Bunker Mentality

MacKenzie, Jones, Seve and more on golf's dirtiest hazard
Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort Bunker Mentality Brian Oar

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Principal’s Nose. Himalaya. The Coffin. Church Pews. Hell. Bunkers have driven golfers mad since sheep first began burrowing for shelter in Scotland. So while you’re (hopefully) not at the bottom of one, take some time to appreciate the art and science of golf’s dirtiest hazard. 

Royal North Devon Westward Ho Bunker Mentality
No. 4, Royal North Devon Golf Club | Westward Ho!, England.
Photo by Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto via Getty Images

The accepted St. Andrews wisdom suggests that bunkers were at one time mere excavations made by sheep in search of shelter. Their urine killed the grass, creating sandy waste in the process. With increased scraping, the size expanded to the point of being suitable temporary accommodation. Some bunkers were so deeply scraped they housed a small flock. Voilà, a bunker.

Paul Daley, Links Golf, 2000
Francis Ouimet St Andrews Walker Cup Bunker Mentality
Francis Ouimet on the 13th hole of St. Andrews during the 1923 Walker Cup.
Photo from the USGA Archives

When a ball lies in a bunker or sand, there shall be no impression made, nor sand or other obstacle removed by the club, or otherwise, before striking the ball. When a ball lies within a club length of a washing-tub, the tub may be removed, and when on clothes the ball may be lifted and dropped behind them.

Rules for the Game of Golf as It Is Played by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews Over Their Links, 1858
2000 British Open St Andrews Bunker Mentality
Jose Manuel Carriles blasts out of a bunker during the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews.
Photo by Stephen Munday/Allsport

The direct line to the hole is called the line of instinct, and to make a great hole you must break up that line in order to create a line of charm. The line of charm is the provocative path that shaves off distance and provides an ideal line into the green, usually by skirting bunkers and other hazards. The golfer wants the most direct line he can find to the hole, while the architect uses bunkers and other hazards to create risk and reward options that suggest the ideal line for the player, or the line of charm.

Max Behr, editor of Golf Illustrated (1914 to 1918), architect 
National Golf Links of America Kohjiro Kinno Bunker Mentality
No. 8, National Golf Links of America | Southampton, New York
Photo by Kohjiro Kinno

A bunker eating into a green is by far the most equitable way of giving a golfer full advantage for accurate play. It not only penalizes the man who is in it, but everyone who is wide of it.

Dr. Alister MacKenzie, Golf Architecture, 1920
Rams Hill Brian Oar Bunker Mentality
No. 8, Rams Hill Golf Club | Borrego Springs, California
Photo by Brian Oar

The difference between a sand trap and water hazard is the difference between a car crash and an airplane crash: You have a chance of recovering from a car crash.

Bobby Jones
Costa Palmas Golf Club Bunker Mentality
No. 4, Costa Palmas Golf Club | Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Photo by Christian Hafer

In bunker placement as in every other aspect of golf architecture, variety is the key. When bunkers are placed according to a pattern, the course is unsound and artificial in appearance. If they are placed in harmony with the topography, they add interest through their diversity, and complete the strategic puzzle.

Tom Doak, The Anatomy of a Golf Course, 1992
Sand Valley Christian Hafer
No. 18, Sand Valley Golf Resort | Nekoosa, Wisconsin
Photo by Christian Hafer

They say I get in too many bunkers. But is no problem. I am the best bunker player.

-Seve Ballesteros

Bunkers are not a place for pleasure. They’re for punishment and repentance.

Old Tom Morris
Oakmont Country Club Kohjiro Kinno Bunker Mentality
Oakmont Country Club | Oakmont, Pennsylvania

The object of a bunker or trap is not only to punish a physical mistake, to punish lack of control, but also to punish pride and egotism.

C.B. Macdonald, architect (1855–1939)
Augusta National Golf Club Kohjiro Kinno
No. 6, Augusta National Golf Club | Augusta, Georgia
Photo by Kohjiro Kinno

What would golf be without hazards? It would probably have no more followers than skittles. It has been remarked that a few fleas are good for any dog—they keep him from forgetting that he is a dog. So the golfer must have hazards.

A.W. Tillinghast, “Bunkers and Hazards,” Vanity Fair, May 1916
Pine Valley
No. 19, Pine Valley Golf Club | Pine Valley, New Jersey
Photo by Christian Hafer

Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.

Edgar Allan Poe, “Mesmeric Revelation,” 1844