Golf course renovations most often tend toward increasing things: new or bigger bunkers; added tee space; replacing small, outdated greens.
But not always. Sometimes bigger isn’t always better. Last winter we completed a project that was, for our golf course anyway, a deviation from the norm.
Avalon Golf Club was designed by the late Robert Muir Graves about 25 years ago. One thing he liked to use here and there was a large, meandering bunker. I don’t know if this would be considered a trademark of his, but it was a feature he liked to incorporate into many of his designs.
Our 27-hole layout has only 58 bunkers, but in typical Graves’ fashion many of them are extremely large. Although they can be an interesting design feature, large bunkers tend to be a bit of a maintenance headache, especially in recent years when all superintendents have been trying to stretch their maintenance budget dollars. Bunkers are often the first thing on a golf course to be chosen for cutting corners.
Why bunkers? I guess I’d answer: why not? In prioritizing areas of importance on a typical golf course, I think bunker maintenance would fall somewhere behind greens, tees, collars, approaches, fairways, surrounds and primary rough. That’s pretty low on the food chain.
However, if you think about it, which of those things would you drop lower to move bunkers ahead?
Bunkers are, by definition, nothing more than a hole in the ground. Please forgive me, but I just love that definition.
OK, getting back to our project. We had a bunker on a par 3 that was rather on the lengthy side. In fact, from top to bottom it was more than 120 feet long. This is OK in many instances, but consider that from the front of the forward tee the hole was only 70 yards in length. And from the front of that tee to the front of the big bunker it was a distance of about 45 yards.
The bunker did serve a purpose in protecting the left side and the front of the green, but the excessive size of the bunker as it ran toward the tee did little except over-penalize a bad shot.
Now, I’m not saying bad shots shouldn’t be penalized. But a bad shot on a par 3 is destined to be penalized no matter where it goes – trees, thick rough, bunkers, even an approach. Just missing the green puts you behind the eight ball. Do golfers really need a 30- or 40-yard bunker shot after they duffed a tee shot on a short par 3?
The bunker was also rather steep, resulting in constant washouts with heavy rains. Over the years, the labor involved in moving sand back up to the top of the bunker after a heavy rain was rather significant. If there was ever a candidate for bunker shrinkage, this was it.
One issue we had to consider before shortening the bunker was where we were going to get the fill. We wanted to keep the money spent on the project to a minimum, so we were hoping to find suitable material on-site.
As it turns out, double shrinkage was the answer. The teeing space on the par 3 was huge. We have five sets of markers on each tee at our course. On that par 3, the black tees, for the big hitters, have their own tee we built about 12 years ago. The green markers, second longest, also have their own good-sized tee. The other three sets of markers – white, blue and gold – shared the large forward tee. When I say large, that forward tee was a good 3,500 square feet.
Don’t get me wrong, I like big tees. Being undersized on teeing ground can be a nightmare. But this tee, even though it was on a par 3, was never fully utilized, especially the first 20 yards of it. Our gold markers indicate the shortest distance on each hole. The golds on this par 3 are measured as 93 yards on the scorecard.
However, the front of that tee, as I mentioned before, was only 70 yards from the center of the green. The 93-yard monument was a good 25 yards deep into the tee. Simply put, we almost never used the first 20 to 25 yards of the tee.
So, in addition to shrinking the bunker, we ended up shrinking the tee by about 20 yards. This equated to about 1,200 square feet of eliminated tee top. The tee area, being elevated significantly, gave us a lot of quality fill for the eliminated bunker. Although it wasn’t quite enough to fill the old bunker, it was darn close.
We were able to scrape a little more material here and there and added a few inches of quality divot mix to the former bunker area. We also were able to move the sod from around the old teeing area surround to where the bunker used to be. The tee top sod was moved to a tee we extended on a different hole.
We not only saved money by not having to buy materials off-site, but future money has also been saved by eliminating the need to maintain a mostly unused bunker and teeing ground. The former tee area is now rough, so chemical and fertilizer applications, as well as water use, have decreased dramatically.
I felt good about these projects because it really seemed like we were doing our best to reuse. Reuse, recycle, repurpose. I haven’t done enough of this in the past. If anything, it has given me a taste for doing more of it in the future.
Maybe we all need to get in that mindset of eliminating here and there. Bigger does not always equate to better.
HEADER PHOTO BY: WILLARD/ESSENTIALS/ISTOCK