It’s In The Bag

By Larry Gilhuly, director, Northwest Region
July 10, 2013

The combination of sand and organic material placed in biodegradable bags has produced positive results in bunker edge renovation at one of the wettest sites for golf in North America.

While doing nearly 30 years of Turf Advisory Service visits to golf facilities all over the western U.S., one of the highlights has always been seeing new or old methods to solve persistent problems. When these “turf tips” center on bunkers, one of the most discussed areas of a golf course, the radar goes up when a simple idea that works can be passed on to others. 

In 1986, Jim Snow, then director of the Northeast region, did a short turf tip titled A Useful Technique in Sand Bunker Renovation.This simple technique of using burlap bags filled with soil was used with success at Winged Foot Golf Club when bunker edges needed reshaping. Now let’s fast forward 26 years to Seymour Golf & Country Club in North Vancouver, British Columbia, where the same process has worked in a climate that can only be described as challenging. 

In this era of water shortages all over the U.S., Seymour G&CC is one golf facility that would gladly share a few of their 100 annual inches of rainfall. With this much rain and the need to reestablish bunker edges, the chance of washouts along bunker edges during renovation is high. Apply the same technique that Seymour G&CC assistant superintendent Derek Sheffield saw in the above article, but with a minor twist. Because rainfall can be excessive at the time of year the work was done (last week of February), rather than filling the bags with soil a mixture of 75 percent sand, 20 percent peat moss and 5 percent compost was used to allow water to move through the bags, yet also retain moisture during the summer. Mr. Sheffield and superintendent Jim McGarvey both report the same type of positive comments with the results seen in the previous turf tip including: 

  • Rapid turf establishment in five days with a perennial ryegrass-dominant mixture.
  • Applying a complete, slow-release fertilizer assisted in root development.
  • No issues with soil movement during establishment or after.
  • Solid edge establishment with slow degradation of the burlap bags.
  • Careful edging resulted in a grass-faced edge, rather than sand or soil.
  • Very smooth and consistent edge due to use of burlap bags.
  • Eliminates potential rock contamination in bunkers as bags are free of rocks.
  • Minimal cost and time required.

The bunker renovation, including additional work to correct sand buildup on the front side of the bunker, required 72 total labor hours from the staff. The bunker measures 150 lineal feetwith 1250 square feet of sod (mixture of 75 percent perennial ryegrass and 25 percent Kentucky bluegrass) used. In addition, 2.2yards of soil was needed to fill bags and used around the bags and bunker to assist in sod establishment. Approximately 120 burlap bags were filled with each being one foot wide by two feet long. In this case, the extra area and need to also lower the height of the back portion of the bunker resulted in far more work, including more bags and sod, than would be expected on just the greenside of a normal bunker. 

As can be noted in the above photo, the results have been exceptional thus far with good turf health, stability and playing conditions. More bunker renovations are planned after this year using this inexpensive and simple approach. Can future success be predicted? I contend the answer “is in the bag!”


Source: Larry Gilhuly (

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