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Ed Oden

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A common refrain on this site is to criticize architecture and/or maintenance practices whereby fairway bunkers are encircled by rough rather than allowing fairways to flow into the bunkers with grass cut at fairway height.  Count me among the critics as I have done so on more than one occasion.  I just love the look of fairways that bleed into bunkers and I appreciate the theory that rough which stops a ball from rolling into a fairway bunker neuters the effectiveness of the bunker as a hazard.  That being said, I am at heart a pragmatist and I can’t quite squelch my suspicion that shaving bunker entrances at fairway height adds to maintenance costs with very little real world impact on play.  So let’s hash it out here and get to the bottom of the practical realities of the situation.  A few questions and thoughts to get the ball rolling (pun intended)…

Is there added cost in maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height?  If so, approximately how much?

Does shaving really materially affect the number of balls that reach most bunkers?  At my home course, the answer would probably be “No” since the rough surrounding our fairway bunkers rarely stops a ball from finding the sand.  But that may be more a function of placement than anything else as our bunkers tend to be in spots where tee shots go in on the fly or with a bounce or two.  I can see that the answer might be different at a course where bunkers are placed more in the run out area.

Doesn’t shaving play into the hands of good golfers to the detriment of high handicappers?  I suspect that most better players would prefer to be in a bunker than rough and vice versa for duffers.

Does anyone have any experience at a course that has changed its maintenance of bunker entrances from rough to fairway?  If so, what was the reaction of the membership/customer?

At the end of the day, is shaving really "worth it" or is this criticism all just GCA idealism?

Tom_Doak

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I find this topic interesting because I spent all day yesterday with Rusty Mercer, our superintendent at Streamsong, looking at maintenance issues associated with the two new courses here.

One of the things he told me was that the sand here just isn't stable enough to mow the grass at fairway height right up to the edges of the bunkers.  He doesn't know if it will firm up enough over time, or not.  But, it was easy to see that he's right ... if you even walk along the very edge of the bunker, it's so soft that the soil on the edge gives way.  It is not as simple as people assume it is.  It works at Royal Melbourne because the sand is the perfect texture and the moisture content of the sand is just right.

Patrick_Mucci

Ed,

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, but, I view it a little differently.

I understand that the maintainance issues increase, exponentially, as you get closer to the bunker.
But, that's not my primary criticism.

What I really object to is the extension of the rough further and further away from the bunker, forming a "safety net" or "buffer".

I watched as the buffering rough went from a foot, to three feet to three yards and more.

This wasn't maintainance "creep" where conditions unintentionally and benignly change, these were intentional attempts, vis maintainance practices, to make the course "more fair".

It tends to be an American phenomenon, and seems more prevalent at Country Clubs than golf clubs.

But, you even see it a great clubs like GCGC.

Certainly, with sharp edged, deep bunkers, there can be safety issues associated with "riding" to close to the bunker.
Walking mowers would be the prefered method if cost wasn't an issue.

It can be done.  It is done.  The "road hole' bunker at # 7 at NGLA is probably a good example of successful execution/maintainance.

Tom Doak puts forth a valid point, turf or soil that can't withstand the traffic.  But, not all courses are sand based, and at courses with firmer soil, I can't see the impediment from a maintainance perspective, therefore, it's one or two reasons.
Cost or Will.
I'm sure there's an incremental increase, but, I have to believe that it's not substantive, therefore, I conclude, that at many courses, it's the lack of WILL, or conversely, the desire to avoid the intended hazards.

I've also noticed that creeks/streams/ponds have been allowed to be fronted with expanded areas of "buffer" rough.

Years ago, at a club I'm very familiar with, the green committee, with which I was extremely familiar with, agreed, with the superintendent to have a buffer of no more than three (3) feet from any of the 8 streams that bisected various fairways.

Today, those buffers probably average 5 to 10 yards.

