Steps and Stages to building a bunker
If you are like me (and let’s hope for your sake that this isn’t the case…), you may have thought that there is not much involved in creating a bunker. You dig a hole, put some sand in it, and call it a day (or an hour..cause really how long can it take to dig a hole and put some sand in it).
Truth is, the sand bunkers on any golf course are one of the key elements to the design, look, and feel of a facility. Kananaskis Country Golf Course has always been known for it’s big beautiful bunkers with the bright white silica sand. In the early days there were more rumors and wives tales about the sand traps at our facility than there are today with Taylor Swift, the Kardashians, and Donald Trump…combined. And that was without the help of Social Media back in 1983! Our beautiful white silica sand has always come from just outside Golden BC; contrary to the popular rumors it was brought in by helicopter from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the Florida Keys.
But Sand traps are much, much more than just a hole beside a green with beautiful sand put in it. Many architects put their stamp on a golf course design through certain features like Sand Traps, Green complexes, and tee boxes. Robert Trent Jones Sr. was known for expansive sand traps and he wanted to use the brighter, white sand at the Kananaskis site because of it’s ability to mimic and represent the beautiful snow capped mountains that surround these two beautiful courses.
Having the privilege of getting to see with my own eyes the hard work that goes into the construction of a sand trap, I wanted to share the different steps that are involved in the construction of a Sand trap out here at Kananaskis Country Golf Course.
Rough Shaping – Part 1
The very first thing you want to do is find yourself the very best artist to help you create these bunkers. That’s right, I said artist! Our project has been very fortunate to have the talents of Dennis Poirier to help us bring our green and bunker shaping to life by taking architect Gary Browning’s ideas and vision on paper and translating those to dirt! Having the pleasure of watching Dennis do the rough shaping, it is unbelievable to see him transform an area into a bunker using only a plan from our architect and then hoping into his dozer!
Once Dennis is done his work, this is what a finished sand trap looks like.
2. Rough Shaping – Part 2
Once Dennis is done his work, it is time for the Mini Excavators to come in and do their work. Remove the dozer tracks and give definition to the contours, bays, and mounding inside the bunkers edges.
As mentioned, my understanding of the process was not very good as it related to building bunkers. One of the steps to building a bunker that I definitely didn’t quite grasp was the importance of Drainage. While I knew that bunkers needed to be able to handle water when it rained a lot or if they were close to irrigation, that was about all that I gave any thought to. Now, after these photos and this blog, you and I both know that there is much more involved with ensuring that a bunker drains so that we both have a better surface to hit out of when things are a tad wet out on the course!
Our fantastic team of Drainage experts are led by the team of Matt Mitchell and Christian Wilson throughout the course (not just in bunkers). Their expertise and attention to detail will better ensure that our courses drain better than ever! Matt is on the left and Christian on the right!
Once the rough shaping is done, Matt will dig a herringbone pattern into the bunker. Once the trenches have been dug, the base of the trench is covered with pea gravel (7 mm size) and then drainage tile is placed on top of the pea gravel. The final stage of this phase is that the drainage tile is then covered with pea gravel to fill up the trench that had been dug.
The grades of the rough shaping, the drainage tile and the pea gravel all help to create a channel for all of the excess moisture in the bunker to find a way out and preserve a nice surface to play out of rain or shine! Here is a bit of a closer look at the drainage tile.
The size of the bunker will determine how much drainage needs to be put in. Obviously the bigger the trap, the more herringbone trenches dug into the bottom of the bunker. Here are a few different sized bunkers with the drainage already put into them to give you an idea of what I mean!
4) “Painting the lines”
Once the bunker rough shaping and drainage are done, lines are painted around the inside of the bunker to help our construction team understand where the boundary of the grass and bunker sand are going to be. This part of the bunker construction process is important because it dramatically impacts the look and feel of the bunkers as well as the functionality of how well the bunkers can be maintained by the turfgrass team once the golf course is open. Once the lines are painted, drainage tile is nailed to the ground with massive 12″ spike nails to hold it in place.
This image below is what the finished product looks like once the entire bunker has drainage tile nailed around it.
5) Final shaping of the top of the areas to be grassed above the Bunker
Some of the artistry that surrounds the look and feel of the bunker is the screened topsoil that we bring in around the bunkers to help give it rounded shapes and interesting curves rather than just being flat. In this department we have a phenomenal group of talent led by Dan Philcox and his team that includes Brady Richardson and Zack Skotherm
Here is a time elapse video of their handywork around the greens
Here are some photos of them doing what they do!!!
6) Compaction of Bunker Floor
One of the final stages of building a bunker is the compaction of the bunker floor before placing sand in the trap. Once again, Brady and Zack are the two who get to take on this physically demanding job. Once they have completed all 120+ traps on both courses, they both be in pretty damn good shape!
Here is a time elapse video of their work here:
7) The addition of Beautiful White Silica Sand
Once all of the prep work has happened, the crew is finally prepared for White Silica Sand. Sand is placed into the bunkers before grass has been brought in to the hole in order to save the new grass from being driven over it by heavy trucks carrying 20 tonnes of bunker sand at once! The white silica sand is placed into the bunker with the assistance of a Rock Slinger truck which more evenly distributes the sand. The specs call for 6 inches of sand to be delivered into each trap. This 6″ will eventually compact down to an ideal height of 4″ inside each bunker.
Here is a time elapse video of the Rock Slinger truck placing sand into the right green side bunker on 7 Lorette
8) Marrying up grass with Sand
The final phase of Bunker construction involves the laying of sod on the upper portion of the bunker on top of the drainage tile. After the grass has had some time to mature and root in, the drainage tile between the White Sand and the green grass will be removed. The grass will be shaped as per the architect’s vision and the sand will be pulled up to meet the grass so that there is as much visibility of the bunkers as possible from different positions on the golf course. At the time of creating this blog we have not yet laid sod, so we are unable to provide any images of this!
In summary, I hope you can see that there is much more to building a bunker than most golfers give credit to. Next time you have the fortune or misfortune of getting into a trap, you will have the ability to better appreciate all of the steps and hard work in construction that preceded your errant shot from getting into the beautiful White Silica sand at Kananaskis Country Golf Course! It likely won’t make it any easier to hit out of the trap knowing all that you know, but at least you armed with some pretty good information that you can drop at the next party you are at. Bunker construction facts never fail in the quest to make new friends!
Enjoy your day and we shall meet at the next Blog!!!