“Almost all golfers’ critiques revolve around the look and playing characteristics of the bunkers and often fail to notice the quality of all the other elements that make up a golf course. A great set of greens are far more important than great bunkers but everyone is drawn to evaluating a course by the bunkers since they are far easier to judge and far more obvious to the eye.”
In his treatise “A Complete Look At Bunkering” Ian Andrew points out that there is no subject that leads to a contentious discussion at the bar of the 19th Hole than the perceived fairness or unfairness of the bunkering of the course just played.
The Road Hole Bunker….the most infamous of them all…Embed from Getty Images
His view is that most of this contention is misguided because the modern player and influential board member have embraced the notion that even the hazards need to be fair for all players. This ignores that the basic purpose of the bunker as a “recoverable hazard” is to penalize the bad decision making or execution of the player trying to pursue the most advantageous strategic playing line of the hole.
The fact that almost every famous course designer, from MacKenzie to Coore and Crenshaw, is quoted therein with a similar view of the purpose and value of well placed sand bunkers as a strategic hazard pretty much says it all.
As Max Behr once said, “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.” Forcing players to consider strategic choices and making the proper execution of these options a necessity to avoiding deleterious effects on their scoring outcome is the main purpose of these hazards. Without that the game would be a boring four-hour stroll in the park.
Ian Andrew thoroughly delves into the aspects of bunkering in the modern game including depth, fairness, psychology, strategy, and aesthetics. He even covers why the trend of golf committees and tour decision makers demanding better maintenance of these hazards is actually undermining their purpose and making the game less interesting.
Ian concludes that, “It’s the one architectural element that creates contrast as it acts the counterpoint to all the other harmonious elements of a golf course. It’s the feature that clearly distinguishes one course visually from others. When exceptionally well used bunkers can take the most pedestrian piece of ground and leave the player with a complex puzzle to solve. “
Do yourself a favor, get a Vente Arnold Palmer, pull up a chair, and take the time to read this fascinating study on the subject of proper bunkering. It may defuse some of your own criticism or that of your buddies the next time they elicit the misguided comment that the “bunkering is unfair”.
A Complete Look At Bunkering
Ian Andrew (2015)