Golfers can get very hot under the collar about whether it should be rakes in or out. Here’s my take on golf’s great rake debate and my recommended solution...

Where Should Bunker Rakes Be Placed?

Rakes in or out, or maybe even half in, half out? Everyone seems to have a view on this one, yet there can never be a definitive answer, for wherever you leave the rake, balls can strike it and either bounce clear or end up in trouble. Fact.

The dilemma

Ask the player whose ball has lodged against the rake on a grass downslope into a bunker and he’ll argue strongly they should be left in the sand; ask another whose ball has finished up against the rake in the sand right at the back of the bunker and he’ll say just the opposite. It’s time to play the percentages here, and the percentages dictate that fewer score-threatening breaks will occur if rakes are placed outside bunkers.

Related: How much sand should I take for perfect bunker shots?

Why? Because even if the resulting lie is a tad tricky, it will rarely be as bad as it would have been had the ball trickled on into the sand up against the rake. The ‘back of the bunker’ shot where the rear lip impinges on either backswing or downswing can yield some very interesting and costly results. At least from the grass downslope tee-side of the bunker you can usually advance it vaguely forwards, thus limiting the direct scorecard damage to a single shot.

The ‘centre of the bunker’ argument…

Some would argue that rakes should be left in, or lobbed into, the centre of a bunker, and if the rake is to be left in the bunker, then clearly there is some merit in this as bunkers tend to be concave so that is the spot to which rolling balls will typically gather, depending on the type and consistency of the sand. But what about courses where bunkers aren’t the old-school small size? Such a policy would require considerably more raking and potentially delay play, as you not only have to rake the path to and from your ball, but also the path to and from wherever the rake was lying.

What about half in, half out…

Logically, there is some merit in the ‘half in, half out’ approach that some clubs advocate as that will typically leave as few parts of the rake in contact with the ground or sand as possible (i.e. the head of the rake in the sand, and a small part of the handle on the edge of the bunker) therefore having the least impact on balls rolling into the bunker. Given that wherever the rake is left there is a similar likelihood of balls hitting it on the fly, then the ‘half in, half out’ approach would seem to make some sense assuming more balls roll into bunkers than carry in on the fly.

Continues below

Why out is best

But after careful consideration, my feeling is that rakes should ideally be left outside bunkers at the point of least interference – i.e. farthest from the direct, or most likely, point of entry – where, in theory at least, they should have the least influence on things. I would appear to be in agreement here with The R&A, whose view on the matter can be found in Decisions on the Rules of Golf, Misc./2, which is cut and pasted at the bottom of this feature.

One final thing has dawned on me as I’ve been writing this… in all honesty, how many times during my 30 years in the game has contact with a rake given me an unfortunate ricochet or a terrible lie? The answer, at least for me, is such a negligible number that it really isn’t worth getting too hot under the collar about it!

Related: How do you rake a bunker properly?

Decisions on the Rules of Golf – Misc./2

There is not a perfect answer for the position of rakes, but on balance it is felt there is less likelihood of an advantage or disadvantage to the player if rakes are placed outside of bunkers.

It may be argued that there is more likelihood of a ball being deflected into, or kept out of, a bunker if the rake is placed outside the bunker. It could also be argued that if the rake is in the bunker it is most unlikely that the ball will be deflected out of the bunker.

However, in practice, players who leave rakes in bunkers frequently leave them at the side which tends to stop a ball rolling into the flat part of the bunker, resulting in a much more difficult shot than would otherwise have been the case. This is most prevalent at a course where the bunkers are small. When the ball comes to rest on or against a rake in the bunker and the player must proceed under Rule 24-1, it may not be possible to replace the ball on the same spot or find a spot in the bunker which is not nearer the hole — see decision 20-3d/2.

If rakes are left in the middle of the bunker, the only way to position them is to throw them into the bunker and this causes damage to the surface. Also, if a rake is in the middle of a large bunker, it is either not used or the player is obliged to rake a large area of the bunker, resulting in unnecessary delay.

Therefore, after considering all these aspects, it is recommended that rakes should be left outside bunkers in areas where they are least likely to affect the movement of the ball.

Ultimately, it is a matter for the committee to decide where it wishes rakes to be placed.

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