BUNKERS 101

Be­lieve it or not, bunkers are not scat­tered across a golf course sim­ply to make your life a mis­ery. The great de­sign­ers used them to im­prove the strat­egy of their cre­ations, but, as Mike Clay­ton points out here, not all bunker­ing is good and of­ten it can

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS GOLF AUS­TRALIA AR­CHI­TEC­TURE EDITOR MIKE CLAY­TON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GARY LIS­BON

Bunkers are not in­tended to make your life a mis­ery. Golf Aus­tralia Ar­chi­tec­ture Editor Mike Clay­ton de­tails their pur­pose and their worth.

Amongst the great ar­chi­tects who worked be­fore World War II, the role of bunkers wasn’t much de­bated. They moved the game away from a pe­nal era of ar­chi­tec­ture where de­sign­ers, very of­ten golf pro­fes­sion­als, po­si­tioned bunkers with the aim of merely catch­ing poor shots.

Alis­ter MacKen­zie, Harry Colt, Tom Simp­son, Ge­orge Thomas and their con­tem­po­raries deter­mined their bunkers would be used for dra­matic eect as carry haz­ards and to en­hance the strat­egy. It was Thomas who called strat­egy ‘the soul of the game.’

Their bunkers were placed ex­actly where play­ers wanted to go and thus to cap­ture the al­most per­fect shot as op­posed to the sim­ple bad shot. MacKen­zie rea­soned those hit­ting bad shots were likely hav­ing a hard enough time of it al­ready with­out him adding to their strug­gle.

They rarely bunkered the out­side edges of a dog­leg, in­stead pre­fer­ring to guard the short­est line to the hole and leave open the wide route for the weaker play­ers or those eschew­ing the chal­lenge of the haz­ards and the sub­se­quent re­ward of a bet­ter line into the green. Nor were they much for ‘fram­ing bunkers’ or what is col­lo­qui­ally known these days as ‘eye candy’.

Many golfers how­ever come to the con­clu­sion bunkers are sim­ply there to make their life a mis­ery. Re­lated is the com­monly held view bunkers should only aect ‘good play­ers’ and should never be placed where a short hit­ter might go.

If play­ers ac­cept bunkers are placed to make the game more in­ter­est­ing, then why not place bunkers at ran­dom dis­tances so oc­ca­sion­ally the shorter hit­ters face the same de­ci­sion a longer hit­ter finds on an­other hole? Ei­ther not build­ing bunkers or re­mov­ing bunkers likely to catch a shorter hit­ter, un­der the guise of them only aect­ing bad play­ers, surely treats those with a sport­ing in­stinct with a level of con­tempt?

Why should ‘good play­ers’ be the only ones deal­ing with the haz­ards?

Green­side bunker shots are the one shot in the game im­pos­si­ble to play with a bad grip and the re­sult­ing bad tech­nique. You can oc­ca­sion­ally hit a de­cent drive or an ac­cept­able iron with a poor grip but there isn’t a chance of play­ing an eec­tive shot out of the sand. The con­se­quence is golfers com­plain con­stantly and end­lessly about the con­di­tion of the bunkers rather than blam­ing, or even un­der­stand­ing, their own tech­ni­cal in­ad­e­qua­cies.

They er­ro­neously think bunkers should be ‘con­sis­tent’ when ev­ery sin­gle su­per­in­ten­dent in the coun­try will tell you it’s a near im­pos­si­bil­ity to make the sand in ev­ery bunker the ex­act same depth and tex­ture and ev­ery lie flat and ‘fair’.

The wind blows sand around. Some parts of a sand-based prop­erty are likely to have parts where the na­tive sand is more abun­dant than oth­ers. There is way more sand in the bunkers built into the dune at Kingston Heath’s 14th hole than there is on the flat­ter and heav­ier ground where they built the 5th green.

Rain leaves sand moist and ‘heavy’ and long pe­ri­ods of dry weather has the op­po­site eect. Some bunkers get more wa­ter from green­side ir­ri­ga­tion sprin­klers than oth­ers. Bunkers in shade dry out slower than those ex­posed to full sun.

They are never go­ing to be con­sis­tent. They never have been and thought­ful play­ers un­der­stand they are haz­ards made to dier­en­ti­ate the skills of those ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing the ques­tion each lie and stance asks and those who do not.

The the­ory of bunkers is one part of the dis­cus­sion but as im­por­tant in the de­bate are ex­am­ples of bunkers and the vary­ing roles they play in the game.

The most fa­mous is the Road Hole bunker, a tiny pot cut right into the edge of the 17th green at St An­drews. It’s pe­nal but the irony of the most strate­gic holes is they of­ten rely on a pe­nal haz­ard for their in­ter­est. The Road Hole, ar­guably the

MANY GOLFERS HOW­EVER COME TO THE CON­CLU­SION BUNKERS ARE SIM­PLY THERE TO MAKE THEIR LIFE A MIS­ERY. RE­LATED IS THE COM­MONLY HELD VIEW BUNKERS SHOULD ONLY AF­FECT ‘GOOD PLAY­ERS’ ...

best strate­gic hole in the game, is made by the bunker, an out-of-bounds line hard up against the right edge of the fair­way and a road be­hind the green for its in­ter­est.

