he appropriated some large nuts intended for desert. They were raised on the return voyage and five seedlings brought to Kew in 1795. It must have been frustrating to have been unable to introduce any of the giant trees he had catalogued and was only able to bring back a tree which had he never seen!

1st Hole

On the left beyond the tee is a line of the famous, almost infamous hybrid the Leyland Cyprus. A tree better known from its scientific name of Cupressuryparis Leylandii. The most common form is the Haggeston Grey in this variety the fine shoots show some grey and this I think is the one grown here. The tree grows vigorously when young at one metre a year and has been the cause of many neighbourly disputes with hedges rapidly shading out adjacent properties. The trees will grow to 30 metres tall so (in 2017) these still have about 5 to 10 metres to grow. As well as a rate of growth that often surprises the people who plant the tree another disadvantage is that it is very difficult to prune and leave the tree looking any else than a brown bleached set of twigs as the green leaves are only present at the tips. If the tree is topped out to stop them growing vertically then you are left with an ugly shaped tree with a flat brown crown.

As you walk up the hill from the tee beyond the Leyandii on your left there is a view of Moortown Golf Course on the other side of houses built on what was originally the first few holes of Sand Moor Golf Course.

Just here on the left are three Poplars. Probably a hybrid variety that I am not expert enough to distinguish. The leaves open very late, not until the end of May but are preceded for some weeks by the red catkins.

This tree variety has been planted as single trees in a few other places, on the right near the apex of the dogleg of the second and on the right halfway between the yellow and white tees of the eighteenth.

2nd Hole

Silver Birches are all over the course most are probably self seeded. I have seen on a spring evening in light wind literally a cloud of yellow bud scales (that cover the emerging buds) floating across the fairway from the Birches adjacent to this fairway.
There are two common trees called Silver Birch in the UK. The true Silver Birch is most frequent on heaths, open woods and quick draining areas. The leaves are more deeply serrated than the other common tree, the Downy Birch.
From a distance the upper crown of the Silver Birch is gracefully weeping unlike the upright Downy Birch and the former has much larger black diamond shapes and fissures in its white bark. The Downy Birch is more common in wetter areas and on clay soils.
Both trees are pioneer species, meaning they grow after forest fire or the fall of a large tree in woods has led to open skies. The leaves are small and the tree supple both adaptations for a life exposed to wind. They grow rapidly to about 20 metres but are usually short lived, few more than 100 years.

3rd Hole

On the right of the fairway there are now two (in 2017) Common Limes. They have been generously pruned but are recognisable from a distance by the exuberant growth of sprouts from the trunk making rather shapeless almost bush like outlines. Two much more shapely Limes are also at the back of the green on this hole. These specimens are a hybrid between two native trees, the small and broad leaved limes. This was a commonly planted tree even in towns, where the fact that it can be massive; 45 metres, have roots that lift pavements, has no autumn colour and casts dense shade as well as the sprouts mentioned above mean it is a very poor choice for that environment.

On the left side of the green is a stand of Golden Weeping Willows. This variety is a sterile hybrid between a Chinese Weeping Willow and probably the native White Willow. It has to be grown from cuttings so are clones. This is a handsome stand at all times of the year, soon after New Year shoots are bright yellow there are green leaf buds in March, the flowers are yellow and come out at the same time as the leaves. They are not especially long lived trees and these ones must be near maximum height and towards the end of their lifespan. The silhouette of the trees in leaf remind a lady golfer of Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, I agree and wonder if we should subject them to topiary!

At the back of the green on the left as you look towards the reservoir are a few Osier's. This species is not really a tree, if you accept a definition that a tree is a woody plant that can have a single trunk of at least two metres before any branches. They are a common sight in reed beds and alongside broad rivers. The leaves are long, about 20 cm and shoots are harvested for basket making, in 2017 extensive pruning made these all but invisible but they are likely to recover over the next few years.

4th Hole

Oak trees are all over the course and although there are several hundred varieties, there is some satisfaction in distinguishing between the English Oak and the Sessile Oak. This is most reliably done by looking at the length of the leaf stalks. Almost absent for the English Oak but several centimetres long for the Sessile. The Sessile Oak is generally found in the west of the UK but there are plenty at Sand Moor. Native oak trees support literally hundreds of species of insects many of which provoke characteristic galls on the leaves. In early life (the first 100 years) they grow rapidly but then slow down considerably. The outer wood is so strong it is not unusual to see trees that are wind resistant and thriving with all but hollow trunks. Growth slows markedly after 200 years but senescence is long and the adage 200 years growing, 200 mature and a further 200 to die is probably not far wrong. One exceptional specimen in Leicestershire is known to be between 800 and 900 years old.

