The Great Rake Debate

While playing in a recent golf event, I was the recipient of a rather unlucky bounce, as my perfectly-struck approach shot to the green hit a rake and deflected into a bunker (where the ball came to rest, no less, in the middle of an unraked footprint.)

While playing in a recent golf event, I was the recipient of a rather unlucky bounce, as my perfectly-struck approach shot to the green hit a rake and deflected into a bunker (where the ball came to rest, no less, in the middle of an unraked footprint.)

As a golf purist, I accept that bad bounces like this are part of the game (and are equalled by the inordinate number of good/lucky bounces that I get). But I still couldn’t avoid grumbling at the Golf Gods, and wondering if there was a better way to place rakes on a course.

We get a lot of mail from readers concerning rake placement. Should they go inside the bunker? Outside the bunker? Should they be eliminated altogether?

There are many viewpoints across the country. At many clubs, the policy is for rakes to be placed in the centre/base of the bunker, pointed in (or parallel to) direction of play.

“Our fairway contouring is designed to feed balls towards bunkers,” explains The Links Kennedy Bay’s Peter Whittle. “Having rakes outside of bunkers could stop this occurring and subsequently aid the player who should be penalised for not playing far enough away from the hazards.”

Aaron Newnham, Director of Golf at Royal Melbourne, offers a similar viewpoint.

“With Royal Melbourne’s extensive bunkering configurations, leaving rakes outside of bunkers wasn’t an option,” he says. “It was believed that too many would go missing, they would be placed on bunker islands and it would detract from the playability and look of the course.”

Other courses ask players to place rakes outside of the bunkers, either along the edge, or in a “strategic entry position”.

“We adopted this policy because we found that bunker rakes were being left in inappropriate locations,” explains Ian Robertson, GM of Green Acres in Kew. “This was neither assisting members to properly rake the bunkers, nor would they leave the rake in the proper position for the next golfer. The current system is working well but—like pitch repairs on greens and divot repairs – reminders are ongoing.”

“At all my past Clubs over 15 years, the policy of rakes has been the traditional ‘leave in centre, parallel with the line of play’ option,” says Ben Telley, GM of The Eastern Golf Club. “At Eastern, a number of years ago, the Golf Committee decided to trial them outside the bunkers. This remains the policy at the present time and the Golf Committee are satisfied it is working. So which is better? Personally, I have seen little evidence to support one or the other.”

While there aren’t any official rules about rake placement, the USGA recommends placing rakes outside the bunker and parallel to the line of play, preferably along the outer edge of the bunker:

“There is not a perfect answer for the position of rakes, but on balance it is felt there is less likelihood of an advantage or disadvantage to the player if rakes are placed outside of bunkers.”

“It may be argued that there is more likelihood of a ball being deflected into or kept out of a bunker if the rake is placed outside the bunker. It could also be argued that if the rake is in the bunker it is most unlikely that the ball will be deflected out of the bunker.

“However, in practice, players who leave rakes in bunkers frequently leave them at the side which tends to stop a ball rolling into the flat part of the bunker, resulting in a much more difficult shot than would otherwise have been the case. This is most prevalent at a course where the bunkers are small. When the ball comes to rest on or against a rake in the bunker and the player must proceed under Rule 24-1, it may not be possible to replace the ball on the same spot or find a spot in the bunker which is not nearer the hole.”

“Also, if a rake is in the middle of a large bunker it is either not used or the player is obliged to rake a large area of the bunker resulting in unnecessary delay.

So what is the answer?

While a uniform policy across all courses in the country could be beneficial, the nuances and characteristics of each course and club would make this highly unlikely. (Though it should be noted that Golf Australia, in their Administration manual for preparation of bunkers for elite competition, requires rakes be placed outside of bunkers.)

Perhaps we should borrow ideas from the US, where some courses have rakes attached to buggies, or with players carrying their own? In other courses, rakes are stored in vertical tubes that are sunken below ground level, so that only the tines are shown.

Maybe we should all just take a page out of the book from courses like WA’s Secret Harbour, where bunkers are purposely NOT raked. If you get stuck into a bunker, you simply pick up your ball, wipe a nice lie in the sand, and place your ball. While this may bother the golf purist, this gives all players an equal chance, avoids those impossible “Footprint lies”, and eliminates the need (and costs) for rakes and bunker maintenance. It also speeds up play a bit, especially for the higher handicapper who has enough trouble escaping the sand at the best of times.

Or, we could go the whole hog and heed the words of legend Peter Thomson, and simply not rake them at all, and transform bunkers into a real hazard. Because, after all, we shouldn’t be in there in the first place, right?

One thing is certain: it is up to the members to do the right thing, and follow their club’s policy.

“It comes back to communication of the policy to members and for members to implement the policy,” Telley says. “Sadly, it is another aspect that falls in to the same category as ‘divots’, ‘pitchmarks’ etc.  Whilst the majority do the right thing, a small minority for whatever reason don’t and that is frustrating for everyone at a Club.”

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