This bunker is one dom­i­nat­ing the shot to the green and a bunker any­one who plays the Old Course with any reg­u­lar­ity is bound to find of­ten.

An­other green­side bunker re­fus­ing to be ig­nored is ‘Big Bertha’ at the front left of Kingston Heath’s great par-3, 15th hole. It’s bru­tally di€cult to play from and a great ex­am­ple of a haz­ard show­ing o„ the prin­ci­ple (as does the Road Hole bunker) that not ev­ery shot on a very playable course has to be playable for every­body.

The 17th on the West Course at Royal Mel­bourne is the quin­tes­sen­tial dog­leg left par-4 with the bunker on the in­side of the dog­leg and a huge green­side bunker guard­ing the right side of the green to make the ap­proach more di€cult for the ‘timids fly­ing right’, as Peter Thom­son once re­ferred to those avoid­ing the chal­lenge of a haz­ard on the left.

It is one of the best ex­am­ples in the coun­try of a bunker catch­ing the ‘al­most per­fect’ drive.

Cen­tre-line bunkers on mod­ern cour­ses are al­most al­ways con­tro­ver­sial yet they are the ba­sis of many holes at St An­drews and it was MacKen­zie who ar­gued so long as there was room to play short, over, left or right they added much to the game. Many though who think a ‘per­fect drive’ is one well hit, straight and with a good flight de­test it when their ‘per­fect drive’ fin­ishes up in a bunker.

It’s a fail­ure to un­der­stand that he mea­sure of the worth of a shot is its po­si­tion in re­la­tion to the one fol­low­ing – and un­less you pre­fer to be in the bunker how can it be a per­fect shot?

Peter Thom­son built a few at Moonah Links as we copied the prin­ci­ples of the bunkers in the mid­dle of the 12th at Kingston Heath at Royal Queens­land’s 7th hole.

They are not to be over­done but well placed they make for end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing golf for those who un­der­stand their point. For those who don’t they are sure to be just a pain.

As much can be learnt from badly placed bunkers as well placed ones and at Kil­lara in Syd­ney there are two par-5s – the 9th and 10th – show­ing o„ how not to bunker a hole. The Leg­ends Tour for the over 50s play the Dave Mercer Pro-Am there ev­ery year to hon­our one of the nicest men in the game. And it’s a bril­liant day but two holes there drive me com­pletely crazy when I imag­ine just how much bet­ter they would

THE MOST FA­MOUS IS THE ROAD HOLE BUNKER, A TINY POT CUT RIGHT INTO THE EDGE OF THE 17TH GREEN AT ST AN­DREWS. IT’S PE­NAL BUT THE IRONY OF THE MOST STRATE­GIC HOLES IS THEY OF­TEN RELY ON A PE­NAL HAZ­ARD FOR THEIR IN­TER­EST.

be if the o end­ing bunkers were only filled in.

The 9th is 425 me­tres but at some point it was pre­sum­ably deemed to be ‘too easy’ and bunkers were added on both sides of the fair­way with a gap at its nar­row­est point of about 10 me­tres in or­der to make it a ‘harder’ hole. Maybe it is harder but it’s not a prin­ci­ple ever shown o at a great hole.

Lest you think they do some­thing to solve a bound­ary prob­lem it’s a rare haz­ard on the ground that does any­thing to stop a big high hook.

Then at the next, a par-5 play­ing over a per­fect piece of un­du­lat­ing land for a long two-shot­ter, there is a blind bunker over the hill. For what pur­pose, I’m never sure be­cause if you are left of it by 10 me­tres you are stuck be­hind the trees on the left.

It’s a pity be­cause a cou­ple of days with a ma­chine fill­ing them in and they would be two of the best holes on the course. The course would, of course, be ‘easier’ and likely the ob­jec­tion to fill­ing them in. One as­sumes those ar­gu­ing the 9th would be too ‘easy’ would ar­gue just as ve­he­mently it’d be ‘too hard’ if it was just made a par-4, which at 425 me­ters is what it is. Or a par-71 would be un­ac­cept­able be­cause what course worth any­thing isn’t a par-72? Well, aside from Pine Val­ley and Muir­field, Shin­necock Hills, Me­rion, Swin­ley For­est and the rest of the more than 50 per­cent of cour­ses in the world’s Top-100.

Any es­say on the worth of bunkers would be in­com­plete with­out men­tion of the great 3rd hole at Royal Ade­laide. It’s one of MacKen­zie’s great holes made by the un­cer­tainty of a blind tee shot over a ridge, a wild dune bor­der­ing the right side of the hole and a gnarly di­ag­o­nal ridge pro­tect­ing the left side of the long and nar­row green.

So vex­ing is the ques­tion MacKen­zie set, he un­der­stood there was no need for a bunker.

The fa­mous Road Hole on the Old Course at St An­drews. The par-3 15th at Kingston Heath with the Big Bertha bunker in front. Grab­bing a selfie at the Na­tional Golf Links of Amer­ica.

The 3rd at Royal Ade­laide is proof that some well-de­signed holes do not need to be bunkered.

The fair­way bunker left of the 17th fair­way on Royal Mel­bourne’s West Course is part of the hole’s strat­egy.

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