Add in all the flowers that have been planted and it's representative of the feminization of golf

Will Lozier

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I suspect that most better players would prefer to be in a bunker than rough and vice versa for duffers.


As a single digit, I would disagree with the former as it pertains to a fairway bunker.  Sitting in rough (excepting USGA-doctored rough) would be preferable to me.  In most cases, simply having to judge a lie - flier or sitting down - and having sure footing is an easier shot for me than hitting even a 7 iron or less in the bunker with a perfect lie and a best case scenario of not having to worry about getting it up over a steep face.  Of course it depends on the face of the distance from the green and a host of other factors.  But, generally speaking, I would find it advantageous to have that buffer of rough keep my ball from rolling into the bunker.  I much prefer the look and the strategy of mowing up to bunker edges because a poor shot shot result in a tougher recovery.


Ed Oden

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Pat, I agree.  There is a big difference between this...



...and this...



But just as green size can diminish gradually over time due to mowing patterns, I can see how rough "creep" could eventually make the course in the first picture look like the one in the second.

However, I think we need to distinguish between bunkers that jut out into fairways and merely have a small border of rough and those where the bunkers are located entirely in rough areas without any proximity to the fairway.  While the former may, as you suggest, reflect a lack of will, the latter would seem to me to be more an abdication of the architectural integrity.

Ed Oden

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Will, I too am a single digit.  I think it all depends on the severity of the rough.  If it is light, I would agree entirely.  But if the rough is heavy, I'll take a clean lie in a bunker any day as long as I can clear the face. 

Mike_Trenham

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St George's on Long Island is mowing more than a few areas leading into bunkers at fairway height.  It does stand out when you see it in action and you can understand how dificult it maybe to maintain.  One drawback I saw was that to do this right you open up the possibility of having to edge these aproache a lot which often leads to bunkers losing their character.

3-4 feet of rough or up to near downslope into the bunker seems like the practical solution for most courses.

Some of this buffer expansion in my opinion dates to the era of no carts in the fairways, so we created tracks between the fairways and the hazards.

What about the fairway on the green side too?  Shouldn't there be an enticement to play over the hazzards?
Proud member of a Doak 3.

Ben Sims

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Two counterpoints from an agronomic perspective.

1)  Plant Growth Regulators (PGR's) to quote my friend in Port Lavaca, TX, "is a huge part of firm and fast conditions."  I think most casual architecture fans and golfers would be surprised to know how often an area that's tight, isn't just getting mowed.  With just a little research, it's easy to see how curtailing shoot growth and promoting root growth is good for the golf conditions.  In regards to bunkers and the areas leading up to them, PGR's can reduce mowing impact in a drastic way.  

2)  Like we've all seen argued here before, by keeping bunker entry areas at a fairway height and using slopes judiciously, we can get bunkers to play quite larger than they are.  But, for many courses, there is a cost-analysis in this argument.  There is basically two ways to keep the bunker.  1--Shave it and slope it to make the bunker play big (links style) vs. its size and 2--Make the bunker bigger to catch more balls, but don't pay attention to the height and slopes surrounding (American championship style).  The cost-analysis between a bigger bunker versus more fairway and/or a highly manicured entry are something I'm not well versed on.  

My opinion is that the cost isn't the overriding factor in why bunkers tend to be rough surrounded.  Rather, I just think it's a look and playability that we've become unfamiliar with in the US.  And it probably makes more work work for the crew.  

Sean_A

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I think there are a few reasons why rough has enveloped bunkers.  In some cases it has to be money - getting off the mower to do a hand job around 75 bunkers has to cost more.  I think sometimes it is a soil issue - I even see erosion problems on links/heathland at the front of bunkers.  Although, that is usually because the lip isn't high where entering - the pit gets deeper closer to the front wall.  I think sometimes its a "natural" buffer to keep carts nowhere near bunkers - fairway is often seen as "go" areas.  

