It survived a working gravel and sand mine. It lived on through the abandoned site’s conversion to a championship golf course. It’s a Douglas fir tree, not very large or symmetrical, but now that the U.S. Open is here (and soon to leave), it makes No. 15 at Chambers Bay Golf Course the postcard hole to the world.
The tree that draws your eye, beyond the 15th green, is, of course, the only tree at Chambers Bay, the smallish Douglas fir that earned big notoriety in golf and agronomy for being grievously wounded by vandals — and surviving.
David Wienecke, the golf course superintendent at the time, is the man who can tell (its story) best.
Someone, or more than one person — he’ll never know — had spent hours with a hatchet, Wienecke believes, trying to cut the lone fir down.
“If they’d had an axe I think they probably would have succeeded,” he says.
They still call it the Wienecke Tree around Chambers Bay. But the man who did more than anyone at the golf course to save the tree, and help it live on, no longer works at Chambers Bay.
Wienecke arrived at work at Chambers Bay in pre-dawn darkness, as usual, that day in late April 2008. When he got around to the tree, the first thing he saw was the mess — the beer bottles and cigarette butts. Then he noticed the wood chips, and then the foot-and-a-half slash, eight inches deep, on the Narrows Bridge side of the trunk.
Wienecke immediately summoned two arborists to the scene, and for 12 straight hours they worked feverishly to save the tree. A non-toxic epoxy was applied to fill the gash, and braces were attached to shore up the compromised part of the tree. In the days that followed, Wienecke heard from agronomists and arborists from around the world weighing in with their thoughts about the lone fir tree.
As they studied the tree to devise a strategy for saving it, Wienecke and the arborists discovered that the tree, small for its age – which Wienecke estimated at 50 to 70 years old – was in general poor health. Development of the golf course, which involved reviving degraded terrain, watering and improving the soil, had actually been beneficial to the tree, Wienecke says.
But finally, it was the serious injury to the tree, and the care lavished upon it, that saved its life.
The Douglas fir he worked hard to save, the Wienecke Tree, is now healthy and strong against the winds that whistle through the Puget Sound Narrows, ruffling the needles and tiniest branches but leaving the trunk and largest branches unmoved.
“I appreciate that as a legacy,” Wienecke says. “It was a heroic effort that turned out well for a priceless part of the course.”