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Life’s a Beach

By and |  March 22, 2019 0 Comments
Bunker beauty shot (Photo: The Country Club at Castle Pines)

The new bunkers at The Country Club at Castle Pines stand up to heavy rainstorms and wildlife alike. (Photo: The Country Club at Castle Pines)

A sandstorm in California

At Palos Verdes Golf Club, the bunkers now drain like a dream, but the crew still finds that they’re too often working in and around the beach

By Seth Jones

Located in sunny Southern California, Palos Verdes Golf Club was built in 1924 and designed by George C. Thomas and William P. “Billy” Bell. The duo also designed nearby Riviera CC, Bel-Air CC and Los Angeles CC North. Measuring 6,200 yards from the tips, the course utilizes small greens and the natural terrain to defend par.

Pat Gradoville, CGCS, has served the members at Palos Verdes GC as superintendent for 21 years. About six years ago, the membership told him that the bunkers needed a significant renovation.

“We had very poor drainage, that was the driving reason (for a bunker overhaul),” Gradoville says. “And the other key was it seemed every bunker had a different kind of sand — the members wanted more consistency.”

Spray-on Klingstone bunkers (Photo: Klingstone)

The spray-on Klingstone bunkers can be installed using a loaner pump, portable compressor and garden hose with a nozzle. (Photo: Klingstone)

Armed with a budget for a complete bunker renovation, Gradoville started doing research. He called several different bunker companies as well as a few trusted superintendent colleagues. It was a conversation with an old Iowa State University classmate that turned him on to Klingstone. Tim Johnson, superintendent at Spring Hill GC in Wayzata, Minn., had success with Klingstone and recommended Gradoville give the technology a try.

“He said, after installing the bunkers 13 years ago, (Spring Hill’s bunkers) were unchanged; it was still the same thing as when they originally did it,” Gradoville says. “So, my thought process was, if it can go through the freezing/thawing of a Minneapolis climate, it would certainly work in Southern California.”

Klingstone is a patented spray-on polymer liner that requires no mixing. A loaner pump, a portable compressor and a garden hose with a nozzle are the required tools.

“The best way to describe it is you saturate it one-half inch on top of the native soil on top of the bunker,” Gradoville says. “It cures to a very hard plastic that bonds to the base of the bunker. You don’t have any soil or a black polymer — it’s the same color as your sand.”

Gradoville hired a contractor, Wisconsin-based Oliphant Golf, and the project was complete on all 75 bunkers in about five months.

Six years after the fact, Gradoville still is thrilled with the performance of the bunkers, especially with some heavy rains hitting the area in recent months.

“The sand has stayed up on the faces, even with heavy rains,” Gradoville says. “Shoot, with our old bunkers? We’d be out there for days. Now, I would say within four hours, we had all the sand that had slipped down (fixed) — and this was after a couple inches of rain in a day; it was a fairly good-sized storm that went through. I’m real happy with the way the bunkers perform, especially after rain events.”

Kikuyu grass surrounding bunker (Photo: Palos Verdes CC)

At Palos Verdes, kikuyu grass can be found all the way down the face of the bunkers. (Photo: Palos Verdes GC)

So, do all those saved man-hours on bunkers go into other areas on the golf course in need of attention? As in life, nothing is perfect. The crew at Palos Verdes still finds that life, too often, is spent on the beach.

“I think our labor on bunkers has only changed. Before, we spent a lot of time pushing the sand up and trying to get it to be better than it was,” Gradoville says. “One of the key changes with the renovation was we brought the kikuyu grass all the way down into the face of the bunkers. We have these great big lips and faces that are grass now, they could be 12 to 24 inches. We have to go in there and do a lot of handwork on the surrounding turf around the bunkers. And we still have to spend a lot of labor moving the sand around and keeping it level on the bottom, taking sand off the face so the ball rolls back down and doesn’t plug, and so forth. We’re still spending a great amount of time weed eating and maintaining the lip and the face around the bunkers …”

Also, more bunker work is on the horizon. In 2019, Palos Verdes is getting new sand in all its bunkers. The membership has elected to go with a more angular sand that packs tighter, something that many clubs in the area are doing, Gradoville says.