5th Hole

On both sides of this tee but especially on the left are a number of Cherries.

These are trees with a distinctive elongated and serrated leaf with banded bark so recognising them in winter even if the leaf fall has all been dissipated is not difficult. It is not straightforward for the amateur to work out what type of Cherries have been planted. I think they are a cross "Pink Perfection" this is the only Sato Cherry that does not come from Japan, but arose in a nursery in Bagshot, Surrey.

They are spectacular in spring when in flower for a couple of weeks and occasionally longer if there has not been heavy rain nor strong wind.

6th Hole

There are a couple of Sweet Chestnuts planted together on the right between the 6th and 7th fairways and a third one further down on the right just before you reach a Scots Pine stand.
Very distinctive with 10 cm long serrated leaves and in spring long yellow feathery flowers, the autumn fruit encased in a spiky cover and the nuts will be familiar to all.

The nuts of this tree which is native to Southern Europe were certainly eaten by the Roman invaders in England, the evidence is from middens. But it is not known if they introduced and planted the tree during their 400 year occupation or whether that occurred much later.

They will survive in UK for more than 400 years, the ones at Sand Moor are I think between 30 and 50 years old.
The bark is fissured and it is after about 50 to 100 years of age they start to form a spiral (which may be clock or anti-clockwise) at first only a bit out of vertical but with time gets to a maximum of 45 degrees out of vertical.

7th Hole

Beside, that is to say all but in front of the Tiger Tees of this hole, are two exceptionally fine Ash Trees, a sprig of the leaves is shown to the right.

This is a native British tree meaning it survived the last ice age in the far South and repopulated as the ice retreated from the latitude of London. The leaf buds "sticky" buds are prominent even in winter, the tree is late to leaf out.

It has a rather open canopy, there is almost no autumn colour with only occasional yellow, most leaves falling green and then forming a dense leaf litter. For a tree that is so common and dominant in some parts of British woodland it is relatively short lived at about 200 years. It is however impressively fecund, one afternoon I cut down or dug up over 250 Ash saplings in my average sized garden in Oakwood, Leeds. This was before Ash die back was a problem in UK and I now wonder if the vigorously fertile two adult trees that provided all those seeds may be worth something!
As you leave the tees and look towards the left down the 16th Hole there are two pine trees with rather a dense "fleshy" appearance. Even from a distance if you compare them with the more numerous Scots Pines - for example those behind the 7th tees it is obvious that the Scots Pines have many fewer needles and so appear much more "open". Although the fact that they are not Scots Pines sticks out like a sore thumb when pointed out I missed this fact until I was contacted by John Heasman, a long standing member. The two trees are survivors of five that he grew from seed in the year 2000, the other three were blown down. They are Stone (or Umbrella) Pines. They are native to the Mediterranean and as they mature develop a broad canopy with few low branches so they have a silhouette like that of an opened umbrella. The Stone Pine is thought to be the first conifer from outside of the UK that was grown in Britain close to 500 years ago. Despite its Mediterranean origins is grows in all of England and even as far north as the Scottish boarders it surprisingly seems to do especially well in the wetter western side of England compared to the east.

8th Hole

If you walk from the right side of the green towards the red tees of the ninth hole you come across a singular tree. Planted in the middle of the path is a Pine Tree with its needles in threes. Scots Pines which are numerous on the course have the needles in pairs.

This tree is I think the only Monterey Pine at Sand Moor. This tree is native to the Carmel Peninsular in California (near Pebble Beach Golf Course) and there suffers from a mistletoe infestation that limits it to about 25 metres. Well out of its native range in New Zealand it can reach 60 metres in 40 years.

Like several of the American west coast conifers it is a fire climax tree which means that it only releases seeds from its often rather lop sided cone after a forest fire has swept through a grove and in doing so has killed off all the smaller plants that would out compete a new seedling. As this does not happen in UK the cones can stay on a tree for decades and the weight of them contribute to branches breaking off in gales.

When I first wrote this piece I said "I do not know of any other specimen's locally and am intrigued as to why and by whom it was planted." That mystery has been solved by John Heasman who told me he brought a cone back from California in about 1998 and raised five seedlings. These were planted near the half way house but during a drought moved to near the 8th green. Only one survived the transplantation and that by assiduous watering.

