PALM SPRINGS – One of the most obvious side effects of the global pandemic has been supply chain issues, causing shortages in everything from new cars to baby formula.
But there is a shortage of something that you might not expect hitting one desert golf facility: a lack of sand for bunkers.
For Desert Princess Country Club in Cathedral City, the shortage meant plans to replace sand in 51 bunkers on the 27-hole golf facility were derailed. And it meant golfers were hitting shots into bunkers covered only with black rubber liners rather than sand.
“We are going to write it off this year because of (the upcoming) prime season,” said Rodney Young in his first full year as head golf professional at Desert Princess. “We can’t be doing bunker projects, so we are going to reset and reorganize and see if we can’t get it done next July.”
In the last week, the course finally found about 500 tons of sand from a source in central California, meaning the greenside bunkers on the Lagos nine-hole layout were finally filled with white sand. But the rest of the work on the Vista and Cielo nines will wait until next summer.
The board at Desert Princess had approved the replacement of the bunker sand, and work had actually begun on greenside bunkers on the Lagos course, one of three nine-hole layouts at Desert Princess. The plan was much like the plans at dozens of golf courses in the Coachella Valley each summer: Take the summer months that see fewer golfers on the course and make capital improvements to the layout in anticipation of the busier winter months.
But work on all 27 holes that was expected to be finished first in August, and then in September, came to a halt because of both the shortage of bunker sand and an inability to get that sand to the Cathedral City facilities.
Young said staff at Desert Princess made the decision that new sand was needed in the greenside bunkers because of contamination from desert blow sand and deteriorating liners. Young said some members at the course said the sand hasn’t been changed for at least 15 years.
Not just desert sand
Sand used for bunkers on golf courses is much different than the sand found in natural desert dunes. Desert sand is smaller (between 0.1 and 0.5 mm compared to up to 1.0 mm for bunker sand) and does not support the weight of a golf ball when it hits the sand. In fact, the United States Golf Association designates nine key characteristics of bunker sand, from size to particle shape to crusting potential and color.
Desert Princess staff removed the old sand starting in August, assuming that each of the three nine-hole layouts would take two weeks to complete. It was then that officials discovered the 1,700 tons of sand — a combination of 50% traditional Desert Tan and 50% Augusta White for a brighter look to the bunkers — was not available.
“Jerry Hernandez, our director of agronomy and superintendent, has talked to multiple vendors, all over Utah, California, everywhere trying to find sand,” Young said.
At one point, Desert Princess officials found 500 tons of sand in Orange County, but that vendor could not find trucks of drivers to bring the sand to the desert, Young said.
While the bunkers were without sand, they did have new liners. Called polylast, the new liner is made of recycled tires and is laid down in square mats rather than traditional cloth liners. The mats allow for water to drain but also help keep desert sand and rocks from working their way up to the surface of the bunkers. If a golfer hits a ball into one of the bunkers with no sand, a local rule allows for the ball to be dropped out of the bunker with no penalty.
“It’s certainly a different look,” said David Henley of Indio after finishing a recent round on the course without the sand. “The black is a striking look on a green golf course.
“And it was okay, because I’m not a great bunker player anyway,” Henley laughed. “I may just play bunkers with a free drop from now on. And I understand why there was no sand to start with.”
Other desert courses have faced various shortages in recent years, often blamed on COVID-19 and supply chain issues. Those shortages have included everything from rye seed for overseeding to sod. One desert superintendent in the midst of a renovation hopes those problems will avoid his course this fall.
“Let me say this, for anybody that saw it and listened to what people were saying, hey, there is a seed shortage or let’s say like pins and cups and all that, if you listened to it you actually got ahead of it, it wasn’t a big deal,” said Ben Vann, in his first year as superintendent at Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, which is nearing the end of a two-year renovation project. “If you waited and tried to do everything like we have always done business, then there was some trouble.”
The lack of sand also impacted the scheduling for actions like overseeing and aerating greens on the 27 holes, Young said. But most impactful was the decision not to change out sand on the Vista and Cielo nines this year.
“The other courses are fully aerified, wall to wall, but Vista is going to be open through the 16th of October,” Young said.
The work on the course is important because Young said Desert Princess hopes to spend the upcoming golf season spreading the word that it is not just members from the surrounding 1,200 homes that can play the 27 holes. Desert Princess accepts outside play, as well as golfers who are staying at the neighboring DoubleTree by Hilton resort hotel.
“Very few people knew we take public tee times,” Young said. “Everyone thinks we are private because we have resort country club in our name.”
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs-area country club delays replacing golf course sand