• Richard Mandell

Toss The Rakes! All of Them!

I once got chastised for not raking a bunker “properly” when caddying at the 1989 LPGA Greater Washington Open as my player was miss-aligning herself to a first round 85 and a quick WD. Just for the record, what my player recognized was someone else’s ball mark that was previously at her back. Nonetheless, that is part and parcel of the ‘plight of the tour caddy’. This was in my last summer of freedom before I interned as a golf architect the following year and went down the path I am currently on.


One other fond memory of absolute sand bunker abuse I recall was watching a young woman simply drive her cart right through the back left bunker of the fourth hole at Rye Golf Club in Rye New York about five years prior to my Bethesda Country Club caddying experience. Of course, there are many places in the world where one is actually expected to drive through sand bunkers and the golfers have to deal with tire tracks or anything else for that matter. Purists call these bunkers ‘waste areas’ and so they are therefore exempt from the perfect conditioning that is expected in a more ‘formal’ sand bunker.


I am not sure when people were first expected to rake after themselves nor am I clear on when it became a regular maintenance practice. I did recently read a golf course maintenance book from 1931 which referenced rakes on golf courses, though. So at some level the rake has been a part of the routine for at least eighty years.


There was once a time when a sand bunker was truly considered a hazard and they were feared by golfers. Nowadays, more man-hours are put into sand bunker maintenance than putting surfaces. We have already listened to at least two decades of television commentators remarking how the U. S. Open participant would rather find a sand bunker than the rough.


Over the past decade or so we have certainly seen attention ramped when it comes to bunker maintenance. I have heard of numerous clubs replacing sand mere months after a complete bunker renovation project because the members were not happy with the sand consistency. Frankly, it’s not pizza dough. It is SAND, a hazard, a feature that was born out of the whole concept of erosion.


Here’s another one: I was recently asked by a general manager why the bunkers at one particular club were so inconsistent only to learn from the superintendent that he actually irrigates some bunkers to firm up the sand! I have since learned that this is somewhat of a common practice.


I say ditch ‘em. Ditch every single one of them. Throw all the world’s bunker rakes away. Why should we have to do yard work at a place we specifically chose to visit instead of our own backyards? Let the sand bunker be a challenge hazard as it was meant to be. Play it where it lies! So there is my rant.


Now that I have it out of my system, let’s talk about the practical applications of this simple and possibly very cost-effective idea. First of all, think of how much time we can eliminate from our daily rounds of golf by not having to seek out a rake, possibly retrieve it from the opposite side of the hazard from where we stand, work on carefully smoothing the sand (utilizing proper technique), and then carefully rake ourselves out of the bunker. It’s worse than mopping a kitchen. I bet we could shave fifteen to maybe thirty minutes off a typical round of golf among four high-handicappers.


Now realize how many man-hours a golf course maintenance crew could save by eliminating this task from their daily routines. Those bunkers we first encounter are already perfectly smooth each day, and it isn’t the deer from the night before (or young Bobby and Darlene from the night before either). On average, a club spends twelve to fifteen man-hours a day hand raking sand bunkers. This can translate to an annual savings of about $40,000 a year. That may not be a lot when considering the higher-end clubs, but for others, that can equate to ten to fifteen percent of a total maintenance budget.


Less savings can be realized from machine raking, but that process brings about a whole set of problems trying to fix the damage a sand pro machine imparts on a sand bunker’s edges. Constant repair is the norm at most clubs and renovations occur at a more rapid pace as sand is constantly displaced and the bunker loses its form and integrity.


Of course, the professional golfer will look to hang me from the nearest limb or impale me with a rake, but there was a day when the professional did not have the course conditioning luxuries they have today. These guys are the most talented golfers on the planet. They should be able to extricate themselves from a footprint every now and then. Heck, they even have a club specially designed to get out of the sand! It’s called a sand wedge.

So there you go, a novel idea to speed up play, cut expenses, and bring back yet another lost reminder of the original spirit of the game! Regardless of where we go from here, keep your cart out of the sand.


About Richard: Richard Mandell runs Richard Mandell Golf Architecture in Pinehurst, North Carolina (www.golf-architecture.com). Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).


Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008

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