I recall playing in a tournament where my fellow competitor twice saw his drives headed for fairway bunkers stay out of the hazards because of rakes left outside the bunkers. “I thought they should be placed inside the bunkers until today,” he joked. Later in that same round, my approach shot hit one of those rakes outside a bunker and bounced left into the bunker instead of going forward onto the green. At least on that day, I favored leaving them in the bunker.
Rakes are a necessary evil because of bunkers—that’s the correct term for these depressions with sand, not sand traps as a lot of golfers call them.
Where should the rakes be placed? Inside or outside of the bunkers? Well, this question has been debated for a long time and it seems there is no definitive answer from the ruling body of golf, the United States Golf Association, except as a recommendation to place them outside (parallel to the line of play) because there was less likelihood of an advantage or disadvantage to the player.
The PGA Tour goes along with that recommendation for its events, believing that it reduces possible rules headaches that might arise from balls lodging against rakes on steep slopes. The LPGA used to place the rakes in the bunkers, but now goes along with the PGA Tour. On the other side of the pond, it seems that the most common practice for courses is to place them inside the bunkers. The same is true in Canada. The reasoning is that it makes maintenance easier.
One thing to remember if your ball comes to rest against a rake, no matter where it is located, a player just marks the ball. If it moves, you just replaces it and there is no penalty involved.
One of the disadvantages from having them inside the bunker is that the rakes can sometimes stop the balls on the slopes, making it difficult to place a ball in the same spot or not nearer the hole without pressing it lightly into the sand, which is not allowed.
Another disadvantage inside the bunkers is that players sometimes have to walk farther out into the bunkers to retrieve them, resulting in larger areas to rake after they have hopefully blasted the ball out. This can slow down play.
However, many golf professionals, including Phil Mickelson, think they should be placed inside the bunker so they do not save errant shots like it did for my playing partner that day. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player both agree that it doesn’t affect the game as much when they are placed in a bunker.
A few clubs, including Pine Valley Golf Club, place the rakes half-in, half-out, keeping the handles off the ground. I like that myself, but it does not help ease maintenance.
I’ve played at several golf courses where the rakes are placed on the back of golf carts. Not a bad idea either. However, you have to be careful not to leave them behind as I seem to have a habit of doing. It’s been a long time, but I can remember seeing rakes buried in plastic tubes in the ground, but this was expensive and many golfers also forgot to replace them.
Another possible solution? Maybe, there should be no rakes at all and bunkers wouldn’t be manicured and therefore more of a penalty!
So who makes the decision? The USGA gives rules committees the final decision on where the rakes should be placed.