The Changing Faces of Bunkers

Turfhugger is making an effort to bring you innovative solutions from the professionals using them. In his first contribution to Turfhugger Joe Jemsek discusses Bunker faces and some design options that can ease required maintenance inputs.

I often hear superintendents complain about the difficultly and expense of maintaining their bunker faces. Superintendents who maintain flat sand and grass faced bunkers need additional irrigation, especially on south facing slopes, while superintendents who have flashed sand and grass fingers require additional hours of hand work. What can golf course designers and superintendents to do?

I've been trying to help make the superintendents life a little easier by changing grass types on bunker faces to reduce required inputs and ease maintenance practices. I first came across this a few years ago during an afternoon round at the Piping Rock Club Country in Locust Valley, NY. While walking up the first fairway and admiring the principal nose bunker complex I noticed the faces were not planted in bluegrass, but something different. They seemed to be planted with Zoysia. Note: redlined areas on the third hole pictured below.

 3rd Hole at Piping Rock Country Club 

Having established Zoysia grass on fairways and primary rough of my first design, Summer Grove Golf Club in Newnan, GA, I was familiar with the grass, but I would have thought Long Island was about 400 miles to far North to grow Zoysia grass. I thought wrong, with an average high temperature above 40 degrees through the winter, this climate was able to sustain the grass. With the benefits of late wake up, drought tolerance and disease resistance; these bunkers faces require less maintenance in Spring and Fall and no hand watering to survive the hot summer months.

In the South, I’ve had success in using Zoysia in bunker faces and division slopes. Its drought and shade tolerance allows for more constant year round playing conditions then its Bermuda counterparts.  At The Resort at Village Creek course near Wynne, AR, grassing choices were difficult because the course lies within the transition zone between warm and cool season grasses. The emerald green color of the Zorro Zoysia from Double Springs Grass Farms allows the flat sanded bunkers to really stand out especially when the bluegrass from the outer roughs goes off color during the height of the summer. These bunkers have gone a long way to help the course provide first class conditions while operating on a minimal budget.  

5th Hole at The Resort at Village Creek

Closer to home in the Chicago area, I have been specifying a mix of a highlands fescues from Tee-2-Green available from Arthur Clesen. At Plum Tree National Golf Club in Harvard, IL we have seeded select fingers and backs of the flashed sand bunkers. Because of the concern with turf density within the fescue areas, Mark Friedman, golf course superintendent, plans a low fertility program and will adjust the irrigation heads to exclude fescue areas after establishment. He hopes to reduce mowing and maintain these areas thin and wispy giving a rustic prairie look to the club’s bunkers.
Note: Newly seeded bunker eye-brows below.

7th Hole at Plum Tree National Golf Club               

13th Hole at Plum Tree National Golf Club

No matter where a course is located get innovative and look at alternative grassing scenarios to help solve bunker face problems. The reduction in mowing, hand watering, and chemical applications can easily provide a quick payback for any capitol expenses and any reduction in a maintenance program will benefit not only the club but the environment.  

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Joe and Scott,

Growing up in Philadelphia, I saw a lot of Supts use Zoysia on bunker faces. I never cared for it aesthetically since it was dormant for about half of the golf season although functionally it worked well. And then there was always wild garlic and onion in the zoysia that was plainly visible all year except for the summer.

In cool season climates consider adding yarrow to the bunker mix along with fine fescues, blue and sheeps. The yarrow should be white, pastel or red, not the yellow which is a different species. Yarrow has very strong rhizomes and will hold the bunker lips together, needs no additional fertilizer, probably needs less than half as much water as fescues, and yarrow can be left unmowed or mowed even down to fairway height.

We used this successfully at Sagebrush.

I'll be writing a post about Yarrow on bunkers soon. I've got some photos from your Sagebrush project that will be very useful.

Thanks Armen.