There’s no correct technique for creating perpetually perfect bunkers – and one single method might not exist.
Golfers’ expectations of bunker consistency and white sand use is causing architects, builders, superintendents and suppliers to seek new design strategies and construction methods.
After decades of trying to create better bunkers by replacing superintendents, most green committees now realize superintendents can’t provide perfect conditions with imperfectly constructed bunkers. Bunker consistency is important enough to them to justify spending money to build or rebuild bunkers correctly.
Golfers can’t agree on what constitutes a good bunker. Typically, good players, who often have more pull at a club, like them firmer than average ones. Inevitably, some golfers aren’t happy with bunker conditions, despite spending more on construction and maintenance.
As a result, the combination of greater costs, a desire for consistency and better maintenance (sometimes on tight budgets) affects the way golf course architects design bunkers.
Design responses to current conditions include:
Reducing the number of bunkers. During the 1990s, golf course architects probably used too many bunkers for visual drama and design “signatures.” Their justification was they looked good. Recently, I’ve consulted with several course managers, including those who manage some courses that I designed earlier in my career, who wish to remove bunkers that are marginally necessary. With new course design or complete renovations, I’m replacing their hazard value with features such as fairway slopes, chipping areas, grass bunkers, mounds and steep banks. My budget plug-in number for bunkers used to be 100,000 square feet; now it’s half that. It’s a design challenge, but using different hazards allows each hole to be more unique.
Reducing bunker size. Before liners, maintenance-friendly bunkers had large (16 to 20 feet in diameter) sand lobes to accommodate the turning radius of mechanical bunker rakes. The result was large bunkers. Bunker liners require hand-raking, unless you opt for careful mechanical raking with only leaf-rake attachments. Smaller bunkers that require less time to rake, in concert with quicker travel time because of utility vehicles, help balance the total labor requirement for bunker raking. Smaller bunkers often look much better, so design challenges are nil.
Reducing bunker shape. Many designers still use extravagant cape and bay shapes and rugged bunker edges. At lower-budget courses, fancy bunker shapes might soon give way to simpler ones closely tuned to the mowing radii of bank mowers.
Reducing bunker-face slope. Maximum practical bunker-face slope varies with local rainfall, sand quality and bunker drainage. Sharp angular sands hold well on slopes. Many courses import sand with these characteristics rather than using local sand, figuring that labor savings eventually offset higher initial cost.
For any sand, flatter bunker slopes generally reduce washing. Reducing maximum slope from 25 to 30 percent to 15 percent or less reduces hand-shoveling. The challenge with flatter bunkers is making the sand visible. Visibility usually requires a simple front edge, no little mounds in front that block views, a 3- to 5-percent base slope throughout the bunker to reduce steeper slopes near the top, and sometimes, giving bunkers more length along the line of play to achieve visibility.
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