Ten Commandments Second Intermission

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Get up, and stretch your legs again! We will answer another question, this time from Barry D. Lye, asking:

"My club is rebuilding bunkers. Are there are any guidelines to making them fair?"


There's the "F" word again! We forget that the original intent of bunkers was as hazards. Golfers now demand perfect lies, and an equally easy shot, or they declare bunkers unfair. They are now, at best, an alternative shot; and, at worst, a preferred aiming location over rough.

Some issues are more maintenance than design. You should choose sand with angular particles of different sizes following USGA recommendations, which firm up better than sands with consistent, round particles.

What's a fair punishment for a bad shot? Facing the firing squad is too stiff a penalty, but allowing putting from bunkers is not sufficient. Somewhere in between is "just right." I use moderately punitive bunkers, because:

Water provides difficult hazard on some holes. I use bunkers where I want players to have a chance at recovery.

The popularity of stroke play over match play, where hazards only cost you one hole, not several strokes, and don't slow play. Even in match play, moderate hazards keep things interesting longer, rather than conceding to one player as soon as the other finds trouble.

We want to tempt players into taking risks to gain an advantage. Stiff criminal penalties are to deter bad judgment, while golf hazards should encourage bad judgment!

Here is what good players think when tempted to challenge a hazard:

They must feel good about succeeding (unless it's "do or die") to even consider it. Then, they must feel they can't reasonably save par from the hazard. Since they can only gain one stroke, why gamble on losing two? On reachable par-5s and drivable par-4s, they may pick up two strokes, and bunkers can be deeper. Otherwise, they play it conservatively like football coaches taking their chances later in overtime.

Now, here is what goes through an average golfer's mind when deciding to challenge a potentially disastrous hazard: End of thought process.

Obviously, average players need to improve the thought process!

On one project, the shapers asked how deep I wanted the fairway bunkers. I said, "Make the bunkers 1 foot deep for the iron required to hit the green!" It resonated, and fairway bunkers 130 yards from the green were 9 feet deep, for a 9-iron, and those 230 yards away were only 1 foot deep, representing a 1-iron.

While it's difficult and unnecessary to follow this rule exactly, the general principal of having bunkers just deep enough to make clearing the lip "chancy" is both sound advice, and a good sound bite. Of course, the overall slope of the bunker should get steeper proportionately to help the effect.