Prior to any shovel being placed into the ground, it is critical for facilities and personnel to get a full and complete picture of their course’s bunkers. Beyond just a basic understanding, a detailed review needs to be made to identify problem areas and determine what needs to be improved. Assembling perspectives from a wide point of view will produce the best assessment and will result in the best possible project result.
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In many ways, this section constitutes the preparatory work necessary for creating a Bunker Master Plan. Although you might be considering the use of an architect, this effort will form the basic discussion points for your club either internally or when hiring professional guidance.
Bulding a Hole-By-Hole Accounting - The most logical starting point is a tour of the course, hole by hole, noting each bunker or bunker complex. Characteristics such as bunker dimensions, drainage characteristics and outlets (good or bad), playability factors, surround condition, egress, and sand characteristics should all be noted. This type of review will help the assessment be more accurate and provide the background needed for proper estimating. Even if your problem bunkers are well-known, this review should still be performed. If drainage and washout problems exist, it’s a good idea to survey the course during and after rain events. See Appendix A for documents that will help you in this process.
When creating this account, there is no such thing as too much detail. As one progresses through the planning process, information can always be distilled into concise summaries. It’s a good idea to organize your initial accounting sheets into a binder or into folders. This will give you easy access to them should you need to reference them in the future.
NOTE: For some facilities that have an architect under contract, the architect will assist you in performing this assessment. However, having input from the maintenance staff perspective, including historic performance considerations will help insure all issues get addressed.
Documenting the Conditions Through Pictures - Sometimes words cannot capture the entire situation, so it’s a good idea to have a digital camera handy. Taking pictures of bunker conditions can be a real asset when trying to get the project considered. For many golfers and management, bunkers are seen only after the maintenance staff has groomed them back into form. Pictures are particularly important when documenting poorly draining bunkers or when washouts are a problem.
NOTE: It is important to mention the importance of being organized when documenting through pictures. Digital cameras are programmed to assign a picture names (i.e. dsc001, dsc002, etc…) that have no meaning to your project. When transferring digital images, it is a good idea to create folders with your own naming conventions and to save your pictures within them. Once there, you can rename files for additional organization.
Assembling a Wish List - After the hole-by-hole accounting, the next step is to build a thorough list of ALL items that you’d like to have addressed. Literally, put every consideration together, no matter how elaborate or involved it may seem.
This list will be the working document when you begin to prioritize. It also forms the basis of what can be called a rough or initial Bunker Master Plan. Although it’s not a formal plan, you’ll be able to set objectives and identify more strategic aspects of the course as it pertains to bunkers. Whether it’s tree removal, bunker relocation, rerouting, or major bunker reshaping, this wish list will help you set all items together and view them as a whole.
Get Feedback - Survey everyone in your organization and at your club about the course bunkers. Getting input from golfers, managers, and employees will help fill out concepts on your list or identify things that were missed. It also provides you insight into other perspectives and will help shape the prioritization of the wish list. Surveys can be helpful if your club already has a good feedback/comment box program.
This step is where your understanding of the political setting will help you position your arguments for the bunker project. It reinforces the impression of involvement and will help you identify engaged persons that could make the short list for the Internal Project Team.
Aggregate & Categorize Conditions - This is where you begin to distill your thought and ideas. The course inventory and wish list you created will undoubtedly have redundant issues. Grouping ideas together will help you begin to summarize bunker conditions and put more clarity into your initial management presentation.
Most people look at these words as rather interchangeable. In fact, each has its own meaning and its own implications. For your project, it’s good to keep in mind each concept and how your project will be classified.
Renovation – Most closely synonymous with ‘rejuvenate’, a bunker renovation can be classified as bringing conditions up to a desired level. This might involve minor drainage issues, liner installations, and sand replacement. In most cases, a bunker renovation is the least involved of the three.
Remodel – Most closely synonymous with ‘change’, a bunker remodel can be classified as improving conditions or making strategic and mechanical changes to significantly alter bunker appearance, performance, and playability. A bunker remodel usually involves drainage changes/improvements, liner installation, minor/major reshaping, sand replacement, re-grass/re-sod of surrounds, and possible repositioning. Many bunker projects actually are a combination of both renovation and remodel.
Restoration – Most closely synonymous with ‘original form’, a bunker restoration is a specific type of project that pertains to historic architecture. For courses that many be many decades old, a restoration is distinctly different than the other two in one regard – research. A restoration can involve many countless hours locating and reviewing historic pictures, analyzing old construction documents, and performing archeological style excavating.
