Rock Creek renovates bunkers to prevent wildlife damage

  • Rock Creek
    Capillary Bunkers

    Rock Creek Cattle Company in Montana has completed a bunker renovation on its Tom Doak-designed course, addressing damage caused by local wildlife

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Rock Creek Cattle Company in Deer Lodge, Montana, has completed a bunker renovation on its Tom Doak-designed course, addressing damage caused by local wildlife.

“When the course was built, the bunkers were lined with a textile product,” said course superintendent Rick Hathaway. “Given the location, some sort of liner was essential. The clue is in the name: the soil here is full of rocks, from pebbles to big granite boulders. With frost heaves in winter, the rocks move up through the profile, and would penetrate unlined bunkers very easily."

But the textile liner could not cope with another problem caused by Rock Creek’s location – wildlife.

“We have a large herd of resident elk, about a thousand strong," said Hathaway. "And they really like our bunkers! Their natural position is head up, so if they are down in a bunker, they have grass at head height. So, it makes eating less work for them. Especially in the fall, when they come back out of the mountains, the elk spend a disproportionate amount of time in the bunkers. And they are big, heavy animals. Their hooves inevitably cause damage to a fabric liner, and once there is a little hole, the sand gets through, and the situation starts to deteriorate. It got to the point where we couldn’t manage the amount of damage that was happening. I was using six or seven guys two days a week working on liners.”

And elk are not the only wildlife that have caused damage to the course. “We have a lot of ground squirrels here and they burrow up through the bunkers. Then the badgers – which want to eat the ground squirrels – dig down after them, and the next morning we have huge holes in our bunkers. A couple of years ago, I went to my greens committee chairman, and he asked me what keeps me awake at night. I told him and said, ‘let’s start thinking about redoing one day’. The course is a masterpiece, and the bunkers weren’t doing it any favours. From a distance, they looked pretty but from a playability point of view they weren’t as good as the rest of the course. A couple of weeks later, he called me and said, ‘it’s a go’.”

Having met a Capillary Bunkers representative and visiting a couple of clubs that were installing the product on their courses, Rock Creek decided Capillary Bunkers was the right choice and initially tested the product in three bunkers.

Contractor Ridgetop Golf began work in April 2021. “We typically open the golf course on 15 May, and April is the month I count on getting major course work done, so for the first six weeks of construction, there were no golfers around,” said Hathaway. “When we excavated the bunkers, I had the contractor scrape an inch or two out of the subgrade to make sure we didn’t change the depth.”

The last bunkers were lined in June and were described as “spectacular” by Hathaway. “We have these jagged faces that have eroded in the thirteen years the course has been open, and that gives them even more character,” he said. “There’s a little lip and the concrete fits in there. You’d never know there was concrete there.”