The USGA defines a bunker in Section 2 of the rule book as: a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like. The key point being that a bunker is a hazard. In the life of a Superintendent, generally bunker complaints are just below green speed complaints from golfers. We have 60,000 square feet of bunkers on the course (100 acres). Our bunkers are only 1.4 percent of the golf course that you play. I had to think about that for a minute, wow!!! So it’s a hazard and it comprises 80 to 90% of complaints. I’m thinking we should cover these nuisances with sod or wait for it……….we should treat them like hazards and pay for the price for being in them.
So I’m guessing you’re not going to let me cover them in sod. So let’s look at a life of a bunker. The first problem with Mr. Bunker is that he is vulnerable because he is open with no protection (the sand is loose on slopes and open ground. He loses his nice white sand to wind, rain, maintenance practices, golfers, animals and the neighborhood kid who plays in them at night. A bunker is an ever changing situation because he is not protected. We put a liner in them to help with this, but a bunker is still vulnerable to its open environment. Mr. Bunkers second problem is environmental factors from location such as sunlight and elevation for drainage. Take #1 greensides for an example, the right bunker in the winter gets more shade than the left one during the winter months because of the trees by the range. The right bunker will be wetter than the left because of the sun drying out the left bunker. #8 fairway bunkers have leaves constantly falling in them and tree roots growing that have to be removed compared to #16 second left fairway bunker with no trees near bunker. Some bunkers are in low areas such as #2 front greenside bunker versus #6 greenside bunker that has a higher elevation. These factors make every area a different microclimate.
As one who maintains bunkers, I recommend golfers to pay attention to the weather in the last few days. If it’s been dry and windy, the bunkers may be a little fluffy and bury a little. If it’s just rained a bunch the bottoms are going to be compacted because of wet sand. The top faces may be loose because the staff had to push up the sand from washouts. If our drainage is backed up like in the fall, the bunkers just won’t drain and you will see more compacted bottoms. See bunkers will never be consistent because our environment isn’t consistent. My staff does their best to provide the best playing conditions for that day and Mother Nature dictates how good the bunkers are going to be.
The picture below is #9 bunker after over 3 inches of rain. The black/brown is silt from grass clippings and fine soil particles from flood waters . These are fine soil particles that slow down drainage and cause a compacted bunker bottom . Our staff removes these fines and will add new sand to the bunker. This is an example of Mother Nature changing the bunkers sand composition