9th Hole

I always get visitors to come and stand at the back of this tee for the best views over the Eccup Reservoir and towards the Harwood Estate. Some of the woods in that estate are listed in the Inventory of Ancient Woodland, also known as the Ancient Woodland Inventory. This is land that has had continuous woodland cover since at least the year 1600. It is a reasonable assumption that land that was wooded then had been so since the end of the last Ice Age. The rest of the land that would have supported woods having been cleared for agriculture, the trees for timber for building and fire and some land cleared for dwellings. There are no areas of ancient woodland in Sand Moor, or on any nearby golf courses. It is notable that within Leeds; Gipton Woods and Gledhow Valley Woods as well as some of the woods on the steep embankment near the Northern Ring Road are Ancient Woodland probably because the land is too steep to be easy to clear.
The most striking feature of this hole for the tree enthusiast is the avenue of Beech Trees on the right, responsible for diverting many a golf ball otherwise destined for out of bounds. Forests of this tree are my UK favourite, often bare branched silver / grey trunks for 20 metres with a green crown in spring and leaves shimmering bright in summer with dappled shade beneath. In autumn terrific colour to the leaves which in winter carpet the ground often still with rich yellows and browns. No tree with grow under the shade of a mature tree of the same species. But Beech will grow under the shade of every deciduous tree in UK but no tree will grow under the shade of a Beech. Therefore you would expect Beech Woodland would be a climax woodland in UK. The constraint is that Beech will not grow on wet soils so in heavy clay vales the dominant trees in woods are Oaks or Hornbeam. Beeches have a " juvenile cone" which is the part of the tree about 2 metres wide and no more than 2.5 metres tall which retrains the (brown) leaves all winter. This is used for hedging and Sand Moor has a handsome Beech hedge bordering Alwoodley Lane and around the clubhouse a glorious hedge of Copper Beech. The red tree at the back of the 13th Green is a mature shapely Copper Beech.
The view from the 9th fairway down towards the 12th green.

10th Hole

One of the major attraction of oak support the most varied and attractive understory especially of early spring flowering plants. At the back of this green there was a large Oak tree which has now been felled. The bank is still covered with English Bluebells but as the ecology has changed they may over the next few years be out competed by plants such as grasses that thrive in more clear skies.

Trees, especially those pioneers that first colonise open sites like the Birches, have to withstand considerable buffeting by the wind. You can appreciate this yourself, on a windy day pick a small tree, trunk say 10 cm diameter that is being distorted by wind. Put your back up against the trunk on the lee ward side and grasp the trunk with your hands behind your back and the tree. Lean backwards so that you are forcing the trunk more vertical against the wind. If you brace yourself then you can absorb some of the forces acting on the tree and appreciate better whey some get blown down. If anyone spots you I suggest you explain you have a new way to judge how many extra clubs you need to take when playing into the gale.

11th Hole

Adjacent to the red tees and especially to the right of the yellow tees is Common Holly. At least I think it is, there are many hybrids and it can be difficult to be sure. The Common Holly is a native tree and is widespread tolerating open mountainside, albeit usually in some shelter in stream also humus rich woodlands and chalk uplands. One of the hybrids Hodginsii which has far fewer spikes on the leaves is very tolerant of airborne pollution as well as salt winds. For this reason if you have shelter while playing crazy golf at the seaside it is probably this tree that is responsible. The familiar spiky leaves presumably are to deter browsing animals but must have a "cost" either in energy to produce or decreased efficient at photosynthesis because above browsing height you will notice that the leaves are not spiky.

12th Hole

As well as the English and Sessile Oaks there are worldwide about another 400 in this species. My copy of Cassell's Trees of Britain and Northern Europe lists over 50 than can be found in UK. Surrounding the Tiger Tees on this hole and in the same position on the 13th are a number of Oaks with very different leaves to the two common Oaks found on the course. The lobes which are rather jagged are so deep and that they almost reach the main vein. It as if the leaves have been cut with a pair of scissors. I think these are a subspecies or cultivar of Turkey Oak forma laciniata. The Turkey Oak's original range is not clear as it has been cultivated by man for centuries. It is rapidly growing and can reach an impressive 40 metres. The acorns are long at 3 to 4 cm with a pointed tip and cups have long whiskery scales they mature on the tree for two years. There are many of these trees of similar size and age in this area of Sand Moor implying that they all must have been planted about 100 years ago.

