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Bunker Rakes- Your Own Worst Enemy

Bunker preparation at Augusta National

Course and Grounds staff are experimenting with alternative bunker rakes on holes 3, 4, 11 & 17. I understand the experimental rakes are not what you are used to using, these rakes work best using a pulling motion only. There is some strong evidence that supports the use of these alternative rakes can improve the overall bunker playability, while spending less time and money managing sand depths. The current rakes move too much sand when used by golfers, increasing labour costs and decreasing golfer satisfaction.

Maintaining bunkers is the most labour intensive area of the golf course. It seems odd that such a premium would be placed on maintaining a hazard. With the current cost of labour, Superintendents need to find ways to increase efficiency, while improving the golfing experience. Bunkers also happen to be an area that golfers often express dissatisfaction with conditions. Frustrations are typically associated with inconsistent sand depths, which is the biggest challenge with managing bunkers with limited labour resources.

Ideally we want to see 2” on the bunker face and 4” in the flat portion of the bunker. Often times we find areas with a very small layer of sand in one area and 8-10” in another. Preforming depth checks and repairing misplaced sand can take 4-6 staff a week to properly address all the deficiencies. This process is done every 4-6 weeks. Conversely it can take as little as 4 days for the sand in a busy bunker to be misplaced again. So why is this happening so quickly and what can we do about it ?

The biggest contributor to sand being misplaced in bunkers is the rakes and raking technique. As you can see in the photos above that current rakes move considerably more sand on a single pulling stroke than the alternative economy rake style. With multiple strokes and multiple golfers raking from the same spot it does not take long before the sand depth is altered to an almost unplayable state. Practicing good etiquette by raking bunkers is always appreciated, but can be counter productive when lots of sand is displaced while raking out your footprints. Bunker raking and bunker rakes have an unclear yet interesting history is golf. They have evolved from a play it as it lies hazard to a perfectly smooth highly manicured playing surface.

It is believed that by 1940 most courses began offering hay rakes for golfer use on the course. At this time Greenskeepers began manicuring bunkers periodically, and in some cases daily. There are some traditional golf enthusiasts that believe golf should move back to the pre bunker rake era. Bradley Klein from The Golf Channel, is asking “Why are bunkers manicured at all if they are supposed to be hazards? Hazards should be feared not offer solace.” Courses like Pine Valley Golf Club, New Jersey, Sand Hills Golf Club, Nebraska and Friers Head, New York have bought into this approach on golf and do not currently have rakes available to golfers. I am certain this approach offers some very challenging shots, but I am positive that sand depths is never an issue under this type of management.

At Cutten Fields’s we will continue to have bunker rakes available for golfers, ideally a solution will be found that isn’t so destructive to the playability and maintenance operations.


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