Why there’s a big disparity between high-end and low-end bunker maintenance

By |  April 28, 2023 0 Comments
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

“I don’t know of any aspect of a golf course that has a greater separation in terms of high-end and low-end maintenance,” says Jim Moore, retired director of education for the USGA Green Section, of bunkers.

Moore says while the disparity in maintenance budgets for greens has leveled off thanks to better equipment and turfgrass, that disparity still remains for bunkers.

“Where it still exists is in bunker construction and bunker care. We’re as different now between the highs and the lows as we were, when I first started my career 40 years ago.”

Moore says the evolution of bunker maintenance for some courses now includes innovations such as irrigation systems to manage the bunker’s moisture level to subsurface construction and bunker liners for advanced drainage.

“You’ve got the average, older construction methods that you dug a pit some drainage lines, you add pipe and gravel in there, you filled it up with sand and you tried to top it off with sand whenever you could afford to,” he says.

While many courses opt for mechanical raking, this leaves the sand soft and can create fried-egg lies. Many courses counter this by hand raking bunkers, but the labor to hand rake can be expensive and limiting for courses on a budget. Moore says that sand selection, with the right angularity, can prevent fried-egg lies.

Moore says the biggest conflict comes between the tug and pull of golf course design and maintenance. Whereas a superintendent might prefer a flat bunker for its ease of care, an architect sees the need for visual interest in a course.

“You look at any great picture of a golf course, and I guarantee you there’s beautiful bunkers in the picture. … They’re probably the biggest visual component of a golf course.”

Moore said the one he helped Superintendent JD Franz build at Cottonwood is intentionally flat to prevent washouts.

“If you look at the one that I built at Cottonwood, you don’t see it very well from the fairway. That’s because it’s pretty darn flat. That’s why it lasted 25 years. So, if you let guys like me do bunker design, it’d be the ugliest darn things on a golf course.”

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About the Author: Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is the former editor of Golfdom magazine.

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