PGA Tour, Nicklaus Experiment with Furrowed Bunkers at Memorial

Brows are furrowed over “Jack’s New Rake” at Muirfield Village. Furrowed bunkers have returned to the PGA Tour, at least as a one-week trial.

The Memorial TournamentI’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.

Muirfield Village Bunker Leaf
This leaf measures over two inches in width (I let the wind carry it into the bunker after measuring it) – larger than a golf ball. You can see how a golf ball could easily settle between the furrows.

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.”

Muirfield Village Bunker Rake
“Jack’s New Rake,” as players are calling it, is a heavy wood rake with long, widely spaced tines that create deep furrows. Hitting a bunker once again exacts a penalty and demands solid shotmaking to escape with par!

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.

Muirfield Village Bunker Furrows
The bunker furrows are nearly half a ball deep. I watched several players hit out of these bunkers, and the difficulty in controlling both spin and distance was evident.

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.

Muirfield Village Bunker
Though this image shows a greenside bunker, even fairway bunkers are raked with the furrowed rake, making them incredibly penalizing.

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
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.

Muirfield Village Rake Tines
The rake tines measure two inches long and are approximately ¼ inch wide. They are spaced about two inches apart.

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.

Muirfield Village Range Rake
The rake on the practice range is the same as on the course. These furrows will widen the gap between the good bunker players and the lesser artists.

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.

14 thoughts on “PGA Tour, Nicklaus Experiment with Furrowed Bunkers at Memorial”

  1. Great, great reporting Erik. Fabulous pics. I am in complete agreement. Bunkers have become a zone of safety rather than a hazard. Can’t wait to watch this weekend.

  2. I’m in agreement with these guys above, especially Jack. Bunkers have definitely become a safety zone instead of a hazard, and I’m not high on that.

    I’m all for separating the champs from the chumps so-to-speak. 🙂

    Thanks for the report Erik.

  3. Addendum: In Tuesday’s press conference (that just ended), Jack said that the original 150 rakes delivered last week created flat lies in bunkers on the second rake through the sand, then confirmed that every other tine was cut off prior to Saturday’s private member tournament.

  4. Deep furrowed raking in the Memorial sand-traps resulting in difficult lies: I love it! But I am so sad for the agony being inflicted on the petted cats of the PGA! What stress this must be causing them!
    Tell you what, for The Open (the British Open of course) we will abolish all sand-traps higher than two feet and cut back all that fuzzy natural grass that grows around the edges.
    From John, golf-au-naturel

  5. The players expect a perfect lie wherever they hit their ball. No recourse for the poor shots they play. The teaching is better, the equipment is better, the course conditions are better, there must be more defense for the golf course. As Oakmont architecht Mr. Henry Fownes said, ” A shot poorly played is a shot irrevocably lost!”

  6. I think this is a great idea for the pros, but I hope that it doesn’t translate to our local courses. It’s tough enogh for most of us to play out of bunkers – let’s not slow down play anymore for amateurs by furrowing our bunkers!

  7. The interesting challenge of every sport is to overcome…we do this by accepting a challenge…then we participate knowing full when doing so that meeting this challenge face to face makes us grow. Only in the face of adversity to we mature as athletes so those players that run from such a challenge really define ultimately who they are…..

    I get tired of the perfect course, let’s see a real challenge and marvel at those who accept the challenge and over come…isn’t that what moves us as spectators…the unbelievable, the wow factor!

    Let’s get on with it!

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