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Braivo

Would You Mind Crappy Bunkers? Scrapping Bunker Maintenance Could Save Some Golf Courses.

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Some interesting thoughts here. Bunker maintenance is a significant expense for courses, yet golfers seem to have a high standard for bunker quality. 

Would you be willing to change your expectations for bunker quality to allow more courses to stay in business?

Is bad bunker quality like aerated greens? A largely psychological things that really doesn't impact scoring? 

Trails-1-bunker.jpg

How golfer expectations have driven up spending on bunker maintenance, made greenkeeping more difficult, and hurt the bottom line of many golf courses
Quote

 

The earliest bunkers were natural: un-raked, unpredictable, full of footprints and debris and divots. They were genuine hazards; if you went in one, you couldn’t be sure what would happen next.

Since then, our expectations about bunker playability have changed. Today, most golfers prize sharp edges and smooth sand, and some complain when the conditions in one bunker are different from those in another. Bunker to bunker, it seems, golfers want a predictable experience.

...

In general, though, this model of bunker maintenance is difficult to sustain. To avoid player complaints about bunkers, courses have to increase spending. In turn, green fees go up. This is a vicious circle that sometimes leads to closure.

 

 

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Bunker maintenance is part of overall course maintenance.  I prefer to play well maintained courses and am willing to pay a bit of a premium to do so.

There are plenty of dog tracks out there for those who feel differently.

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8 minutes ago, iacas said:

Yes. I’d also be okay with:

  • Bunkers purposefully unraked. Just smooth with your feet. They’re hazards.
  • Grass them over. Eliminate them.

I assume that not raking bunkers could improve pace of play, and not having them at all even more so. 

21 minutes ago, David in FL said:

Bunker maintenance is part of overall course maintenance.  I prefer to play well maintained courses and am willing to pay a bit of a premium to do so.

There are plenty of dog tracks out there for those who feel differently.

No doubt. I pay for nice courses at times as well, but what if the "dog track" could scrap their bunker maintenance altogether and focus on greens, fairways, etc. and overall improve the quality of their course without any extra expenditure? Might allow them to charge a bit more, or get more play, and remain more solvent. 

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12 minutes ago, Braivo said:

I assume that not raking bunkers could improve pace of play, and not having them at all even more so. 

Especially for the average golfer. Better golfers tend to not struggle as much with fairway or greenside bunkers. Honestly, you can control the ball a bit better than out of the rough. 

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11 minutes ago, Braivo said:

I assume that not raking bunkers could improve pace of play, and not having them at all even more so. 

No doubt. I pay for nice courses at times as well, but what if the "dog track" could scrap their bunker maintenance altogether and focus on greens, fairways, etc. and overall improve the quality of their course without any extra expenditure? Might allow them to charge a bit more, or get more play, and remain more solvent. 

If the slight incremental cost of bunker maintenance is the difference between being able to properly maintain the remainder of the course, or between solvency or not, the course has larger problems, and probably should close...

 

 

 

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If the public courses I play at are any indication, no one rakes the bunkers anyway. Off topic but no one fixes their ball marks too.

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Sensitive subject for me, given the particular municipal courses I tend to play. Rather unfortunately, Robert Bruce Harris designed our courses to have many, many bunkers and those bunkers are low priority for the limited maintenance staff. 

If you are going to have the bunkers at all, I'd rather have minimal maintenance as opposed to no maintenance at all. A few years ago, bunker maintenance was close to none and we basically had pits of rock and dirt. We've had new leadership the past two years and the situation is improved. There's still a sharp limit to what they can do in their limited budget, but the bunkers are mostly playable now. It's a bit of triage. One course tends to have a lot of greenside bunkers fronting greens. Those get more attention that the fairway bunkers or the bunkers on the other course that people tend to avoid more often.

The idea of grassing over the least strategic bunkers is a good idea. It's been talked about, but not acted on yet. 

 

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3 minutes ago, David in FL said:

If the slight incremental cost of bunker maintenance is the difference between being able to properly maintain the remainder of the course, or between solvency or not, the course has larger problems, and probably should close..

It’s not “slight.”

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We replaced our bunker sand 2yrs ago and so far I’d say it likely was not worth the expense. Takes maybe 4-5 labor hours a day to rake each morning. And yet today, you can tell they are firming up again. Still better than our competitors, but I doubt it’s bringing us play we wouldn’t have had otherwise. The other side to this coin is what the overall vision if the course is to be. Which is the “do you want to pay a premium to play a premium course.”

Just now, David in FL said:

If the slight incremental cost of bunker maintenance is the difference between being able to properly maintain the remainder of the course, or between solvency or not, the course has larger problems, and probably should close...

I doubt its the daily maintenance cost courses are worried about, it’s the massive figure it takes to replace sand when they firm up too much. 

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8 minutes ago, David in FL said:

If the slight incremental cost of bunker maintenance is the difference between being able to properly maintain the remainder of the course, or between solvency or not, the course has larger problems, and probably should close...

 

 

 

That's the point of the article, it's not a "slight" cost. It can equal green maintenance in many cases. 

