USGA Green Section Southeast Regional Update
Making Sense of Manufactured Sand
By Chris Hartwiger and Patrick O’Brien, USGA SE Region Agronomists
Bunker sand is a common topic on many of our Turfgrass Advisory Service visits. Manufactured sand is a relatively new term in the industry and we are asked about it frequently. This update reviews manufactured bunker sands and the resources available from the USGA on the topic.
Manufactured Sand: What Is It?
Manufactured sand is the product created when coarse sand or rock is processed in a mechanical crusher. These units are expensive and it takes a long time to produce the desired product. Typically, manufactured sand is about twice as expensive as mined sand, ignoring any difference in shipping costs.
To the naked eye, there is no way to tell manufactured sand apart from mined sand. Upon closer inspection in the lab, most manufactured sands differ from mined sands in two ways - the manufactured sand is extremely angular and has a wide particle distribution curve. These two characteristics cause this type of sand to firm quickly. Companies that manufacture sand should screen out fine and very fine particles, but sometimes they do not.
An important note: just because a sand is manufactured, it does not mean that all manufactured sands are the same. Due diligence on the buyer’s part is needed, and independent lab testing is suggested.
Availability of manufactured sand really comes down to a matter of cost. It is hard to believe that a golf course would be willing to pay to ship manufactured sand halfway across the country, but we have seen this happen many times. The number of sand companies that have purchased crushing machines and specialize in golf course sand is increasing. Check your local sand supplier for specific information in your area.
Resources Available to You
There are numerous resources available to assist in selecting a bunker sand that is appropriate for your golf course and budget. Remember, regardless of your choice of bunker sands, one or more people at your golf course are going to be disappointed with the selection. Understand this going into the decision so that all involved can be united when the negative comments come forth.
Seven factors need to be evaluated in the bunker sand selection process: particle size, particle shape, crusting potential, chemical reaction and hardness, infiltration rate, color, and overall playing quality. A thorough description of each of these factors is found in USGA Construction Education Director James Moore’s article, “How to Select the Best Sand for Your Bunkers” in the Jan/Feb 1998 Green Section Record magazine issue. http://www.usga.org/course_care/articles/construction/bunkers/How-to-Select-the-Best-Sand-for-Your-Bunkers/.
Many of the factors listed above need analysis from a soils lab. There are many labs to choose from, but the USGA has a list of accredited soils labs specializing in analyzing materials used on golf courses. This list is available at: http://www.usga.org/course_care/course_construction/physical_soil_testing/Physical-Soil-Testing-Laboratories/.
Turfgrass Advisory Service Visits
Through their travels, USGA Green Section agronomists see most of the locally available sands in their region, and one thing stands out. Every golf course has some segment of its golfing population that is not happy with the existing bunker sand, despite this golf course being viewed as having “perfect” bunkers by rival courses. Perhaps this is the case because players of all ages and skills play the game and their perception of what a bunker is and how it should play is highly variable.
A Turfgrass Advisory Service visit can be helpful in setting up a protocol for courses selecting a bunker sand. This can range from recommending where to get samples to interpreting lab results to helping set- up an on-site test bunker where sands can be evaluated. We also provide guidance on how to deal with criticisms when they eventually do occur.
Manufactured sand brings a new twist to the decision making process. However, selecting the right bunker sand not only requires due diligence in the selection process, but the ability to deal with people and manage their expectations.