Melbourne, Australia To Macon, GA: Is Minimalist Bunker Maintenance Coming Next To Your Course?

By Patrick O’Brien and Chris Hartwiger, agronomists, Southeast Region
May 10, 2012

Minimalist bunker maintenance – Has its time arrived?

Great ideas can come from distant lands or your backyard. While watching the President’s Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia last fall, we were struck by their method of bunker maintenance. It appeared that only the bottoms of the bunkers were raked daily. The high faces of the bunkers were smooth. Although we have never been to Australia, we have been told that at many courses in Australia the edges of the bunkers are either broomed or groomed with the back side of a rake or even a squeegee. The end result is a firm, crusted sand that does not lend itself to fried egg lies in the faces. In other words, most golf balls will roll into the areas that have been raked.

Imagine our surprise when we noticed the same type of bunker maintenance was being employed at a very affordable, daily fee course in Macon, Ga. - The Bowden Golf Course. However, the primary intent at Bowden is not to prevent fried-egg lies but rather save precious labor hours and budget dollars.

Nathan Caffarelli, the chief accountant, agronomist, and superintendent of all that is golf at Bowden, discovered and implemented this bunker raking idea many years ago.. The sand is only raked in the floor of the bunkers while the sand on the faces is left alone. Leaf rakes are used to smooth out the sand on the bunker floor. The narrow tines on the teeth of the rakes enter 1\4 inch or less into the sand floor. The workers basically follow the shape of the bunker on the bottom according to the design.

The hours required to rake the bunkers at Bowden have been reduced by 30 to 40 percent. Sand that used to flow over the bunker edges due to constant raking of the perimeter areas has been practically eliminated. Workers will only rake the floors 2 to 3 times per week, usually after irrigating the putting greens. On other days only footprints are smoothed and this requires only minor touchups of the floors. The faces are only raked when they wash out in a weather event, if a golfer walks up the face, or if an animal burrows into the face. As a bonus, fried egg lies in the faces have been virtually eliminated.

There you have it. From Royal Melbourne to Macon, Ga., at least a few golf courses are changing the way bunkers are maintained. Some may adopt this technique for playability reasons while others may wish to free up labor that can be better used elsewhere on the golf course. Is this a fad or the beginning of a trend? Will golfers reject the idea before giving it a fair shot? Certainly these are questions that only time will answer. 

Source: Patrick O'Brien 770-229-8125 or patobrien@usga.org  and Chris Hartwiger 205-444-5079 or chartwiger@usga.org 

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