13th Hole

To the left of the tee bordering the 14th fairway is a stand of Larches. Leaves are either a whorl of more than 20 arising from a single point or single leaves sprouting from the terminal part of the stalk. European Larch is native to the mountainous regions of central Europe and first grown in Britain in 1625.
The trees at Sand Moor are I think a hybrid between European and Japanese Larches. The hybrids have very rapid growth up to 1.5 metres a year. The spring flowers both male and female are attractive. They are deciduous and perhaps at their best when in spring the early leaves are a pale fresh green.

14th Hole

As you approach the tee you walk through half a dozen Alder Trees. These are the trees that often dominate wetlands and fringe rivers able to tolerate soil that is frequently flooded. In riversides they can greatly contribute to stability of the bank and reduce erosion. I do not know why someone chose to plant them at this site. The trees are easily identified by the small (1 cm or so long) cones, green and knobbly in summer and open and black on the tree or on the ground throughout the winter. Alders have root nodules which house bacteria which can fix nitrogen from the air. So these trees will grow on poor soil and in doing so increase the nitrogen content for subsequent plants. Much the largest, (a single) specimen I can find at Sand Moor, is on the left level with the 17th green here it is near a small stream.

15th Hole

This tee and surrounding area are I think my favourite place on the course. Down in a dip it often gives a secluded private feel, sheltered from the wind and often no other golfers in sight. It is only seven and a half kilometres from Millennium Square in the centre of Leeds but feels a world away. Rowan trees are found in several places on the course, on the first, left and short of the seventh green and an isolated specimen near the water fountain on this hole.
Its other common name is The Mountain Ash and it will grow at higher altitudes (over 1000 m) than any other tree in the UK.

The leaves are superficially similar to an Ash (or an Elder) but are smaller, have more leaflets on a stem and the edges are serrated. It often has good autumn leaf colour, the berries (not present on Ash) ripen to red over a few days in July and are then a feast for many birds.

16th Hole

Sycamore is not native to UK. If being native is defined as one of the dozen species that first re-populated The British Isles as the ice sheet of the last Ice Age retreated it having eliminated trees for all of the land excepting that south of where London is now. The sycamore has been in UK for at least 400 years. It spreads rapidly, grows quickly and is considered a pest by those who wish to preserve native woodlands as it can often take over. The leaves are slow to decay and form a dense mat which can suppress the native understory of wild woodland plants. The tree is familiar to all with the maple leaves and I admire its vigour and great size at about 35 metres as the biggest of the European Maples a more appropriate name would be "Great Maple", if adopted we would all feel better about the tree! Although it is easily recognised look out for the clusters of yellow hanging flowers in spring. The seeds (keys) are in pairs, a feature of maples that distinguishes them from the single keys you will see dropped by the Ash. On the first hole about half way and then further down the fairway on the left are two of the much less commonly seen purple variant or "copper" sycamores.

17th Hole

The Horse Chestnut is familiar to all, and most will know the nuts are actually poisonous to horses. Although widespread in UK in fact it is native only to the mountainous areas of Greece and Albania being introduced to Britain in the early 1600s.
The candlesticks of flower are spectacular and appear early in spring. For such a familiar part of our landscape and for a tree which can be massive it is surprisingly short lived at about 300 years. Another feature for which golfers need be aware is that it has a habit of breaking off large branches. This will be most common in wind especially with heavy rain (from which you may be sheltering) adding to its weight.
The nut when first extracted from the spiky fibrous case has an almost sensual smooth texture and iridescent sheen to its surface.

18th Hole

As well as the handsome avenue of Beeches to the left of this fairway, there is a fine Beech hedge surrounding the clubhouse, including a mix of Copper and normal Beech, as shown in the photograph.

On this final part of the round is a stand of Scots Pines on the right as you come over the brow and approach the green.

As well as having two pine leaves arising together (which is not a unique feature) the trees are easy to recognise by the red bark high up on the trunk of mature trees. This tree has a natural range from Scottish and Spanish Mountains across all the highlands of Europe and Northern Asia as far as Eastern Siberia.

In England it was first planted in the mid 17th Century as a forestry crop. Its pattern of growth is very much influenced by surrounding trees. If planted close together as at the 18th they are tall and straight. If in the open they can be spreading, not quite like an oak tree but certainly not bolt upright.

It is rare to hear a noise made by a tree apart from rustling of leaves in wind or the creaking of branches rubbing together. Once in the height of summer on a very hot day I stood in the Scots Pines and listened to the cracking as the pine cones ripened opening to release the seeds.

Written by and photographs taken by Chas Newstead.
Web design by Damian Connearn

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