By David Markham
After a test project a few years ago meant to serve as a demonstration, a major revamp of the “Billy bunkers” at Heritage Park Golf Course was undertaken this summer and was substantially completed in August. Officials expect this project will improve both play and maintenance at the course.
Bunkers are also known as sand traps, and under the rules of golf are defined as a “specially prepared area intended to test the player's ability to play a ball from the sand.” The name comes from the origins of the game, when the earliest courses were laid over linksland, on which naturally occurring small deep sand pits were known as bunkers.
“Heritage Park Golf Course was built in 1990 and after 30 years, the bunkers became both a maintenance issue and a play issue,” explained assistant Superintendent of Parks & Golf Courses Devin Wetzel. “After any significant rainfall, the bunkers filled up with water and required many hours, and sometimes days, of pumping and raking to get back into play.”
“The first day I got here two years ago, all the golfers asked ‘when would we be getting new bunkers,’” added Heritage Park Golf Course Superintendent Ethan Shamet. “Some of the course’s bunkers were redone periodically through the years, but never to this standard. The practice bunker was competed a couple years ago to test out this new system and served as support for this investment.”
While trading out old sand for new may sound like a relatively simple process, Wetzel explained that there was a lot more involved in this project.
“All of the existing sand was removed and the bunker edges were redefined for improved playability, aesthetics, and ease of maintenance,” he said. “All the drain lines were checked, repaired, and replaced as needed to ensure the bunkers will be functioning for many years to come. After the drains were corrected, pea gravel was installed and then the most significant process occurred with the application of a polymer that sets up the pea gravel to act as a porous but solid layer that allows rainwater to drain but also prevents the bunkers from washing out during rain events. After a day of curing, specially-selected sand from Jefferson City (Mo.) was delivered and installed to provide the finish product.”
The original plan was for this project to start in late spring and take only a couple of weeks, but complications set in when the full amount of the specified sand for the bunkers was not immediately available.
“To our surprise, we were unable to receive all of the sand to finish the project at one time and we were forced to wait nearly two months to finish the last couple of bunkers,” Wetzel said. “Luckily, we have some understanding patrons and the project was completed at the end of August with great support from our customers.”
Despite the delay, patrons have been pleased with the new bunkers.
“Every golfer I have heard from loves them, because they can actually play out of them,” Shamet said. “I’ve heard some say they haven’t played out of them in seven to eight years. They just took a free drop and moved on. With the bunkers being re-done, I think we will be asked to host more local tournaments in the area.”
With the success of the HPGC project, plans are being made to replace the bunkers at JCPRD’s other course, Tomahawk Hills Golf Course next year.
“We are exploring renovation of Tomahawk’s bunkers in 2023,” Wetzel said. “Both courses have continuous financial needs each year and with our golf operations having so much success in consecutive years, we will continue to invest back into our courses to provide a great experience to our patrons.”