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the life of a bunker

How long should a bunker last? I’m amazed at the different methods I see when I go into a project on a golf course that’s been around 50, 60, even 80 years and someone says, "Oh, we’ve got to rebuild all of our bunkers; they’re worn out. "

Well, how do you wear out a bunker? And if the bunkers are where they were originally meant to be in the greens complexes, why do you need to completely demolish everything in order to replace bunkers? I say you don’t.

What it really comes down to is maintenance. Lack of maintenance on bunkers is what causes them to wear out. A good analogy for me is gutters on a house. If a person has gutters on their house and they allow the leaves to pile up and pile up for 3 or 4 years, eventually the gutters won’t drain, they rust out, and eventually you have to replace them. The same theory applies to bunkers; I frequently see bunkers on a golf course which aren’t on a rotating maintenance schedule and the next thing you know the greens committee is saying, “Our bunkers don’t drain; we need to rebuild them.”

What they actually need to do is put their bunkers on a rotating maintenance schedule, say 5-10 bunkers per winter. This maintenance consists of coming in with a hose, checking the drainage on the bunker, removing the sand and using it to top-dress the chipping areas, approaches, or even the fairways. Then the maintenance crew cleans out the drainage, the gravel, replaces all of that and puts in new pipe. While the sand is out, you can put a new edge on the bunker, or if you’d like to change the design of the facing, put a sod wall on it, whatever you want to do. In the end, those same bunkers will continue to function much longer than if we just allow bunkers to sit there until they are so contaminated that they have to have a major overhaul.

Thus, bunker work and bunker replacement should be an in-house job. It shouldn’t be that clubs feel that every ten years or so they have to have someone come in and rebuild their bunkers. It’s a significant expense and in most cases it’s not necessary.

Now, due to new technology and the general lengthening of courses, it may be the case that some fairway bunkers need to be moved in order to preserve the strategy of the original intent; therefore, you might build new fairway bunkers here and there, but greens bunkers should last for a long, long time. So I think a golf club can protect the integrity of its design in a much more efficient manner by placing the bunkers on a rotating maintenance schedule, keeping the drains clean, and managing most of the bunker work in-house.

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"For architect Mike Young, a veteran of the Georgia golf scene and also busy in Central America, this could be his much-deserved breakthrough course. Long Shadow combines two styles, with a front nine through wooded riverfront land and a back nine that is discernibly more open and heathlands in style, with a bolder, more scattered approach to bunkering. Unity in the composition comes by virtue of the rough-hewn fescues and native grasses that frame the holes. "

-BRADLEY S. KLEIN, Golfweek