The Scrambler, Kevin Lynch, makes his daily bread getting up and down out of abandoned grain mills, wagon ruts and lunar craters. For fun, we asked him to interview one of the guys who makes him face these hazards. Kevin chose Jeff Bradley, the self-christened “Bunker Guru.” Jeff is THAT guy who makes natural-looking bunkers look natural and intimidating at the same time. He has worked for Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw (referred to as C&C herein) on a number of original designs and renovations, and with Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry on their seminal project, Shelter Harbor in Rhode Island. Our Scrambler got Jeff down off his excavator long enough for a quick ten questions…all right, it’s actually nine right now…we’ve hit an impasse on the controversial seventh but, as soon as we have Jeff’s answer, we’ll post it. After you finish, please check out Jeff’s site, www.bunkerguru.com.
1. Where was your first sandbox as a child and did you know instantly that the grains would impact your life in such a big way?
Probably at my grandparents house and certainly not!
2. What can you publicly say that you do differently from other bunker carvers?
That’s hard to say. Most courses are built by large contractors. Under that scenario you probably have one guy rough in a basic shape with bulldozer, then an architect marks an edge, then another operator cuts out that line and cleans up the bunker for drainage and finally a labor crew does finish work, drainage and sand installation. A lot of things are going to change with that process. I am involved with every aspect of the construction from start to finish. I will employ the help of a few laborers, but basically, I want to be involved in the entire process. This way I’m assured that the details don’t change very much unless I want them to.
C&C does their design work in the field rather than in an office. So we start with a very basic idea from Bill and Ben and work from there. Things change a lot so you can’t get to married to what you’ve done. Its very easy to misinterpret what the guys want, and sometimes they aren’t real sure. This may sound strange but I think the process of putting something out there for them to look at and work off is very beneficial. In that, the architects get a few ideas to bounce around. Bill and Ben are very generous in the creative process. We get a ton of freedom in the field. This not only keeps the job more interesting for us, it allows for a variety of things to happen, and that makes the end product unique.
Having worked for these guys for 15 years has given me a better understanding of their design philosophy, but they never fail to surprise us. The team spirit that Bill and Ben have built has been good for all of us. We’ve all grown together and I think we’re getting better all the time.
3. You’ve worked with a number of different designers/architects… do you alter your bunker designs to fit the architect and/or the course?
Not really, I’ve only worked with two or three, and they hire me because they want the style of bunker I’ve been doing all these years. It can be challenging to make my rugged and minimalist style fit into a modern looking design. It works best when the other shapers and myself all have the same approach. That isn’t usually the case off of a C&C job site.
Not to pick at the contractors. Those guys do some amazing things, they are forced to take a “financial bottom line” approach to the construction. C&C and works a with a different business model and construction process. It is usually cheaper and gives us a great deal more freedom creatively.
4. Assuming that you don’t alter your style, does it cause problems when a bunker on a Hurdzan/Fry course looks like one on a Palmer or a C & C course?
I try to make every single bunker different. I have some shapes and edges that I like to use when the situation allows for it. But this is often the end result and not where I started in my head. I try to look at a project without a preconceived idea. I want the land or the shaping to tell me what needs to happen there.
Dana (Eds. Note: Dana Fry at Shelter Harbor project) was very open to just about anything I threw at him. He was amazing to work with and I hope to do it again someday. Talking with Dana is always an honest and entertaining conversation. I’m working with an architect named Thad Layton on the Palmer project and its going well. Thad is a little more hands on than Dana, but he’s very open to my ideas. Even some weird ones.
Both of these firms have been very good to me and I feel fortunate to have contributed to their work and made some great friends.
I should mention that I’ve worked with Landscapes Unlimited on both of these jobs, and they have been pretty amazing too. I’m very grateful for their willingness to think outside of the “box”. It isn’t easy to do when you as tight a profit margin as these companies do. They’ve been fantastic
5. Do you actively pursue contracts or do architects/designers call on you?
They have called me in the past. Working for C&C has allowed me to pick only the projects I really want to do. The economy has been rough on our industry this year and probably will be for a few years to come. I may have to pursue some things, but I hope not.
6. Has any club contracted you independently to come in and give their bunkers a new/old look?
Yes! It’s called Weekapaug Golf Club. A great little 9 holer that I used to go play in the evening when working on Shelter Harbor just up the road. My colleague David Zinkand and I did a complete bunker renovation there last year. It was a great success for us and we’re hoping that it will lead to more projects in the future.
7. Have you ever been in a bunker-building or repairing situation where it just didn’t work out?
Yeah sure, Without being to specific. I’ve met with owners who didn’t want to pay what I was asking. Sometimes the funding isn’t there. Sometimes you can’t get permitted. They can fall apart for all kinds of reasons beyond my control. Its just part of the business.
8. List the tools of the trade of the bunker guru, from simplest hand-held implement to roaringest machine.
A: SHOVEL!!!!! and rake. All supported by a 12,000 lbs excavator!
9. Whose bunkers inspire you? We don’t necessarily know which member of the team might have carved them, but we can at least begin with the architect/designer.
When I started in this industry I didn’t know anything about architecture or construction. So I studied the things I was told to. Alister MacKenzie is my favorite for bunkers. It really seems like anyone who is trying to do that natural looking style is studying his work. Unfortunately, most of the study is done in books because those clubs have changed the bunker style over the years.
But mostly I got my inspiration and education from the guys who came before me on Bill and Ben’s team. Dave Axland, Dan Proctor, Tom Beck, Jerry (Scrooge) Clark. And of course Bill and Ben. I still work with Scrooge’s cousin Jimbo. We’re in NC this year and Jimbo has taught me many things over the years. Especially about the basic framework of a bunker and how it should tie-in with its surroundings. When I started Jimbo would rough a bunker in with a dozer and I would do my thing from there. These days it’s mostly all on me. Although Jimbo did make a brilliant move on a bunker the other day. It was kind of nostalgic…for me anyway.
Tom Doak’s crew does some amazing work and so does Gil Hanse. These guys use a similar model to us, so its fun to see what they come up with. Gil is always trying something new, and its always beautiful and innovative. I’ve met some great people in this business, Gil is one of my favorites.
10. What do you swear you WILL NEVER DO to a bunker?
Bill is always teasing me…….always!!!!! He’s always teasing about not being able to build a clean bunker or a perfectly round one. He’s probably right. I always say I’m not a good enough operator to do that kind of work. I’m lucky I found the guys who never want that!