Featured photo: Crew members refresh a bunker with rakes and squeegees Friday night to ready the course for Saturday’s third round. Photo credit: Lawrence Aylward
Baltusrol’s new-look bunkers are all the rage. The sand was a topic of discussion among golf maintenance insiders during the PGA Championship, particularly the way it was maintained, looked and and held up under harsh weather.
For the record: The bunkers on Baltusrol’s Lower Course played fairly, looked exceptional and held up decidedly against the several inches of rain that Mother Nature dumped on the course during the tournament.
“They were spectacular,” said Mark Kuhns, Baltusrol’s director of grounds.
What distinguishes the bunkers is their walls, which are rolled by squeegees to make the sand firm, giving them a smooth, almost-concrete-like appearance. The bunkers’ bottoms are raked smoothly, sans furrows. The clean-up ring is performed first and the sand is raked from the edge.
The new maintenance technique was implemented at Baltusrol last fall. During a grounds committee meeting, a member suggested the club consider implementing the look, which he had seen at another course he visited.
A few bunkers were tested and deemed a hit by members. Then all of the bunkers on the Lower Course transformed to the maintenance method, which was also later implemented on Baltusrol’s Upper Course.
“I didn’t like the idea at the beginning, but, man, I am sold on it now,” Kuhns says. “It is such a cool look, and the bunkers don’t wash out [during a normal rain]. We had 1.1 inches of rain [last Monday night] and not one bunker was washed out.”
For tournaments, bunkers are normally raked all the way to the edges, but Kuhns said Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer of the PGA of America, liked the idea of the squeegee-packed bunkers for the PGA Championship.
“You are never going to have a plugged ball or a fried-egg lie on the side of these bunkers,” Kuhns says, noting their firmness.
These days, most golfers want the perfect bunker, Kuhns adds.
“They don’t want balls to stick on the banks. They want the ball to roll down where it’s nice and flat and have that sand fluffed just enough to give them the perfect lie,” he says.
Something else is gone besides the fried-egg lies — golfers’ gripes.
“All the complaining about the bunkers has gone away,” Kuhns says. “My life has gotten much easier.”
Kuhns flashes a wry smile.
“I can now retire!” he jokes.