With golf’s origination in Scotland, most of the basic design elements of golf courses were established there. Bunkers originated naturally on the first golf courses at spots where golfers wanted their shots to land. These areas where the majority of golf balls landed, either in the fairways or greenside, were subject to divots taken for the next shot, which then became exposed sand, as links courses are built on sandy soil. The constant wind served to open up the mass of divots, and without greenskeepers to re-seed, they became sand pits. Sheep, which grazed on the golf courses tended to open them up further and shape them as they found shelter. Voilà the bunker was invented!
Bunkers have evolved since golf’s beginnings in the 1400′s, and most architects have taken creative license with their design. The earliest bunkers, which developed naturally, were pot bunkers, generally very small, hidden, deep, usually costing at least a stroke to extricate oneself from. Revetting, or stacked sod walls were added to create more definition to the bunker, and contain it from further erosion.
As golf spread to America in the late 1800′s, most of the early courses were designed by Scots who employed similar design elements. Initially, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alexander Findlay, later Tom Bendelow, Alister MacKenzie, and Donald Ross, utilized and expanded on the design standards of Scottish golf courses. Later, Americans A.W. Tillinghast, Seth Raynor, William Flynn, Robert Trent Jones, Sr, Pete Dye, and today’s Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore have all added their own signatures to bunker design.
The most popular bunker, at least in America is the face bunker, which are positioned greenside or in the landing zones of the fairways. They’re a source of cosmetics and contrasts, and as all hazards, dictate the strategy for the hole layout.
One of the few new golf courses to open in 2012 is Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. It features a number of unique bunker designs, including the cross bunker, in the photo to the right, just 30 yeards short of the green on the 3rd. Mike Keiser, owner of Bandon Dunes, and Canadian Ben Cowan-Dewar engaged Coore/Crenshaw to design the first technically legitimate links golf course in America. The course, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence Bay, is routed over sandy soil with firm, fast, dunsey fairways.
Augusta National, designed in 1933 by Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones, makes use of the high faced bunkering throughout, and is filled with the the brilliant white Fieldspar sand from Spruce Pine Quartz, also used for silicon chips.
Waste bunkeringhas been around since the beginning of golf. It’s characterized as a large un-groomed area with sand, vegetation, and gnarly clumps of grasses. Waste bunkers were coined in the late 1960′s by Pete Dye in the construction of Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head with Jack Nicklaus. Apparently during construction, a sewer pipe under construction failed and emptied waste water into an area designated as a bunker, the waste bunker was born! While the original design elements for both Harbour Town and the Dye’s PGA Tour’s Sawgrass included massive waste areas, today they’ve been manicured and established as traditional bunkers or pine straw.
One of the largest and deepest bunkers in golf would be the Hell Bunker at St. Andrews, one of its 112 bunkers. It’s located on the 14th, the aptly named “Long Hole”, a 618 yard par 5 from the Championship Tees, where Jack Nicklaus took three to extricate himself from in the 1995 Open Championship, and comprises a total of 300 square metres.
Robert Trent Jones, Sr, a prolific modern era architect, had a hand in designing or redesigning over 500 golf courses around the world, beginning in the 1930′s. It is said the sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones, Sr golf course. He honed his design theories after an partnership with Canada’s Stanley Thompson. Jones originated and proliferated the use of fingered and contoured bunkers, costmetically pleasant, but menacing to the golfer, and costly to maintain.
Henry C Fownes, in his only design of a golf course, built the Oakmont Golf Club, northwest of Pittsburgh without water hazards or trees, but with over 350 bunkers. The design’s been modified down to 210 bunkers, the most notable of which is the Church Pews, a large, 140 yard bunker that features twelve fescue grass covered traversing ridges which come into play on the 3rd and 4th holes. Desmond Muirhead, a Cambridge educated eccentric and golf course architect, initially a partner of Jack Nicklaus in the design of Muirfield Village, was a visionary in the world of golf course design. His most creative juices are fully on display at the Stone Harbor Golf Club, in Avalon at the New Jersey Shore, and feature geometric designs, such as the par 3, “Clashing Rocks” below.
St Enodoc, a James Braid classic, on the Cornwall coast of England, has perhaps the highest bunker in the UK. At the 6th, a 378-yarder with a slight dogleg left for a look at the green. Those playing straightaway are faced with a blind shot over the cavernous “Himalaya” which sits 30 feet above the fairway.
There’s a few bunkers in the middle of greens, like the Island bunker in the middle of the 6th green at Rivera, which may have given Greg Norman inspiration for the 12th at Doonbeg, where the bunker in the middle of the green is hidden from the fairway on approach. Surely, your club or favorite golf course, or perhaps one you’ve played on holiday, has that special or unique bunker, please feel free to share it below in the comments section. Cheers!