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bunker sand golf bunkers

Are bunkers supposed to be fair?

Whether it’s the professional or the amateur game, we all demand sand that’s consistent and raked. But should we be guaranteed a good lie? The From the Clubhouse team got stuck in…

 

It’ll be in everyone’s top five moans at their golf club – and it’s probably number one for many.

Players and critics got excited about the bunkers at Royal Liverpool during The Open last month, and the R&A then changed the way they were raked, but complaints are by no means restricted to the highest levels of the game.

We mope at our clubs about the lack of raking, the raking itself, whether there’s enough sand in there, and whether there’s too much sand in there.

But bunkers are supposed to be a hazard. Aren’t we meant to try and avoid them at all costs, rather than complaining because we haven’t got a perfect lie when we find one?

We asked in our latest From the Clubhouse podcast whether the game was in danger of going soft on golf bunkers. Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin weigh in…

Should golf bunkers always be fair?

hoylake bunkers

‘If bunkers don’t provide jeopardy, or tragedy, what’s the point of them?’

In the professional game, bunkers have become an afterthought, says Steve Carroll. You’ll often hear players going ‘get in the bunker’ because they know they’ll get an ultra-consistent lie. They’re so great out of bunkers that they know they can get a lot of spin.

I thought some of the furore at The Open was a bit misplaced. Let’s take Rory McIlroy. His second shot on 18 [in round one] buried in the face of the bunker.

But no one forced him to take the second shot on. There was a risk and reward in that. He thought he hit a good shot, but he had a little bit of bad luck. It ran into the bunker and into the face.

That’s what can happen if you try and hit a wood from wherever it was on a 609-yard par 5. I thought the risk and reward there was fair. If you messed it up and got it in the bunker, there was going to be chance you weren’t going to be able to get it out in one go.

I was slightly disappointed the change was made, and it does make think, ‘what are bunkers for if they’re not going to produce that kind of tragedy, that kind of calamity? If all the time when we go into a bunker, whether it be fairway or green, we expect the ball to roll back into the middle so we can just chop it out with a load of spin’.

If there’s not going to be an element of jeopardy, because we’re fixing them in such a way that the ball will always roll back a lot of the time, then what is the point?

‘Sanitising golf courses in the pursuit of fairness is a fool’s errand’

The sanitisation of golf courses and this idea of trying to make them consistent in all areas – in the pursuit of fairness – is an absolute fool’s errand, isn’t it? says Tom Irwin.

Bunkers should effectively be a half a shot penalty, shouldn’t they? You should have the opportunity to get up and down. There should be an element of jeopardy – you may well get a bad lie, or you may well get up a face, or have some sort of funny stance, because that’s the risk you take.

We’ve talked on the podcast before about whether we should return to not raking bunkers, because unless you get a plug there’s almost no chance for a bad lie in bunkers in premium venues.

Again, that’s just something thar removes them as being a hazard. It’s a very strange to do. We don’t want to see pros suffer, so we’re going to soften the bunkers off. It’s a very odd decision.

What do you think? Should golf bunkers always be consistent, or should they be a haphazard challenge you want to avoid? Let me know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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