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Several of the public/semi-private courses around me have either stopped maintaining bunkers or have completely sodded over them.

I played a bigger private course a month or so ago and the amount of sand I saw was a physical shock after what I've been used to.

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For me, it depends on the course. If it's a course that is littered with bunkers and you're going to be in multiple bunkers no matter what, then they should be maintained. If there are just a few bunkers, then I think it's more reasonable - don't go in them. 

It also depends on the course and its setting, too. Is it a links style course or a course on a sand dune? Less maintenance makes sense. Are you going to classify the bunkers as part of the general area of the course instead of bunkers? Pinehurst #2 has a lot of unmaintained bunkers, for example. It makes sense because it's in the sand hills and it has a local rule in place where the bunkers are the general area of the course.

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9 minutes ago, iacas said:

It’s not “slight.”

 

9 minutes ago, phillyk said:

We replaced our bunker sand 2yrs ago and so far I’d say it likely was not worth the expense. Takes maybe 4-5 labor hours a day to rake each morning. And yet today, you can tell they are firming up again. Still better than our competitors, but I doubt it’s bringing us play we wouldn’t have had otherwise. The other side to this coin is what the overall vision if the course is to be. Which is the “do you want to pay a premium to play a premium course.”

I doubt its the daily maintenance cost courses are worried about, it’s the massive figure it takes to replace sand when they firm up too much. 

 

5 minutes ago, Braivo said:

That's the point of the article, it's not a "slight" cost. It can equal green maintenance in many cases. 

I’ll remove the word “slight” from my answer.  My response otherwise remains the same.

  Another option, as @iacas mentioned would be to grass over a number of bunkers if the course was designed with so many that maintenance is prohibitive.

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My expectation on bunkers is that they are a hazard. That they are to be avoided. 

Unless the quality, being of the poor variety, is so bad that it presents a safety problem to the golfer, the golfer should  just take their medicine. The golfer hit the ball there. They should just deal with the conditions. 

Now if bunker conditions are so bad, that hitting a ball out of basically hard pan, which can cause sparks, personal injury, or ruin a club, either take the unplayable condition, (penalty?), or declare it ground under repair when you get back to the club house. Most counter help folks will agree. 

I can't really expect a certain amount of  sand to be in the bunker. I can't really expect it to be otherwise properly maintained at every course I play. Sand cost money, as does labor to maintain it. Alot of courses try to save money any where they can. Bunkers are easily over looked to save money.  

Out here in the desert, the biggest (poor) bunker issue I run into, are bunkers that get watered along with the surrounding grasses. Then sun baked dry in high temps, which causes a heavy duty crust. In the cooler months that summer time crust is now wet, firm sand due to less drying time.  

Just another variation of a thin lie. 

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I am okay with bunkers that are not in top condition at all times; but I do prefer that they have sand in them once in a while and have some strategic importance.  My local has done away with a few, over the last couple years, that met neither criteria.  In their place are some humps and hollows that are not as closely mowed as the surrounding areas.  These islands of rough, in what would otherwise be fairway, are much more pleasing to the eye than a derelict bunker and, while playable, offer a different and compelling challenge.

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44 minutes ago, DeadMan said:

It also depends on the course and its setting, too. Is it a links style course or a course on a sand dune? Less maintenance makes sense. Are you going to classify the bunkers as part of the general area of the course instead of bunkers? Pinehurst #2 has a lot of unmaintained bunkers, for example. It makes sense because it's in the sand hills and it has a local rule in place where the bunkers are the general area of the course.

Interestingly, #2 has a lot of unmaintained sandy waste areas, but the edges of the bunkers are pretty defined.  I only know this because I was on the course in 2014 in the days ahead of the US Opens, when the lead rules officials were showing all of the other rules officials how to determine whether a ball was in a bunker, or in "through the green".  

From my point of view, I do expect a moderate level of bunker maintenance.  For one, I hope to have a little sand in every one, no washouts, moderately smooth.  If that can't be done, I'd prefer that they be turned into crass hollows.  But grass hollows present their own maintenance issues, if they can't be effectively mowed using larger gang mowers, so maybe there needs to me some grading done to allow easy mowing.  The grass also requires certain chemical applications, not like fairways and greens do, but they're not maintenance free.

I think on many courses the bunkers are there for looks more than for strategic value.  I like the contrast of sand against grass, but I have no problem if many of the "artistic" bunkers are removed to decrease costs.

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14 minutes ago, DaveP043 said:

Interestingly, #2 has a lot of unmaintained sandy waste areas, but the edges of the bunkers are pretty defined.  I only know this because I was on the course in 2014 in the days ahead of the US Opens, when the lead rules officials were showing all of the other rules officials how to determine whether a ball was in a bunker, or in "through the green".  

If I remember correctly, when I played there in 2017, all bunkers on #2 were classified as waste areas (or whatever term in the rules was at the time), so you could do whatever you want in them. This was per a local rule. I'm guessing that local rule was not in effect, or changed, for the US Open. I can double check the scorecard when I get home, because I think it had the local rules on it. 

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