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

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I don't mind poorly maintained fairway bunkers: those are easier to stay out of or at least get out of regardless of conditioning. The main issue for me is greenside bunkers that really affect the playability of a hole: if they are in the way preventing a ball from being run up to the green, they should be in somewhat decent condition (with some sand in them, not just hardpan), otherwise it forces people to either lay up in front or make sure that they fly and land onto the green, meaning the ball will likely end at the back of the green with a good contact...

I play a course which has probably less than 8 bunkers overall and the main defense the course has is the green themselves, fast with some movement (and some optical illusion for the first timer there...). I can easily spend 5 rounds there without ever being in a bunker.  I play another course that has lots of bunkers by the greens, with very little sand but thankfully they are not of the deep kind so you can sort of chip out of them most of the time. They are still somewhat penal and that's ok with me.

What is not ok is the couple of fairly high-end courses nearby that have typically nice or great conditioning but have let all their bunkers go to shit (with weeds and no sand in them) and they tell you: we plan a total redo of the bunker at the end of the season... but have said that for the last 4 seasons already. They will also tell you, play all of the bunkers as ground under repair (not allowed by the rules). And they have holes such as the redan style where one whole side is guarded by deep bunkers (e.g. 6-10 ft deep), with a tiny opening to run up a ball, fast greens and they sill hide the pin behind the (effectively unplayable) bunkers. I don't play much there if at all anymore.

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15 minutes ago, sjduffers said:

I don't mind poorly maintained fairway bunkers: those are easier to stay out of or at least get out of regardless of conditioning. The main issue for me is greenside bunkers that really affect the playability of a hole: if they are in the way preventing a ball from being run up to the green, they should be in somewhat decent condition (with some sand in them, not just hardpan), otherwise it forces people to either lay up in front or make sure that they fly and land onto the green, meaning the ball will likely end at the back of the green with a good contact...

I play a course which has probably less than 8 bunkers overall and the main defense the course has is the green themselves, fast with some movement (and some optical illusion for the first timer there...). I can easily spend 5 rounds there without ever being in a bunker.  I play another course that has lots of bunkers by the greens, with very little sand but thankfully they are not of the deep kind so you can sort of chip out of them most of the time. They are still somewhat penal and that's ok with me.

What is not ok is the couple of fairly high-end courses nearby that have typically nice or great conditioning but have let all their bunkers go to shit (with weeds and no sand in them) and they tell you: we plan a total redo of the bunker at the end of the season... but have said that for the last 4 seasons already. They will also tell you, play all of the bunkers as ground under repair (not allowed by the rules). And they have holes such as the redan style where one whole side is guarded by deep bunkers (e.g. 6-10 ft deep), with a tiny opening to run up a ball, fast greens and they sill hide the pin behind the (effectively unplayable) bunkers. I don't play much there if at all anymore.

I am probably in the minority.  I enjoy playing out of bunkers.  Even when they're crappy.  For the hard-packed sand trap, near the green, I'll go with my 60 degree, or even 64 degree wedge (when I carry it) and close the clubface a bit and take the bounce out of play and still go for a spot 1" to 1 1/2" behind the ball, making sure to swing fast enough with a full follow-through.

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Played my normal 5000 yard track in an hour tonight. Young guy working was kind enough to let me take a cart when they had to be returned in an hour and I was about 2 minutes early. I even had some time to take a couple of pictures. Since Saturday, they have started to take out a couple of bunkers. The other picture is what you can expect otherwise. What would you do if you landed in the second picture? I'd say that 50% of the bunkers are in that state at this course, and the other 50% are just rocks and dirt.

20191119_162905.jpg

20191119_164549.jpg

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I've noticed that when a course gets into financial difficulty, the first thing to go are the bunkers! Bunkers are expensive to build, maintain, and repair. Mill Creek Golf Course near me, 36 holes, spent about a half million dollars over the last two years re-doing the bunkers. Some were just sharpen up the edges and put new sand in, others were total rebuilds. Then, this Spring, twenty inches of rain in a week flooded the course and did a real number on them! 

They did yeoman work once it dried out to get the greenside bunkers back in shape. But even by Labor Day for the YSU Lady's Invitational, many fairway bunkers still had white paint around them, and GUR painted on what little sand was left in them! 

This is an old Donald Ross course and is quite well bunkered. However, I can't really think of a forced carry over a bunker to a green. There is one that looks that way, but it isn't. The bunker is a good 20-25 yards in front of the green. Ross used the lay of the land to trick your eye!

And yes, I hate playing out of poorly maintained bunkers, but you just need to learn to hit some different shots to get out them. But I am reminded of Harvey Penick's advice to a student who asked him to explain how to get out of a bunker. Penick said he could show him that, but would rather show him how to stay out of them in the first place.

 

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My home course had the bunkers redone a couple of years ago.  A company came in and removed the old sand, laid down a few inches of gravel/rock in the bunkers and then hit it all with some type of polymer spray.  The spray is somewhat like a truck bed liner, but water permeable.  Then clean sand was brought in on top.  This barrier supposedly prevents the compaction of the sand into the ground below while still allowing water to drain.  I'm not privy to any kind of maintenance numbers, but there is an obvious increase in the general quality of our bunkers.  Seems to be significantly less washout and erosion after heavy rains and way less crust on top.

