Date: Mon 05 Jan 2015

Bunkers Now and Then

By EIGCA Senior Member Jonathan Gaunt

Whether the architect is Park, MacKenzie or Colt, the same is true - that all features throughout the design of each hole relate back from green to tee, rather than forwards from tee to green. The way in which the green is protected by bunkers, grassy hollows, mounding, water hazards, etc., directly influences the approach shot into the green.

Moreover, the position that the approach shot is played from affects the drive and the choice of club - wood, long iron, etc. - to be played from the tee.

In general, there are many bunkers throughout the world that fail to provide a suitable and relevant hazard for a number of reasons. This may be because the placement is not correct in relation to distance from the tee, line of approach, slope of the fairway/landing area, visibility, fairness, challenge, etc. The reason why bunkers don’t achieve their true potential can also be due to poor maintenance, and the difficulty of maintaining a good grass and/or heather sward on the surrounds, slopes and banking. In general terms, the sand faces advance forward into the mounds they have been built into, due to the way golfers play from them, normally with a sand iron, eventually creating a steep face with a cliff or lip at the apex of the mound. Where there are also drainage problems, and where sandy soil sits on top of clay, the entire bunker face can collapse following heavy rain.

On many inland courses, bunkers have previously, and inappropriately, been revetted, which has created specific problems. These bunkers are notoriously difficult to maintain and can very quickly deteriorate and look unsightly, especially on exposed sites. On links courses these bunkers sometimes need to be replaced or renovated every two to three years.

Unplayable Lies

Due to the distances that golfers are now able to hit a golf ball there are many bunkers that have become redundant and contribute little to the playability or challenge of the course. This may provide potential for the construction of new, well-placed fairway bunkers, which would make the courses considerably more testing to play. On some heathland and moorland courses, heather growth on the bunker banks and surrounds gives them a very attractive look, but makes them difficult to maintain in a neat and tidy state and sometimes creates ruling problems - i.e. is the ball in the bunker or not when it is sitting in overhanging heather?

In relation to a bunker reconstruction and/or renovation programme, where greenside bunkers are still influential to play, they should be retained but it is advisable to rebuild them further away from the putting surfaces to enable better access for maintenance machinery and foot traffic. This will also enable the greenkeeper to spread wear and minimise the build-up of bunker sand. Some greenside bunkers, though, could be more effective reshaped as grassy hollows.

Another associated problem is compaction of sand in the bunker base. This can be attributed to the kind of sand that has been used and contamination with the (clay) soil beneath. It is also due to saturation of sand, either because there is no drainage, or any drains that might have existed have been capped off or become blocked over time. When heavy rain falls, during extreme storms, the sand often ends up being washed off the faces and the water has nowhere to drain away to, so it takes the sand with it.

The most important point to consider about a bunker renovation programme is the style. Whichever style is chosen there must be consistency throughout, in relation to the visual look of the bunkers, their playability, their maintainability and their appropriateness in relation to the history of the course. A bunker renovation and remodelling programme can give any course a face lift and bring it forward into the 21st century.

This article first appeared in Golf Club Secretary December 2014.

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