Research is critical if restoration is the goal. Since a course is a living, breathing entity, conditions change over time, and greatly over decades. Whether by natural processes, neglect, or oversight, original designs are literally buried. Bunkers change in shape/features, increase/decrease in size, or even be vacant where a bunker once existed. Restorations are best understood as “bringing back the original style or design intent” while using “modern mechanicals and methods” to achieve improved performance.
Prioritizing the Wish List – Building owner/management support for bunker projects will involve a realistic assessment of what changes are desired and what impact it will make to the club. The project’s impact will be measured based on the cash outlay for the work and what operational, playability and asset benefits will result. Based on the culture of your particular club, mechanical/performance improvements may take higher precedence over aesthetic/playability improvements and vice versa. You’ll need to set your priorities and rank your wish list knowing this culture and begin planning your arguments that support these priorities.
Determining the project’s cost structure will be pursued at a later time in the project planning process. At this stage, the focus should be on the changes and their impact on performance and playability. Understanding that not all your items may be pursued immediately, organizing and ranking the list allows you to keep items under consideration for subsequent phases of work or future proposals. Ranking your wish list also aides you when making final project trade-offs.
Determining Impact & Improving the Asset – Whether your club is daily fee or private, the golf course is an asset on the balance sheet. Making changes and improvements to your bunkers is categorized as a capital investment. As such, viewing a bunker project as an improvement process will allow you to better determine your project’s impact. Replacing sand alone is not a capital improvement. Upgrading drainage systems, installing liners, and reshaping bunkers is a capital improvement.
It’s important to note that accounting rules with regards to capital improvements have changed over recent years. When defining a bunker project as a capital improvement, there are significant tax implications that can benefit your organization. As you progress through the planning process, it’s valuable to keep this in mind.
Factoring The Impact to Maintenance Costs – Building your argument for the bunker project will involve an accurate assessment of how improvements will impact your maintenance labor. Improvements in drainage and the addition of liners have a direct impact to maintenance labor as does changing bunker edging with free-form grassing styles.
Two important costs should be looked at. First are the costs associated with repairing bunkers after rain events. Whether it’s pumping water from poorly draining bunkers or repairing bunker faces after washouts, you’ll need to approximate the labor hours spent on a typical event and determine an annualized cost.
Second is the sand replenishment costs when replacing or “topping off’ bunker sand. As the most costly component of any bunker, you’ll need to research what the typical timeframes and costs are for your sand replenishment program. Improving bunker performance through improved drainage and use of liners will extend the life of your bunker sand and reduce the costs of replenishment over time.
At this point, you should start to consider how you will implement the bunker project. You might already have an architect under retainer or you may know that your project will get handled in more of an “in-house” format. Even if you do, it is valuable to consider various options. Many facilities are looking deeper into these options and structuring their project that best matches their requirements of time, risk and cost. Part 2 of this Guide discusses in more detail more common options.
When preparing your ideas for an initial management presentation, the options for a project’s structure should be addressed. Although options may be reviewed in a more cursory manner at this stage, it’s always a good idea for management to know and understand the options that are available.
Once the assessment and priorities are complete and you’ve performed the benefit analysis, you’re ready to pitch your case to management or your owner. Keep in mind that the initial presentation is to get management’s approval at looking deeper into the project. It will take additional investment in your time to determine methods, research vendors, gather projected costs and build the final proposal.
Selling the Project – At the core, bunker improvement projects are all about providing a better golf product – both for the golfer and the maintenance staff. Many studies have shown two immutable facts – golfers complain more about bunkers than any other course feature (why they complain is an entirely different and lengthy discussion altogether) and maintenance staffs spend more on bunker maintenance than any other course feature. Minimizing bunker problems and reducing maintenance costs are the best arguments for selling the project. Beyond this, a better golf product has many intangibles that benefit your organization.
It can be said that most every manager, owner and golfer desires a better golf product. The differences come when identifying how to make the golf product better. It’s your responsibility to present good arguments and offer a range of alternatives or options for management to consider.
Each club will have different requirements for such an idea exchange. Some may be more formalized while others more casual. As an initial phase, the presentation will, in most cases, not be as elaborate as the final project proposal. Appendix C & D contain assets that will help you organize and construct your Initial Management Presentation.
Getting to the Planning Phase – Management needs to understand the value of additional planning. They are not approving the project at this stage. They are simply giving you the OK to spend more time gathering costs and setting up more detailed parameters. This will certainly require administrative help and other organizational resources that impact operational budgets.
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If you're looking for select Bunker Toolbox Appendicies as a complete set:
Planning Checklists ZIP
Project Worksheets ZIP
Presentation Templates ZIP