Tee and Bunker Construction

by Zach Reineking

This spring marks the end of the final round of significant golf-related construction at Erin Hills before the 2017 U.S. Open, and I thought I would take at moment to describe the construction methods used to complete some of those projects. For the 2015 season Erin Hills has expanded its short game and U.S. Open practice facility. This included two new greens (with one as a second practice putting green and the other as a second short game green), a 140-yard fairway linking the two short game greens, and four new bunkers for the short game area. The practice putting green near the 1st tee was rebuilt to accommodate more players. The back tee on the 14th hole was extended forward to achieve a specific distance for the U.S. Open, and we added three new white tees (on holes 1, 7 and 17) to provide a better experience for our guests.

Construction provides a great teaching opportunity for young assistants, interns, and staff members to learn the construction methods used to complete these tasks. Since 2010, the Turfgrass Department completed all construction that has been performed internally. Mistakes have been made but significant experience was learned and taught. Many staff members and interns have left Erin Hills with experience constructing greens, tees, and bunkers. Through this article, I would like to describe the construction of a tee and a bunker complex found at Erin Hills.

Often times, myself included, we forget the effort and attention to detail that is required to transform a landmass into a golf course. Yes, Erin Hills was built as a minimalistic course with little earthmoving, but teeing grounds needed to be shaped and bunkers needed to be carved into natural landforms. The finished product should look seamless and natural to the guest and therefore requires a high level of detail.

Teeing surfaces at Erin Hills are located on natural glacial eskers or drumlins, providing the appearance that they were always there. Our architects carefully selected the locations and provided dimensions based on the estimated volume of play. The landform was then carefully shaped to include the teeing surface while retaining its natural character. The teeing surface is leveled with a two percent slope to ensure proper surface drainage. Irrigation is installed around the perimeter of the tee with a valve and coupler. A final preparation is preformed on the tee and immediate surround to confirm the tee shape and contours. Sod is laid and the tee will be ready for play with a week.

Bunkers are constructed with the same minimalistic design to give the appearance that they naturally eroded into existing landforms. Similar to the treatment of teeing surfaces, our architects carefully located and designed the bunker or complex of bunkers based on distance and intended function. Once the distance is located and a general shape is determined the cavity of the bunker is excavated. Staff members using shovels and pick axes then edge the cavity. This method is labor intensive but provides the necessary aesthetic required for the bunkers at Erin Hills. Drainage is installed in the subsurface of the bunker to evacuate any precipitation or irrigation water. A bunker liner is installed covering the entire bottom of the bunker. This liner aids in the drainage of the bunker, allowing water to rapidly percolate through the sand into the liner and down to the subsurface drainage. The bunker is now ready for sand, six inches of base on the bottom and four inches in the slopes. The edges are sodded or hydroseeded and any exterior contours are blended into the natural landscape.

Zach Reineking