As superintendents, we are faced with a myriad of daily challenges. One of the most constant challenges we face is our effort to provide quality conditions is our bunkers. Survey after survey of our clientele, be they members or daily users, invariably places “consistency of bunkers” at the top of the list of things that need to be improved. While managing moisture levels within bunkers is extremely challenging given the different greens’ complex configurations with their differing micro-climates, slopes, shade and watering characteristics, it is possible to effectively present consistent sand depth. At Wood Ranch, an American Golf Corp. owned private club in Simi Valley, Calif., we have established a simple yet effective routine process for producing consistency in our bunker sand depth.
When I arrived at Wood Ranch in 2008, bunkers were indeed at the top of the list, primarily for lack of depth of sand, causing many players to come in contact with the underlying soil. Before ordering any additional sand, we set about mapping out the existing conditions. This mapping must be done first to avoid ordering unnecessary sand. The mapping process is ongoing and forms the basis for all future work and allows us to focus in on the bunkers and indeed specific areas within the bunkers that need attention.
A probe was used to check the depth and then our Toro Sandpro was used to move the sand around. The material was raked in and the Sandpro was driven over the bunker with the rear rake elevated to compact the sand. A final rake by hand and we were done.
It could be as simple as this:
OBSERVATIONS AND REGULAR AUDITS
The key to the whole operation is to be regular in your audits. After three years of our process, we are to the point that we have four quarterly total audits in which we do all fairway and green bunkers (75 bunkers). This takes us one week. We usually assign four to six people to work from 5:30 to 10 a.m. (lunch) and then add two more in the afternoon from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. This allows us to get our course set up and mowing done. Total for the week is approximately 200 - 275 hours.
In addition to our quarterly audits are the eight monthly audits of our key, heavily-used bunkers. All 24 bunkers can be done in two mornings with six people for a total of 52 hours. Time varies with climate and we expect time to be longer after significant or sustained rain.
The final piece of the process is to communicate to your patrons. At Wood Ranch, I have a one-page weekly update in written form that is sent to staff and posted on our club’s website, as well as emailed to my Greens Committee who in turn email blast it out to their respective groups. I also update my golf course blog site with pictures of the process. I also ask that any bunkers of concern be made known to us through the monthly greens committee meeting. I have had great success by addressing a member’s specific bunker and this responsiveness has improved the overall view of the maintenance operation.
Will the audit stop the complaints? Absolutely not. But the audit is a simple and effective tool for improving the consistency of the depth of the sand in your bunkers.
Dave Coote is superintendent at Wood Ranch Golf Course, Simi Valley, Calif. Check out his blog at www.woodranchgc.blogspot.com.