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 yards 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, dunes fairways.