Bunkers are a popular topic of discussion on golf courses due to their captivating appearance and challenging nature. They can affect the characteristics of a hole and the player’s approach, depending on their placement, size, or depth. Whether it’s the traditional, steep-faced bunkers found on British links or the contemporary design of modern American courses, bunkers play an essential role in golf, adding to its drama and excitement. In this article, we will explore the top 10 most famous golf bunkers in the world, analyze why these bunkers are notable, and recount some of the historic moments that have taken place within them.
Top 8 Scariest Bunkers in Golf
1. The “Hell” Bunker at the Old Course at St Andrews
The 14th hole on the Old Course at St Andrews is renowned for its challenging hazard, the expansive ‘Hell’ bunker. This trap is located in a hollow about 100 yards before the putting surface and is considered one of the most infamous in the golfing world. With an area of around 300 square yards and a steep revetted face, the bunker is almost seven feet deep, and golfers must avoid it at all costs.
The difficulty of Hell is exemplified by Jack Nicklaus, who required four strokes to get out during the ’95 Open, leading to a score of ten. Similarly, in 1933, Gene Sarazen encountered trouble with the bunker, recording an eight and missing a playoff by a single stroke.
2. The “Himalaya” Bunker at Royal St George’s
The 4th tee at Royal St George’s boasts a towering bunker that is often referred to as ‘Himalaya’ or ‘Coffin’. This imposing structure, nestled into a dune, stands at 40 feet deep and is constructed with wooden sleepers. It is a daunting sight for most golfers, and for the average player, it has the potential to ruin a round. However, for top players during The Open, the bunker may not pose much of a challenge if the wind is favorable, as it can be easily cleared. Yet, when the wind is against them, this monster trap can become a significant factor. During 1993 Open at Sandwich, Australian golfer Mike Harwood encountered the bunker and had to climb its face to play his next shot.
3. The “Church Pews” Bunker at Oakmont Country Club
Between the 3rd and 4th holes at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, there were originally eight bunkers. However, in the 1920s, they were combined into one. After a renovation by Tom Fazio in 2005, the bunker has become over 100 yards long and ranges between 18 and 43 yards in width. Twelve three-foot-high turf islands cross the trap, making it incredibly difficult to recover from if your ball lands within its confines.
This is a bunker that even the most seasoned players will avoid. During practice for the 2007 US Open, Tiger Woods declined to hit a shot from the Pews, stating that he would rather steer clear of them.
4. The “Coffin” at Royal Troon Golf Club
On the scorecard, the Postage Stamp par-3 8th hole at Royal Troon appears unimposing, measuring just 123 yards. However, when a crosswind comes into play, the slender and sloping green becomes a challenging target and hazards abound. Of all the hazards, none is more menacing than the narrow bunker on the left of the putting surface, known as ‘The Coffin.’
Over the years, numerous players have fallen victim to this intimidating trap. Given its narrow shape and steep sides, finding a forgiving lie is unlikely, and merely getting the ball out to a playable location is an accomplishment in itself. During 2016 Open, Bubba Watson was leading at five-under through the first seven holes. Unfortunately, he found The Coffin on the 8th and ultimately walked away with a six.
5. The “Cape” Bunker at Royal North Devon Golf Club
Despite its relatively short distance of just 200 yards, the sprawling, 80-yard-wide ‘Cape’ bunker is an intimidating obstacle to overcome. The towering, wooden face of the bunker seems to stare directly at you, reminding you that any thin or poorly executed shot could result in significant trouble. Interestingly, the sleepers that create the face of the bunker were salvaged from an old pier and stand at a towering 15 feet.
The hazard has existed since the mid-19th century and has evolved organically over time. If you fail to clear the bunker, it’s often wise to take the penalty and play backward.
6. The 6th Green Bunker at Riviera Country Club
The 6th green at Riviera Country Club is renowned for its unusual design. Its sloping surface and significant elevation changes make it a challenging target, but the most distinctive feature is a small pot bunker located right in the center of the green.
Finding this bunker is highly frustrating, but it is still better than having it obstruct your line to the flagstick. Over the years, many professional golfers have attempted to play wedge shots over the bunker to get closer to the hole, but some have ended up three-putting or worse. In fact, this hole on the PGA Tour has seen more four-putts than any other, and in 2007, Ross Marcano made a six after hitting the green in regulation.
7. The Straits Course at Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits in Wisconsin boasts nearly 1,000 bunkers – 967 to be exact, according to Golf Digest. This is a world record in terms of both quantity and diversity, which is why it makes the list of scariest bunkers in golf. The 18th hole alone has an astonishing 96 bunkers, a number that exceeds the total number of bunkers found on many UK courses.
During the USPGA of 2010, Dustin Johnson famously fell foul of one of these bunkers on the 18th. Thinking it was a waste area, he grounded his club, only to discover it was a bunker. As a result, he received a two-stroke penalty, which cost him the chance of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson, who went on to win the tournament.
8. The “Nunca Sera” Bunker at Krisirk Resort Course
The Nunca Sera is one of the most renowned golf bunkers of the Krisirk Resort golf course in Portugal, designed by Walther Mittë. It is considered one of the deepest golf bunkers in the world, reaching impressive depths that challenge even the most skilled golfers. Mittë was commissioned to create a distinctive and memorable design, and he delivered on that promise. Built on towering sand dunes that soar 22 meters high, this bunker is a formidable obstacle on one of the world’s most challenging golf courses.
Tips to be a Better Bunker Player
Consider reassessing your game plan if you aim to avoid sand traps altogether, as even professional golfers struggle with them. Bunker shots are one of the most challenging aspects of golf for players of all levels. Instead of avoiding these shots, prepare to master them. Following are some valuable tips for you to confidently approach your next sand shot and enhance your game while improving your score.
- Choosing the right club depending on where you are sitting in relation to the green
- Take the right ball position and set up, ground your feet into the sand and play the ball off your front foot.
- Choose a weak grip and soft arms to allow an early release of the wrist hinge, letting the ball go higher.
- Make the right swing from the starting point.
- Have a strong mindset and stop listening to pessimistic advice.
- Practice makes perfect
Hitting out of golf bunkers can be a challenging shot in golf, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. By mastering the proper set-up and practicing consistently, you can approach these shots with confidence and ease.
>>> Read more: Top 15 Toughest Golf Courses in the World