If you polled 100 superintendents across the country about an area of their golf course they receive the most feedback on, the vast majority would say bunkers. The bunkers are too firm, too soft, too wet, too dry; all are comments we hear on a daily basis. True story: I once had two golfers hit a bunker shot out of a same bunker, in nearly the same spot. Golfer “A” flubbed his shot, landing within the bunker and golfer “B” skulled his shot about 40 yards past the green. Golfer A immediately proclaimed that the bunkers were just “too soft” and his ball was buried and that was the reason he was unable to get the ball out. Golfer “B” approached me to let me know that the bunkers were playing a little “too firm” that day. Understand that we, as superintendents, are always striving to make improvements to the golf course, bunkers included. With that said, sometimes the golfer’s perception of the golf course is influenced by the scorecard more than the golf course itself.
Well now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about Terravita’s bunkers. It’s no secret that these bunkers are generally in pretty mediocre shape. I’m not totally clear on the exact history of these bunkers, but what I do know is that drainage is quite poor, the sand is highly contaminated, and sand depths are inconsistent from one bunker to the next. In addition, due to current restrictions with regards to staff size and course accessibility, we are required to use a mechanical riding rake in bunkers, as opposed to the preferred method of hand raking. In addition, many of the greens complexes drain directly into the bunkers- a classic recipe for disaster.
With the heavy rain over the past month, we have several bunkers that have played more like a water hazard than a bunker. This has to do with poor drainage. As I mentioned before, many of these greens surface drain directly into the bunker, and it is clear that the subsurface drainage is compromised as well. Without seeing below the ground, it’s hard to say exactly what the problem is, but it is evident there is one. In addition to the poor structural drainage of the bunkers, contaminated and aging sand can lead to bunker drainage complication. Sand breaks down over time, similar to stone eroding into a river rock. As this happens, the sand is compacted easier, creating drainage issues.
In addition to drainage concerns, contaminated sand causes other difficulties. One thing I hear about here at Terravita with some frequency is why we have large rocks in the bunkers. Believe it or not, we did not intentionally put them there in efforts to make your bunker shot more difficult than it already is. This is a result of the age of the bunkers, in addition to the lack of bunker liner between the sand and the native soils. Some bunkers have a fabric liner beneath the sand, but many don’t. This is a big problem, because no matter how much time we spend picking rocks out of the bunkers, the native, rocky soil will always win.
Sand depths varying from one bunker to the next promotes inconsistent bunker conditions. Typically, with bunkers of this age, sand will be added to them to bandaid the existing problem of drainage, compaction, and contamination issues. While not a long term solution, this is something we will continue to do until we are able to fully renovate these bunkers.
The last major disadvantage we face with this bunkers is the inability to hand rake here at Terravita. Our staff size, the number and square footage of bunkers we have, and in limited accessibility we have to the golf course require us to use a mechanical bunker rake in the bunkers. These machines are bulky, create ingress and egress scars, unevenly distribute sand in the bunkers, and can create firm to soft layers within the bunker. While they are generally successful at getting through bunkers quickly, hand raking bunkers would be the superior option.
So now that you’ve heard all the negatives, let’s talk positives. We are currently putting a plan together to address each and everyone one of these issues. Renovating these bunkers with an updated bunker liner, replacing the existing sand and drainage, and reducing the overall square footage of bunkers are the end goal. In addition, I am working with the golf shop to see if there are ways we can tweak the tee sheets, without significant impact to the membership, which gives us more time and flexibility in maintaining these new bunkers. As we move forward with this plan and process, we will keep you all informed.
As always, please direct any questions, comments, or concerns to me directly. I hope everyone has a very Happy New Year! See you in 2020!