A Glimpse into an Assistant Superintendent’s Take on Maintaining Bunkers & Using the B-Rake at the 2023 Canadian Open 

Bunkers. The bane of many greenkeeper’s existence. And yet, they still stand out in their uniqueness, contrasting as much as they do as definingly beautiful features of a golf hole, as they do at times as money pits that take up too much labor on a maintenance budget and too much anguish on our golf games.

     When not maintained properly, and, as we’ve seen, properly has many points of view, bunkers can become an issue. The trickle-down effect of improper maintenance can become a budgetary nightmare, spreading to the end user’s perception of what makes a golf course good. A bad course, as is often the case from a golfer’s point of view, is one that’s bunkers are not maintained properly. Little to no sand, sand contaminated by soil, rocks, and other debris, and bad drainage. The list is long and the solutions equally arduous. All the considerations when constructing and maintaining a bunker end with the final and, especially from a golfer’s point of view, the most important consideration: the raking, or the grooming of a bunker. 

     When considering what method we use to groom our bunkers, we usually start by deciding on which rake to use. Bunker machines, or riding bunker rakes, are often a good solution to save on labor and time, but they come with a host of disadvantages. Over time, the edges of lips inevitably degrade where they enter and exit the bunkers. The oftentimes aggressive rakes dragging behind these machines can catch liners or tear chunks of grass from the edges. Some of the more traditional handheld bunker rakes are effective at moving sand when it’s required, but they can also require more energy and skill when applied as a regular groomer. 

     As an Assistant Superintendent at Oakdale Golf and Country Club, one of my jobs is to ensure that all the work completed on the golf course is at the highest possible quality. At the GCSAA conference and tradeshow last year in Orlando, we had an opportunity to check out the latest and greatest in the golf course maintenance industry. After seeing a lot of products that were either new to us or improvements of what we’d already seen, we stumbled upon Eben Dobson and his B-rake. At first, we watched as he demonstrated the B-rake to other interested parties. It was quite different from anything we’d seen: the brush, the bottom tines, and the shape of the head itself were all unique. And, the results, shown in a sandbox just big enough to make a few footprints or some ball marks, were impressive. Before long it was our turn to try. In a single pulling motion, the footprints disappeared, replaced by a glass-like, smooth surface that was hard not to like. The ease of use, quickness, and quality of the finish looked worth a try back in Toronto at Oakdale. 

     Oakdale Golf and Country Club opened in 1926. Its architect, Stanley Thompson, is the most famous Canadian of the golden age of golf course design. His protégé Robby Robinson added a third nine-hole course in 1957.

     What has been a long-used format for sending off golfers in the morning has made Oakdale particularly challenging from a maintenance point of view. One nine serves as a back nine or all three nines are opened simultaneously. More personnel and equipment are required, and we’ve had to adapt our processes and systems to get all three nines prepared in time for golf. Getting a consistently high standard out of our preparations for our members and guests is of the utmost importance to our team. Therefore, we’re always looking for ways to improve our methods. 

     The B-rake looked like one of those improvements, and we quickly became acquainted with Eben to find out more. After telling him about Oakdale’s hosting the Canadian Open, we all agreed that we had to get some B-rakes back to Toronto before the early June tournament. 

B-rake’s glass-like finish in a greenside bunker on the 5th hole of the composite routing 

      The Canadian Open is the only PGA tour event in Canada. For someone like me, it’s one of the most valuable and sought after experiences and an extreme honor to be a part of. I’d been in the industry for seventeen years, had seen a wide variety of operations, and was very hungry for something more. The Canadian Open and the two years leading up to it provided this opportunity. 

     From the time I arrived at Oakdale in 2021, we’d been experimenting with a few different rakes and raking methods. We hadn’t yet arrived at a place we felt met the standard of a top Toronto private golf course and had in part been sent to Orlando to look for an answer. 

     A few months later, Eben had delivered us the B-rakes, enough for front and back nine crews to prepare Oakdale’s bunkers for the Canadian Open. Oakdale’s Property Director and the rest of the Greens team liked the results. Not long after getting our B-rakes, Eben had flown up from San Diego to join us at Oakdale for a personal demonstration and explanation of his vision. We knew he was an avid golfer who wanted to improve the game he loved. And we knew his B-rake could be a potential improvement for our bunkers. Its ease of use, relatively quick time of completion, and high-quality finish made it a go-to for our maintenance crew. Having received the PGA Agronomy team’s endorsement of the B-rake’s performance, we used it to prepare our bunkers for every round of the 2023 Canadian Open. Using the B-rake in between play for the 4-hole playoff finish won by Nick Taylor, a finish that’s now considered the PGA tour moment of 2023, was the icing on the cake to what was a great find and a fruitful relationship starting in Orlando that previous winter.            

     Eben and I have since stayed in touch. We’ve gotten to know one another, and I’ve enjoyed our conversations. After working together to improve Oakdale’s bunkers, we continued to collaborate on how we can take things a step further, evolving the B-rake to continue its evolution of bunker preparation.

B-raked bunker being played out of at the 2023 Canadian Open on the 18th 

About the Author

Mark Wiebe has been in the golf course maintenance industry for seventeen years. Experiencing a wide spectrum of operations, from a small, family-owned nine hole to some of the highest-end public and private courses in the Greater Toronto Area, he received his formal education from Durham College in Professional Golf Course Management and the University of Guelph in Turfgrass Management.