“It’s interesting, in speaking with my cohorts, it just seems that members everywhere always prefer the bunkers of the club down the road,” Gradoville says. “It’s just that feeling that the neighbors are always somehow doing better — everybody else’s sand is better than your own.”

Beating the one-two-three punch

When the bunkers at The Country Club at Castle Pines became washed-out, wildlife-harboring, pseudo-water hazards, the club knew it was time for a renovation

By Clara Richter

Poor drainage, washouts and contamination were three major factors that drove the decision to renovate the bunkers at The Country Club at Castle Pines, located about 20 miles south of Denver.

Damaged bunker (Photo: The Country Club at Castle Pines)

Before the renovations at Castle Pines, the bunkers were negatively affected by heavy rainfall and erosion. (Photo: The Country Club at Castle Pines)

“The bunker sand had become so contaminated from washouts and heavy rainstorms (that) the soil became mixed with the bunker sand, and the bunkers no longer performed how they should from a drainage or playability standpoint,” says Sean McCue, superintendent at Castle Pines.

To make matters worse, wildlife also was doing a number on the bunker lining, McCue adds. In the winter, deer and elk roam Castle Pines, ripping out and destroying liners. The bunkers needed a liner that would hold sand in place, prevent contamination and flooding and stand up to the wanderings of the course’s hoofed residents.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed course has a total of 52 bunkers, all of which were renovated between the winter of 2014 and the winter of 2015. The linings had all been replaced six years prior, but the various liners installed at that time were doing nothing to reduce the amount of erosion and keep sand in place, McCue says.

After spending about a year testing a couple different products, McCue settled on Better Billy Bunker as his choice of liner. A Better Billy Bunker team from Tennessee came out to Castle Pines to help install the test bunkers. It was a good way to introduce the product to him and the crew and to see how it worked in their environmental conditions, he notes.

“The main thing that led me toward the decision of the product was the flexibility of the product when applied to gravel,” he says. “It does flex. It moves with wildlife walking on it during the winter. It’s resistant to the mechanical bunker rake.”

Crews doing bunker renovations (Photo: The Country Club at Castle Pines)

Most of the bunker renovation work was done in-house by the crew at Castle Pines. (Photo: The Country Club at Castle Pines)

Once McCue chose a product, most of the renovation work was done in-house by a crew of 12 to 15 workers. “The main reason we did the work in-house was for a cost-saving standpoint,” McCue says. “I have the skilled labor on staff to be able to do that, so it made the project more affordable.”

For the greenside bunkers — which were renovated from October 2014 to April 2015 — Castle Pines staff removed old sand and pea gravel before placing new gravel. Once that was done, the same Tennessee crew from Better Billy Bunker sprayed the polymer on top. The sand was replaced, and the bunkers were ready for play.

The second phase of the renovation — the fairway bunkers — was completed during the fall and winter of 2015. For this half of the project, McCue’s crew once again removed old material and placed new gravel, but this time, a nearby contractor came out and sprayed the polymer. The results of the new liners, McCue says, were immediate.

Once the Better Billy Bunker liners were installed and sand was placed in the bunkers, the playability improved dramatically. “We get some pretty significant downpours,” McCue explains. “After the Billy Bunker was installed, our repair time is virtually nonexistent. It’s saved us an incredible amount of labor.”

Members also are happy with the change. According to McCue, they love how the bunkers look and play. They have seen the effort required to update the liners,, and they’re happy to see that a lot of labor isn’t being used to repair bunkers after rain events.

As for future renovations, McCue doesn’t see anything on the horizon. “We’re hoping to ride out the lifespan of the liners and enjoy the success we’ve had with those in place,” he says.

Check out the stories behind two more bunker projects, including the installation of Blinder Bunkers at Spring Ford CC in Royersford, Pa., and a Polylast project at Mission Viejo (Calif.) CC.

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About the Author:

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at

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