5 Myths About Bunkers

Architect Jim Urbina says we no longer understand their true purpose

1) Bunkers are there to penalize golfers

Nothing could be further from the truth. The great old-time architects said a hazard isn’t just for punishment but to make the game more interesting. Golfers take bunkers personally: Those of us in the design business see them in the exact opposite way. Robert Hunter wrote, “Without hazards, golf would be a dull sport.”

2) You should be able to advance the ball from a bunker

Why? Sometimes golf, like life, isn’t fair. The original bunkers were totally natural, which meant sometimes it was impossible to move the ball forward from them. We’ve since made our own rules and now demand the ability to hit out of a bunker all the way to the green. But that wasn’t always the original purpose.

3) Maintaining them is important

We spend too much time and money maintaining bunkers. Due to expensive sands and labor costs, what should be among the cheapest parts of a course to maintain are the most expensive. They’re hazards, not gardens, and don’t need to be beautiful let alone neat and tidy.

4) They should not be in the middle of a fairway

If you hit a great shot down the middle and it finds a bunker then it wasn’t a great shot. A hazard is often placed for strategy, and one in the fairway is telling you that’s not the best place for hitting to the green. The game requires thought and skill, and sometimes the right play isn’t the obvious one. Same with bunker placement.

5) What you see is what you get

C.B. Macdonald said it can take years to discover and appreciate the hidden qualities of a bunker. Take the time to study the bunker—where it is, how it’s shaped and looks—over and over again. A good bunker makes you think and, as all the greats said, makes a course more interesting.