I've long argued for making bunkers on the PGA Tour penal. Too many good golfers, particularly on par fives, aim for bunkers and prefer a lie on the beach than any in greenside rough.
That may all change soon if the PGA Tour's experiment this week at Muirfield Village during The Memorial Tournament proves successful. The Tour is trying out a new rake that gently furrows bunkers this year, and the early feedback is that it's working.
The PGA Tour has, to this point, only talked about acting on their threat to do something about the bunkers, but in place of fine-toothed rakes, contestants (and their caddies) will find widely spaced and long-toothed rakes made of wood. The result: less consistent lies and tougher shots.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Jack Nicklaus said during a practice round on Sunday that "bunkers were meant to be a penalty, and they haven't been for quite a while."
To this point, the only PGA Tour course to severely furrow bunkers (or have a reputation for doing so) is Oakmont, the U.S. Open course outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Nicklaus, who designed and built his version of Augusta National in the sleepy Columbus suburb of Dublin, OH, said that he has been thinking about furrowing the bunkers for awhile now in order to protect the course against technological advances. When he asked Tour officials what they thought of the idea, he discovered that they were considering the same thing. Nicklaus was given the OK to furrow away at this year's Memorial.
Said Tour official Frank Kavanaugh:
The players wear us out (complaining) about the conditions of the bunkers, that they aren't perfect. We've gotten to the point where they expect a perfect lie every time. We've got to change their attitude. There's no more smooth ice. They're on rough ice now.
For The Memorial, the furrowing is a return to the tournament's and Tour's roots. In the 1970s - including the Memorial's first few years beginning in 1976 - bunkers were regularly furrowed.
Nicklaus predicts that good bunker players will appreciate the bunkers, saying "The guys that are good bunker players will like it more. The guys who aren't as good won't like it as much."
Though not the biggest Nicklaus fan in the world, and though I reside firmly on the opposite side of the fence as "the game is in ruins" folks, I applaud this effort.
The rake, as seen above, is a wooden rake. It appears to be a standard rake retrofitted with longer tines and with every other tine shaved off. As you'll see in the first image below, the rake is "lopsided" in this configuration, though I have no doubt the caddies can manage.
The real question is how the players will manage. Edoardo Molinari, Brett Wetterich, Jeff Brehaut, and others were all seen having quite a difficult time hitting out of the bunkers, particularly from fairway bunkers. Not only are the furrows deep enough to hide the bottom quarter of the ball, they're raked perpendicular to the line of play to all but ensure problems.
Controlling both spin and distance were difficult from these bunkers. Several of the players were seen using larger than normal swings to escape the bunkers. Once the ball hit the green, it had very little spin. Only Edoardo Molinari was able to sufficiently spin a ball to stop it dead in its tracks, and only he could manage it after rolling a ball into position, likely creating a nicer lie than he'd have otherwise been afforded.
Photo Credits: © 2006, Erik J. Barzeski, The Sand Trap .com. All rights reserved.