Many things have changed in the game of golf since the world was ensnared in the COVID-19 pandemic. Common touch points such as ball washers and water coolers quickly were removed from courses around the U.S. On the maintenance side, golf crews have had to stagger their arrival times, stay out of the shop and take their lunch break to an outdoor area.
Some of these changes are here to stay, and some are surely temporary. So where does the bunker rake fall in this discussion? Like the flagstick, it’s a common touch point. But is it necessary?
Accessory companies have gotten creative and now offer bunker rakes intended for the golfer to carry in their bag or on their cart. Meanwhile, courses around the country have either removed or limited the number of rakes left out on the course.
George Waters, manager, USGA Green Section education and author of “Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes the Game,” says the treatment of bunker rakes in the pandemic makes for an interesting debate.
“There are lots of positives from superintendents (to remove them),” Waters says. “The rough mowers don’t have to get off mowers to pick them up … anecdotally, it will speed up play … they all have to be picked up off the course in winter … they can break and they’re surprisingly expensive.”
John Daniels, USGA Green Section agronomist, central region, says he thinks courses will stick with a greatly reduced number of rakes, or even no rakes at all.
“I think we’ll see a number of courses that will just encompass that daily raking before rounds go out … and expect golfers to brush aside any deep footprints,” Daniels says. “I personally have no problem with not having rakes out. Being a golfer, going to play, I can tell you a lot of the courses I play, people don’t know how to use a rake or understand that it’s part of the game.”
Daniels sees the removal of bunker rakes being not only good for crews, but also for the game.
“I think the ease of being able to mow around these bunkers and not have to have the employee get off every five or six feet to move a rake, could provide some serious labor savings over the course of the year,” he says. “I would like to see bunkers become more challenging, all the way from the professional level to the municipality down the street. Bunkers by and large, the expectations have gotten out of hand. There’s one way for bunkers to go: more challenging.”
Waters agrees that the bunker rake is a tool that many golfers struggle with, calling it an “art form” to properly rake a bunker. But he doesn’t think the golfing public is ready for a world with no rakes.
“You could have fewer (rakes). It’s become such an expected part of course presentation. I’m comfortable with bunkers being imperfect, printed, from an architectural standpoint. But it’s a sea change the game isn’t ready for. But maybe not five rakes around a bunker?” Waters asks. “I’m just not sure the world is ready to remove rakes … but I think that golfers have at least temporarily adjusted their expectations.”