Let’s Get Rid of All the Bunker Rakes!

Eighteenth hole, Pine Valley: many bunkers, no rakes.

Eighteenth hole, Pine Valley: many bunkers, no rakes.

Many golfers, rather than savoring the game’s sublime inconsistency, yearn for courses as predictable as tennis courts. They grumble when greens aren’t flawless, when fairways aren’t uniformly carpet-like, when sand is either too fluffy or not fluffy enough.

Complaints about “unfair” bunkers are especially contrary to the spirit of the game: aren’t hazards supposed to be hazardous? On TV, the standard greenside-bunker shot is about as thrilling to watch as a two-foot putt. You know the guy is going to spin it close, and he knows he’s going to spin it close—otherwise, he wouldn’t have yelled “Get in the bunker!” when his ball was in the air. Sand’s function in a tour event is often just to make the surrounding grass seem troublesome.

There’s a simple remedy: follow the example of Pine Valley, the legendary New Jersey golf club, which for decades has been listed at or near the top of nearly every ranking of the best courses in the world. Pine Valley has many, many bunkers—some small, some large, some soft, some hard, some coffin-shaped, some bottomless, some seemingly miles across, some filled with vegetation—but no rakes. If your ball ends up in a footprint (or behind a rock or under a cactus), that’s your tough luck. Deal with it.

Rake-free bunkers would make televised golf more interesting. They would even be good for choppers like you and me. Pristine, consistent bunkers are expensive to build and maintain. Why not let a course’s sandy areas take care of themselves, and spend the savings on something more obviously beneficial, like cutting back overgrown trees? Most golfers can’t hit sand shots, anyway. Everyone else either would learn an arsenal of new shots or would get better at doing what bunkers are supposed to make golfers want to do: stay out of them in the first place.

My home course became Pine Valley-like in late November, when our superintendent put bunker rakes away till spring.

My home course becomes quite Pine Valley-like in late November, when our superintendent puts all the bunker rakes away till spring.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Get Rid of All the Bunker Rakes!

  1. Totally agree, bunkers on most US and modern European courses aren’t real hazards. My ‘home course’ is a 1912 links, the fairway bunkers are a guaranteed shot lost and most greenside bunkers are so deep and steep that you don’t go for pins near one. Tough bunkers make the game more interesting, no matter how you achieve that.

  2. I’m fine with not raking from day to day but competitions require as level a playing field (pun intended) as possible, otherwise the first golfers out have an advantage in a controllable situation. They may even take a few strolls through the bunkers just for the hell of it. Weather is out of our hands, but much as I like the idea, going rakeless wouldn’t be very popular in tournaments. Do we know whether this is an issue at Pine Valley?

  3. The bunkers at Pine Valley are groomed frequently, but there are never rakes. If you dig your feet into the sand to play an explosion shot, you’re supposed to sort of tidy up after yourself, with your feet, but there are a number of holes on which the path from tee to fairway, or fairway to fairway, or fairway to green is through sand. Guys who play there a lot know a lot more bunker shots than you and I do, that’s for sure.

  4. Totally agree ,and i did it.I’m a superintendant at a public 27 holes near Montreal.
    I took off the rakes last year and they will stay off.We kept a rake on every cart for tournaments only.Bunkers are Machine raked almost every morning.Bunkers are all nice in the morning when the fees are high and a bit less nice in the afternoon when the fees are at the lowest, quality goes with the priced payed, its only normal.We ask the golfers to even out sand with their foot before leaving bunker.Only a few golfers were using the rakes before anyway, of course they are the ones complaining now but it is still a minority.Others just don’t care…bunkers are hell anyway for the average golfers, raked or not.
    Keep golf simple, keep it alive.

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