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Eva Braun asks, 'Am I the one who doesn't like hidden bunkers?'


Unlike bunkers you may be familiar with, Eva, I don't have much use for a bunker that is hidden. Once I pay for sand, (sometimes hauled halfway across the country for either its color or firm-play characteristics) you can bet that I (and the owner) want golfers to see it! Attractive bunkers are great visual-design elements, so why hide them?

Bunkers are no longer natural sheep-dug pits. They are most often one of the most artistic creations the golf course architect can create. Rather than dirty sand, they are now raked and maintained, and generally have highly contrasting, or white, or light-buff sand. In an ever more visual society, visual contrast is a desirable feature. We sometimes locate highly visible bunkers solely to improve aesthetics, either in a place with multiple vantage points, or even for exterior views.

For example, we often use more bunkers on hole Nos. 1 and 10 than the traditional "easy-opening-hole" philosophy might dictate, simply because the clubhouse needs a better view.

In housing developments, we might add bunkers to accent the views from nearby entrances or heavily traveled roads, so the golf course feels more like a community amenity for all residents and not just for those whose homes face the golf course.

To reduce construction costs, and increase a "natural" feel, I also design bunkers to fit native land forms. To create visible bunkers, they must slope toward the golfer's view, so a "natural bunker location" is one where the natural upward slope faces the golfer. On flat or even reverse-sloped ground, we will build artificial support mounds if a bunker is necessary. But these rarely look as natural as bunkers cut into existing slopes.

Greens built into hillsides usually have "bunker-friendly" slopes on the low side, and sometimes on both sides. Greens on raised fill pads usually create bunker slopes all around, but only those partially facing golfers will be visible. A wedge-shaped green narrower in front usually makes for best bunker visibility.

Bunkers placed behind greens usually see fewer shots but act as great directional devices, if visible. Bunkers behind greens must be elevated above them in manmade or natural slopes to be visible.

Generally, the "desirable" number of bunkers has been reduced over the years, based on reducing maintenance costs and speeding play, so we try to make the most of the ones we can afford to build. As such, any bunker I build is probably not only visible for aesthetics, but also affects strategy and, if possible, serves other functions, like being a "save (safety of other players, not your shot) bunker" or directional bunker.

As far as golf value, the one exception I make for blind bunkers are "save" bunkers behind greens that keep golfers from going into worse trouble beyond. Golfers would probably breathe a sigh of relief in that situation, but, generally, bunkers affect strategy, so they should be clearly visible when you play the hole to allow you to "make your plan."

While I have occasionally broken my own rules regarding bunker visibility, generally, I think that, like you, Eva, most people find that spending time in hidden bunkers is unpleasant, and that it never ends well.

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, Golf Scapes, have designed 40 golf courses and remodeled 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., and Giants Ridge are rated among the best affordable public courses in the U.S., while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best new course winner, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska and TangleRidge Golf Club is 12th in Texas. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State, which opened in June 2000 as the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee program as well as the first collaboration between the PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.