Monday, October 23, 2006

Bunker Week – Part 4 – The F-word…. Fairness

A bunker you can hit any club out of is concidered "fair" by some, a waste by other.

The origins of golf only had two rules that applied to hazards, play it as it lies and the rub of the green. Now there is too much money and too much ego wrapped up in the game to accept a bad break. We insist that bunkers be uniformly maintained, consistent in condition from course to course and fairly easy to get out of. We have gone from a bad lie being a bad break, to questioning the golf superintendent’s ability and the design of the bunker. The game has changed….for the worse.

We began with the uncertainty and unpredictability of links golf where bad lies were expected and simply played. We learned the lessons of humility and perseverance through the game, but all that has gone out the window for certainty and fairness. The whole modern concept of players aiming at bunkers because they can reach the green from the fairway bunker or get up and down easily from a green side bunker shows us how much the game has changed from the origins of golf.

George Thomas says, “Hazards should be arranged to tempt and challenge, but laid out so all classes of players have optional routes to the hole. Hazards should not unduly penalize from which there is no chance of recovery.” What he is saying is that the bunkers should encourage good players to flirt. The weaker player should have options to play around and away from trouble, and all golfers should have an option to recover based upon their ability.

These bunkers are spectacular and very deep, are they fair?

Others are harsher in their thoughts on the fairness of bunkers. Willie Park Jr. said, “If a bunker is visible to the player, and there is sufficient room to avoid it, it is the player’s responsibility to steer clear of it.” Once again there is the mention of options to play away from or around the bunker, and this is another form of fairness. Fairness has nothing to do with removing the hazards, but instead has everything with providing enough room beside the bunker to avoid it even with extra shots.

Bill Coore has always been one to advocate a mixture of bunkers from the simple to the fearsome thinking all have a place on the course. His philosophy comes across well through the open-mindedness of his opinion on hazards and bunkers, “No element that creates interest can ever be seen as unfair” The player must simply deal with what’s put in front of them with the most efficient use of strokes that they are capable of using. It is up to them on what they are going to contend with and how they are going to avoid the potential pitfalls. Everything is up to them and everything is fair.

The most unfortunate part of this is for nearly 50 years our architecture was dumbed down for fairness. When the difficulty was eased or the maintenance made more “player friendly” it all had a detrimental effect on architecture. Tom Doak has long been advocating the return to a more natural rugged bunker with a less clearly defined outcome. His bunkers bring back a much more natural appearance closer to the origins of bunkers. There is also more risk in getting a difficult lie; and most importantly it places more emphasis on the hazard being where you will likely drop a stroke.

The last word on this should go to Mike DeVries who simply says, “It’s a hazard, deal with it.”

Next up Psychology:


Anonymous said...

how do people look at the huge bunker on #13 at kawartha? is that considered unfair? i used to think it was one of the greater challenges on the golf course - both to avoid it and also to get out of it when i didn't successfully avoid it. from what i remember, thompson gave the player ample room to the left, but that also left a downhill chip if you missed the green.

olympia, wa

dave k said...

Two thoughts come to mind after reading this article:

- I attended a GAO course rating seminar this past summer and happened to sit at a table with 2 gentlemen who were members at Kawartha. If they said it once, they said it a dozen times ; "The renovated bunkers are too tough" (and they rough was too long). I didn't have the heart (or the stones) to say if you avoid them it shouldn't be a problem.
- a course recently opened in my neck of the woods was designed with "irish style" bunkers which were quite rugged and had fescue left to grow naturally around the edges. After the first year it was decided they were too penal and the fescue has been trimmed down to basically non-existent levels. Wonder what some of the "dead guys" Ian quotes in his article would say to that?

Great series of articles Ian. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Ian but I'd rather be in a fairway bunker, however penal, than having a ball lost in fescue(shades of Osprey Valley). In both cases it's my fault. Golf isn't always fair although I'm not a big fan of "forced" carries off the tee (18 at Heron Point comes to mind!). I've been enjoying your blog since the beginning. I hope you keep it going.

Ian Andrew said...

Kawartha is interesting: 40 bunkers with plenty of depth and difficulty, gererous between most tree lines, short by modern stadards, very wide fairways, alternate routes to any green or fairway. It is a course even I expect to score on. Yet the bunkers are concidered penal - even though half are exactly the same depth.

JeePaw said...

anonymous (the other anonymous),

i agree with you about heron point's 18th, that's not the way i want to finish a round. that's not a carry hazard, where you can bite off as much as you dare, but as you say a 'forced' carry. i was disappointed with that hole the first time i played it, as i really enjoyed the rest of the course.


i find the par 3 15th far more difficult than the par 4 13th because, while the 13th bunker is visually intimidating, there is a way to avoid it. but when the wind is blowing on 15, it's almost impossible to avoid the bunkers on one side or the other. generally i like the bunkers at kawartha - they suit the golf course.


Ian Andrew said...


The answer is to play short, its an easy up and down

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