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.