Bunker rakes, we're not 100% sure when they became a fixture on golf courses around the world, but just about every course, no matter the class, has scores, if not 100s of them, scattered within or around their course's many bunkers.
As golf courses adjust operations for a more socially-distant and less germy future, we're going to see a lot of changes this year, and some may stick permanently. I recently interviewed Brady Wilson, the general manager at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, one of the top Troon-managed golf courses in Phoenix-Scottsdale. Their Australian Sandbelt-inspired design is full of big, heavily crafted bunkers, over 400,000-square-feet of sand in total. For a mostly flat and featureless site compared to some of the more geographically remarkable desert courses in the area like Troon North or We-Ko-Pa, the sculpting and upkeep of the bunkers is really the standout cosmetic feature of the experience.
Expectations for conditioning in this upscale golf market, especially in the winter and spring, are sky high. Nevertheless, staff at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes have removed rakes for COVID-19 safety, and Wilson says, at this time, they are considering leaving them in the shed moving forward.
"Pace of play is faster, our superintendent loves not having to move them around," said Wilson (his full interview is in the embedded video above). "I don't know if bunker rakes make that big of a difference. Obviously for championship play you probably need to have them.
"On a day-to-day basis, you have a local rule you can get relief from a bad lie in the bunker and still play in that same bunker no closer to the hole, I don't see why that would affect posting a score or mild competition at the club."
I see reviews every week here at Golf Advisor coming from golfers upset that they were in a trap that hadn't been raked by a previous golfer. Fixing divots and pitch marks are an essential task for golfers and critical to the enjoyment of all players. But is raking your footsteps in a trap similarly necessary?
In the handful of rounds I've played at municipal and lower-end courses around home this spring during COVID-19 modifications, I've encountered some bunkers that are scruffier than they used to be. Some grass is growing around the edges, and in a round I played a day after heavy rainfall, I had to move my ball out of standing water in the center of one and give myself a decent lie on the peripheral of the trap where it wasn't sopping wet. The sand was still pretty packed in and wet. I actually hit a decent shot to 5 feet but missed the par save.
The traps I've seen this spring have generally been maintained to lesser standards. But I can't say that my enjoyment of the round was affected. In some ways, not having a perfect lie in a bunker has made me less tense over the shot. My expectations are a little lowered. And when I hit a good shot out of a bad lie, I feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
And I must admit I am enjoying the sensation of being able to hit a bunker splash and just stroll right out of it without any additional chores.