For part two of our series of “Golfers’ Grumbles”, I will be looking at the practical issues surrounding bunkers and touching on a few of the most commonly heard complaints, suggestions and general frustrations forwarded by the golfer.
If you missed part one of Golfer’s Grumbles, where I discussed top dressing following aeration, it’s still available here.
Bunkers – “We have the wrong sand in our bunkers!”
Where do we start with this one? The wrong sand type, too much, too little, stones, etc. These are all excuses why I fluffed my last bunker shot! There are two reasons why top professionals make bunker play look so easy in front of the cameras. Firstly, they are playing out of intensively managed bunkers which are professionally raked after each shot. Secondly, they are pretty damn good!
Bunker maintenance can account for a large proportion of a greenkeeper’s time, often only surpassed by greens management and machinery maintenance. Factors such as heavy rainfall and fixture requirements can impact significantly on the time available for presenting bunkers. The following management issues need to be addressed from the start when assessing why bunkers may be not performing well or are taking too much time to manage:
What level of presentation is expected and do you have adequate resources?
- Is daily raking by greenstaff necessary?
- If so will this be a full rake or just footmarks and carried out by hand or machine?
Bunkers are flooding and sand is washing down faces – are there design or construction faults?
- Rainfall run-off may be channelling directly into bunkers rather than designed to flow and divert away
- The faces may be excessively steep and unable to hold sand – consider the angle of repose and sand type/spherity
- Existing drains may not be as efficient as they used to be due to silt/clay contamination or clogged bunker liners
Levels of sand are inconsistent – Too much, too little, etc
- Golfers are inherently bad at raking and tend to rake sand back towards the entrance of the bunker. As a greenkeeper I never managed to perfect the art of raking a bunker with one hand and yet golfers insist in trying to do it whilst holding a golf club in one hand and a rake in the other, sometimes even substituting the rake with the back edge of the club face or sole of a shoe. Additional time will be required for greenstaff to occasionally redistribute sand levels due to incorrect raking.
- Sand splash, wind blow, losses by foot traffic and contamination can account for the need to replenish as much as 10-15% of sand per annum. The integrity of the sand and performance of the bunker is lost if sufficient resources are not planned for.
Our sand is too hard or too soft – it must be the wrong type!
- Sand becomes contaminated over time and the natural performance can be affected.
- Silt and clay particles washing in from faces, etc. affects the particle size distribution of the bunker sand increasing bulk density and risk of excess firming and poor draining.
- There is no perfect sand for all instances. Sand with particles more angular in shape provide better slope-holding properties but may be too firm at the base. Other sands where the particles are uniform and rounded can be prone to produce ‘fried egg’ lies which are difficult to play from.
- Ultimately contamination is a big issue. Bunkers and bunker sands have a limited lifespan, therefore renovation at some stage may be on the agenda.
We experimented with a bunker liner some years ago, and ended up ripping it out!
- There is little doubt that bunker liners of years gone by were not very effective. Issues are still encountered where synthetic liners are becoming exposed at the surface or natural turf liners are breaking up and contaminating the sand.
- New generation fabric liners are more successful but still reliant on securing the joints effectively to reduce the risk of the seams becoming exposed. Even then, fabric liners can become damaged or exposed by pest activity or general maintenance if the sand depth drops too low.
- Natural turf liners are still commonly used. However, performance will be dictated by the quality of turf used. A fibrous thatchy turf such as a down-graded fescue would be best and typically placed upside down.
- Rubber or capillary bonded aggregate systems offer what appears to be the best options for long term performance. These systems can be costly to install but will save many hours of maintenance time and associated costs. One still needs to consider the design and aspect of the bunkers and the sand type if the solution is to uniformly perform.
Good communication within clubs is required to help understand the practical limitations to existing problems. Some of these problems may be resolved through investment in modern equipment, renovation or reconstruction. However, ensure that achievable targets are set and that golfers are not left disappointed despite the best efforts of the greenkeeping team.
STRI agronomists can provide informative presentations at club forum evenings. A role which is becoming increasingly requested to support the communication of course management, operations and policies. If you would like a further discussion on any topic please get in contact via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01274 565131
Next week: managing course closures and inspections