I'm sure it was expensive, but it seems to have worked.

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As it turns out, I don't think many of the courses I play spend much on maintaining the bunkers as they can be very inconsistent from one to the next.   But, a few courses do clearly spend some $$ on bunker maintenance.  However I personally don't mind less than perfect bunkers (we all have to play the same course) and wouldn't care if the courses turned them all into "grass bunkers".  I would like, in the latter case, for the maintenance crew to keep the grass short enough I can find my ball. 

As I remind myself when in a bunker, it is a penalty area and you shouldn't be here in the first place, so shut up and play.

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On 11/19/2019 at 5:23 PM, Bonvivant said:

Played my normal 5000 yard track in an hour tonight. Young guy working was kind enough to let me take a cart when they had to be returned in an hour and I was about 2 minutes early. I even had some time to take a couple of pictures. Since Saturday, they have started to take out a couple of bunkers. The other picture is what you can expect otherwise. What would you do if you landed in the second picture? I'd say that 50% of the bunkers are in that state at this course, and the other 50% are just rocks and dirt.

20191119_162905.jpg

20191119_164549.jpg

To be fair, it doesn’t look like they spend a lot of money maintaining the rest of the course either though...  

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7 minutes ago, David in FL said:

To be fair, it doesn’t look like they spend a lot of money maintaining the rest of the course either though...  

Correct, but just an idea of where I am coming from and why I don't play out of them. The greens and most of the fairways there are passable but the bunkers are not

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One of my favorite courses I played regularly years ago was a links style course in which the bunkers were only maintained once or maybe twice per year. Basically the course would make sure to keep the weeds out of them. Similarly, they weren't any rakes, so you just kind of played them as they were. In my opinion if they had spent a bunch of money on the bunkers and made them all pristine, I'm pretty sure I would have made exactly the same scores. 

Again, this will likely vary from person to person, but I always thought it kind of added to that course's charm. It was links style so there were also areas where if you missed the fairway by 3 feet you'd be in waist-deep grass. If you missed the fairway by 15 yards, you may be in the next fairway over and have a clear shot at the green. There were times when the wind would be calm and the course would almost seem "easy". Other times the wind would blow and the course could be brutal. 

It was a little different, you dealt with it. I don't ever remember anyone complaining about the bunkers. Yet, on a course I play every year where the bunkers are really well maintained. If there's a day when the bunkers aren't perfect I see golfers lose their minds. 

I believe expectations has a lot to do with it. 

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I've been working at my course for 11 years.  For the first 8 or 9 years, the guy who was the original Superintendant led us to believe that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Then, the big shot who was developing a golf-mecca in our area hired him away from us, and, since that Superintendant was out of work, we got him.

That was the greatest thing that ever happened.  One of the first things he did was to bring in "better" sand. It stays fluffy longer and doesn't pack down as easy.  Plus, his guys/gal work it regularly.  Every now and then I actually hit a decent shot out of it.  I'd prefer to not have to, but I love the challenge, and a sandie makes you feel good.

He gets a lot out of a small crew, and our course is in the best condition it has ever been.

Edited by Cartboy

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3 minutes ago, Cartboy said:

I've been working at my course for 11 years.  For the first 8 or 9 years, the guy who was the original Superintendant led us to believe that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Then, the big shot who was developing a golf-mecca in our area hired him away from us, and, since that Superintendant was out of work, we got him.

That was the greatest thing that ever happened.  One of the first things he did was to b ring in "better" sand.

He gets a lot out of a small crew, and our course is in the best condition it has ever been.

I'm sometimes surprised how often that kind of thing happens. 

Good for you. 

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Come to think of it, the Superintendant at my other course, where I am a member who pays but does not play, also a guy much-revered, has fallen out of favor there.  Some of my friends from there say they asked him to come to our course to see how a course ought to be, and he would not. He's been there more than 20 years.

I don't know if they let him go or not.

Edited by Cartboy

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On 11/19/2019 at 2:23 PM, Bonvivant said:

Played my normal 5000 yard track in an hour tonight. Young guy working was kind enough to let me take a cart when they had to be returned in an hour and I was about 2 minutes early. I even had some time to take a couple of pictures. Since Saturday, they have started to take out a couple of bunkers. The other picture is what you can expect otherwise. What would you do if you landed in the second picture? I'd say that 50% of the bunkers are in that state at this course, and the other 50% are just rocks and dirt.

20191119_162905.jpg

20191119_164549.jpg

Beyond the bunker in disrepair there seems to be a building in disrepair.  That's across the fairway which seems to be in disrepair.

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30 minutes ago, Double Mocha Man said:

Beyond the bunker in disrepair there seems to be a building in disrepair.  That's across the fairway which seems to be in disrepair.

There actually isn't any fairway in this shot. "Bunker", rough, and green only....besides the hut

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There are a couple bunkers where I play a lot that were turned into grass bunkers many years ago. They are just as difficult to get out of as sand would be. I would imagine it costs a lot less to maintain too.

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