I don't know if playability is effected for rough surrounded bunkers.  We must remember that  the best of the fairway feeding bunkers gather to the sand.  I am not sure how wise this style is on parkland courses with drainage as a concern.  Often, one sees all the mounding as on a links, but it has the opposite effect of pushing balls (water) away from the bunker.  To me, if that open look is a goal it is almost as if a different design needs to be put in place.  One with fewer bunkers and placed where balls can gather, but not water - that invariably means high nose bunkers where water coming from the high area is pushed around the sand.  That makes it possible to have feeding bunkers, but the bunkers may look quite odd on flat sites.  

The usual compromise is the ring of rough around bunkers.  Ironically, on well maintained courses these look awful, but on more scruffy, natural courses they look alright.  

Even with all the issues, I think clubs can do much better than what I see on many photo tours.  That look has just become a given over time and I suspect few people question it.

Ciao
« Last Edit: November 16, 2011, 02:06:41 AM by Sean Arble »
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RDecker

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A couple of reasons why there is traditionally a choker of rough grass around a bunker:  The longer the grass the more roots produced and therefore more stability for the bunker edges which can be very fragile and tend to get a lot of foot traffic, don't want members taking a tumble when they are getting in or out of them.  Another reason is that the rough helps filter some debris from washing in during irrigation or rainfall events and helps keep alittle windblown debris out too.  In the fall in New England I can assure you this does help.  The idea of short mown turf up to the bunker edge is cool but does have it's faults.

Patrick_Mucci

Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2011, 08:31:04 AM »
Ed,

At the heart of the issue is the migration of bunkers from centerline features to flanking features.

Bunkers that jut into fairways SHOULD have the surrounding areas mowed to fairway height.
Unfortunately, these bunkers are being enveloped with larger and larger buffers of rough

RDecker

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2011, 02:33:20 PM »
Some of the blame for the increase in rough/decrease in shorter height grass, particularly fairway type areas may be due to the fact that the cost of maintaining the short mown turf has gone up exponentially in the last 5 -7 yrs. Many Supers have been forced to narrow fairways in and effort to reduce costs associated with the maintenance of these areas; irrigation, chemicals and mowing...This isn't always the case, sometimes it's just bad agrnomic practices but I do think it has happened in some instances.

Ed Oden

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2011, 12:48:44 AM »
I was looking back at some of my photos and noticed that Southern Hills does a really nice job at cutting their bunkers tight and sharp right up to the edges both in the fairways....



...and greenside...


David Nelson

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2011, 03:43:57 AM »
Ed, The great thing with thoses bunkers at Southern Hills is that they can accomadate a triplex mower to go around the bunkers thus eliminating any hand work. I tend to find that the bunkers with semi-rough around them have a roll into the bunkers that just cant be cut at fairway height without scalping.

David

RDecker

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2011, 07:28:38 AM »
Don't most shots that find a fairway bunker enter from the air, especially here in the U.S. ?  Greenside bunkers are a different story I realize...

Mark Pearce

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2011, 09:09:00 AM »
Don't most shots that find a fairway bunker enter from the air, especially here in the U.S. ?  Greenside bunkers are a different story I realize...
Not when the entrance is cut at fairway height.  Particularly on links courses contours around bunkers can significantly enlarge the playing footprint of a bunker by guiding balls that land on the fairway towards and into a bunker.  This will, of course, only happen when the fairways are firm and running.
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Bill Brightly

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #16 on: December 06, 2011, 05:21:23 PM »
A couple of reasons why there is traditionally a choker of rough grass around a bunker:  The longer the grass the more roots produced and therefore more stability for the bunker edges which can be very fragile and tend to get a lot of foot traffic, don't want members taking a tumble when they are getting in or out of them.  Another reason is that the rough helps filter some debris from washing in during irrigation or rainfall events and helps keep alittle windblown debris out too.  In the fall in New England I can assure you this does help.  The idea of short mown turf up to the bunker edge is cool but does have it's faults.

