By W. Bruce Matthews, ASGCA

Hazards should be placed on natural highs or lows of the site and should be visible from the approaching shot for tactical decisions. They also should be a physical and psychological landmark. Depth, height and width should vary and be in proper accordance with the desired severity of punishment for the mis-hit shot. An alternate safer path to the hole is important, as average golfers cannot consistently maneuver a golf shot over hazards. Hazard placement should also allow every golfer an opportunity to hone their skills. A course void of hazards is boring to play and not as aesthetic or satisfying to all skills of golfers. The length of the golf hole dictates the size and shape of the hazards in the progress of play, adjacent terrain and vegetation, and scale to its surrounds.

Different sizes and shapes of the sand bunkers provide visual interest throughout the golf round as well as facilitate many functions. Aesthetic qualities and styles are limitless with the variety of settings.

Before bunker renovation, a few questions must be answered. Why is the bunker a problem? Is it in the wrong location on the hole? Is the sand contaminated with impurities? Is the standing water from last night’s rain or sprinkler setting at the bottom of the bunker for any good reason? Why do you have to shovel sand back on the slopes after a heavy rain? What was the architect trying to accomplish with the sand bunker design and placement and how does the bunker fit into other features of the golf hole?

Different sizes and shapes of the sand bunkers provide visual interest throughout the golf round as well as facilitate many functions. Aesthetic qualities and styles are limitless with the variety of settings. There are a lot of great golf courses across the country that have been scarred by making unnecessary changes, in the name of improvement. Decisions were made to fill in bunkers, adding chocolate drops, lowering or elevating sand lines, cutting off capes and filling in bays of many great works. Tillinghast, Ross, Langford and Moreau would roll over in their graves if they saw some of their work today.

Consider the many functions of sand bunkers. These functions work independently or in conjunction with each other to provide the golfer the proper challenge to the game of golf. Sand bunkers are part of the strategy of the game. Utilized in strategic design a bunker is positioned in the golf hole to guard the desired position in the landing area or green. An alternate hazard free route is left for a safe and longer way to the hole. Penal design locates bunkers to create forced carries without regard to risk. Heroic design features bunkers, usually on the inside of a dogleg, that reward risky shots with a premium location in the hole. A variety of playing abilities is accommodated with heroic bunkers.

Sand bunkers provide a psychological landmark. They accentuate the hole and provide targets for directing the golfer to a defined landing area whether it is the fairway or green. Sand bunkers provide safety buffers for adjacent fairways, tees or greens, both physically and visually. They also provide a safety valve to catch balls careening to an adjacent out of bounds or water hazard.

The functions of the sand bunkers are combined with aesthetic and artistic style by the golf course architect to offer a harmonious and consistent transition in hole difficulty and playability. Sand bunkers provide color, texture, depth perception and scale. All golf courses have a certain style or sense of place of which bunkers are an integral part.

Bunkers evolve or change over a period of time. The average lifespan of a bunker is twenty to twenty-five years, depending on climatic conditions, original construction and maintenance practices.

Proposed sand bunker renovations and additions involve inventorying the following: site conditions; soils; topography; vegetation; current maintenance practices; traffic areas for both golfer and golf cart; the sand bunker position and effects on low and high handicap golfers; and sand type size and color. Club history, the original designer’s intent and original bunker sizes all have to be probed. The analysis of a particular sand bunker and how it relates to the golf hole and other golf holes is undertaken as it pertains to shot value and aesthetics.

Before renovation or adding sand bunkers, evaluate what effect any proposed work will have on the golf course as a whole. It is important that original design and intent are not lost in over-eagerness to rectify a situation that may or may not be a problem. Proper planning and construction can achieve favorable results by retaining or rediscovering the original character of the golf course. It also increases efficiency of maintenance and course attractiveness for years to come. Upon completion of the analysis, work toward renovation can begin.