Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bunker Week – Part 1 – Bunkers in Nature

Notice the height of the lip!

For the architecture enthusiast, this series will make a good run for at least a week. I’ve decided to concentrate my efforts strictly on bunkers.

I have no illusion that somehow someway I can provide a tutorial that will explain to you the placement and depth of every bunker, but I will certainly do my best to help you gain some insight. After all some of the best bunkers simply "occurred" without ever being created and this in itself is a great place to begin.

A lot of the revered bunkers at the great links came to be by circumstance. Often they were small hollows created by sheep or blow-outs created by wind. Some were depressions that were almost natural bunkers right from the start while others were scars that are still there but just kept a lot more formally than they once were. Many of the greatest bunkers were natural.

I’ve been reading extensively about the Old Course once again and the quest for the origin of the Road Hole Bunker caught my attention. I had always assumed that the bunker was added by Allan Robertson when he made alterations to the 17th green. Well it seems that the bunker was in place already by his 17th birthday since it is shown on an early map of the course. It was originally thought that he added the bunker when he did his work to expand the 17th green, but now we know differently. The origin [as I understand it] is the people of the town apparently used to dig in many of the bunkers to get shells and this location was a particularly good spot close to the town. The bunkers depth came from the people’s quest for shells; which eventually was stopped when the golf course became to busy and popular to allow this activity to continue.

Notice the difference in bunker lips!

Even the Road Hole Bunker itself has evolved from its origins throughout the years. Think of the constant build up of sand on the lip and the regular replacement of the revetted bunker face that takes place now and you will understand how much this bunker changes on a regular basis. I have pictures from 1989 where the lip wasn’t near as high, the bunker was slightly smaller and the bottom was not near as deep. They have restored the bunker fairly frequently and usually now use old photos as direction. Each recent change has been well documented in golf magazines for each of the British Opens. The bunker is now so deep, with a lip so high, that recovery is nearly impossible for all but the most skilled. I often wonder how much of the bunkers greatness has to do with evolution.

Now think of what I have said so far, the bunker which I think is the best in the world was not placed by an architect, and the depth was determined by circumstance. Even evolution seems to have made the bunker even more of a factor than it initial was. The initial lesson is to go find the natural bunkers that nature has already provided right on the property.

Modern architects generally bulldoze everything and then build the bunkers into the locations that make the most sense by distance and intended strategy. This myopic view does not deal with mixed abilities or the constant changes in technology. Bunker placement needs to sometimes be more natural and happenstance to make the game interesting for everyone. It’s too bad so many architects don’t seem to see that the land often makes many of the best decisions for you by providing natural hollows and scars to be used in the routing of the course. The reason that Coore and Crenshaw are so respected by their peers is there ability to use the existing site. Just look at Sand Hills many of the holes are designed around a series of very impressive natural blowouts. Bill Coore explains why they routed many tee shots diagonally over the blow outs at Sand Hills when he states, “There is nothing more thrilling or appealing than skirting over an impressive or fearsome hazard.” Coore and Crenshaw found and used the natural hazards of the property at Sand Hills, as opposed to making them, and that is what makes that course more memorable than almost any other course in the world.

Find the natural bunkers first, then start adding new ones.

Next Why We Need Bunkers:


John B. said...

I vote that we get rid of bunkers altogether. My ball always seems to end up there...

dave k said...


How many years apart are the 2 photos?

I also noticed how far left of the pin the second player is coming out of the bunker. There must be some serious green slope in play to get that ball close to the pin. Either that or he is almost as bad a bunker player as me.

Look forward to the rest of the series.


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