When I was grounds chair I had this discussion with our super and he agreed with what you just said. The other MAJOR problem is that it is very hard to tie in the "look" of the rough/fairway line without a major re-planting of grass (rough grass is often different than fairway grass) and a MAJOR increase in the amount of fairway that must be maintained. You can't just do this on a few holes, you have to do the entire course.

For lack of a better example, look at these bunkers at Saucon Valley and tell me where you would "start and stop" your new rough lines.


David Nelson

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #17 on: December 06, 2011, 05:34:41 PM »
Bill, I would not change the fairway lines as I think it looks good for those type of bunkers! If they wanted to have fairway cut into the bunkers they would have to raise the sandline and take out the "grass roll" into the bunkers and that would before re-seeding to fairway.

David

Joe_Tucholski

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #18 on: December 06, 2011, 05:35:45 PM »
I was looking back at some of my photos and noticed that Southern Hills does a really nice job at cutting their bunkers tight and sharp right up to the edges both in the fairways....



...and greenside...



Not on this topic but...those greens out in the open really need fans?

JMEvensky

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #19 on: December 06, 2011, 05:52:22 PM »
Joe T.--yes. Tulsa in the summer is no easy place to maintain bent greens.Every little bit helps.

Patrick_Mucci

Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #20 on: December 06, 2011, 08:18:38 PM »
Ed Oden,

You'll be happy to hear that Mountain Ridge, as part of their bunker program, is making their bunkers deeper and having the rough adjacent to many bunkers removed or lowered considerably, such that the bunkers "gather" rather than have approaching balls stopped by the safety net of rough.

Ed Oden

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #21 on: December 07, 2011, 08:39:13 PM »
Pat, that's great news.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the questions I raised in my initial post once the changes are implemented and tested by both play and maintenance.

Tim Gavrich

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #22 on: December 07, 2011, 11:10:25 PM »
I'd never thought about how bunker edges are sometimes not stable enough to tolerate a fairway-height cut flush up to them.  My question is this: is there a general standard minimum distance around an edge of a bunker where rough-height grass will stabilize it?  One foot?  One yard?  To what extent does it vary based on the species of grass that prevails?

I dream of seeing American courses cut bunkers flush to the edges of the greens, but issue of stability of the ground just off the edges of the bunkers makes perfect sense.
Senior Writer, GolfPass

GBoring

Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #23 on: December 08, 2011, 01:57:50 PM »
This is something we are currently doing with our current renovation at CC of Scranton.  Travis's origninal design had most of the fairway lines going on the outside of the greenside bunkers.  We added small amount of rough to allow people to walk in and out but for the most part the bentgrass wraps the greenside bunkers.




Tom_Doak

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Re: The practical realities of maintaining bunker entrances at fairway height
« Reply #24 on: December 08, 2011, 02:09:07 PM »
This is something we are currently doing with our current renovation at CC of Scranton.  Travis's origninal design had most of the fairway lines going on the outside of the greenside bunkers.  We added small amount of rough to allow people to walk in and out but for the most part the bentgrass wraps the greenside bunkers.



Greg:

Is mowing all that short grass around the bunkers going to cost you more?  If so, do you have an estimate of how much more?

I love the look of fairway cut right into bunkers, but the only places I've seen it work well are overseas ... in Melbourne and in Scotland.  In the U.S., I'm not sure if it's because of the soils, or because the standard of fairway turf is just too high to keep up in these areas, or whether it's something else entirely.

I know that we were hoping to get a similar look at Streamsong, but the superintendent, Rusty Mercer, does not know if it will ever work there.  The sand there dries out so quickly on top that the edges of the bunkers won't withstand the weight of a mower, at least so far.  Perhaps in time it will work, but he is not sure if he will ever be able to get the moisture content of the soil to where it would support this look.  And Rusty is not a wimp ... he is really trying, but the soil just won't hold together for what we would like to do.

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