The USGA gets questions every year about where bunker rakes should be placed on a golf course. In the bunker, out of the bunker, halfway in – each method has its supporters and there is actually no “right” answer. There is no rule about where rakes should be placed, but there are definitely some places that are more sensible than others. If the course you’re playing has a specific policy on where they’d like the rakes, just follow that and you’ll be all set. However, many courses don’t have a policy or you might forget to ask. That’s when the following tips can help:
Outside and out of the way
The USGA recommends placing rakes outside of bunkers and away from where they are likely to interfere with play. Ideally, you don’t want to place rakes across the line of play or in a location where they could trap balls in a difficult spot – e.g., within a bunker on a steep slope near the lip. If a rake does trap your ball, you can move the rake but you must replace the ball on its original spot if it moves. This can be problematic if a rake traps your ball on a steep slope where the ball will not stay. If you can’t find another location within the bunker where the ball will stay at rest that is not nearer to the hole, you are facing one or two penalty strokes to obtain relief. This is a big part of why it’s usually best to keep rakes out of bunkers altogether.
Spread them out
We’ve all walked into a bunker and had the frustrating realization that all the rakes are clustered on the opposite side. They were almost certainly carefully spaced out by the maintenance staff, but all it takes is a couple of careless golfers to make things more difficult for everyone else. It’s important to keep rakes spaced out when replacing them because this makes it easier for people to use them. If a rake isn’t nearby some golfers are quick to skip raking altogether, which only means more tough lies for the rest of us.
Keep maintenance in mind
Thoughtful rake placement makes life easier for the maintenance staff and helps to keep the bunkers in good shape. Placing rakes near the bunkers and close to access points is a good approach. If rakes are left too far from bunkers, it takes extra time to find and replace them and they could disrupt mowing operations or get run over. Leaving them on steep grass or sand faces makes them difficult or dangerous to reach and might encourage players to enter or exit from the high side of a bunker, potentially causing damage along the way.
Go easy on them
There are plenty of times when we’re not happy with the bunker shot we just hit. While it’s OK to be mad, don’t take it out on the rakes! Slamming or tossing rakes can be tempting, but it’s bad etiquette and bunker rakes are surprisingly expensive. Bunker rakes can cost anywhere from $20-$50 each – or even more – and courses often invest significant staff time in maintaining and repairing them each year. Treating bunker rakes with care sets a good example and will save your favorite course some money.
There may not be a rule about where to place rakes on a golf course, but being thoughtful can reduce the risk of rakes interfering with play or maintenance, and can make it easier for our fellow golfers to actually use them. It certainly seems like some folks need all the encouragement they can get!