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Bunkers and Maintenance Practices

During the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits it took 40 people 3hrs to rake 1000 bunkers. On a typical morning here at Cutten Fields we start with one employee raking 64 bunkers. As other staff members complete morning assignments they assist until all raking is completed. Bunkers are usually raked on a daily basis in the summer months and as we head into September bunkers will be raked significantly less frequent as a majority of our staff are students.

3rd Hole at Whisling Straits

There is much more to maintaining bunkers on a golf course than just raking. Bunkers are trimmed and blown weekly; this requires about 6 people to move through the course efficiently. Bunker depths are the most challenging part of maintaining bunkers. It is amazing how quickly the sand can move in a bunker from one location to another. In some cases it can take only a few days before sand has shifted in a frequently used bunker. Sand can be displaced numerous ways including; heavy rainfall, wind and most commonly golfer traffic. It can take 6 staff up to 4 days to check and repair displaced bunker sand. Typically depths are thoroughly checked roughly every 4 weeks and special attention is given to bunkers that are more frequently visited by golfers.

Bunkers are the second most costly area on the golf course behind greens and are number one in labour costs. Many older golf courses in England have what is referred to as “decommissioned bunkers”. These bunkers were decommissioned during World War 1 and 2 in an effort to reduce maintenance costs. The decommissioned bunkers were simply left to fend for themselves and to this day are still decommissioned and have been taken over by Heather and other natural vegetation native to the area.

Decommissioned bunker at the Sunningdale Old Course in London, England

Additional methods that are used to reduce costs are to decrease the size and grade the terrain around the bunker to slope in towards the bunker so that errant shots collect into the bunker. This way the bunker plays bigger than it actually is. Having fescue faces and leaving them unmaintained similar to Whistling Straights or Toronto Golf Club eliminates the need to trim and edge bunker faces on a regular basis and can also significantly reduce maintenance costs and other inputs like water and fertilizer.

Bunkers are critical components to the appeal and strategy of most golf holes. They are carefully placed by architects as hazards and it is always best to avoid them altogether.

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