Johnny Deep asks, 'How deep should sand bunkers be?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


There is no one answer - either among different golf course architects, or even for one golf course architect or even one golf course. When building bunkers, I consider both design philosophy and practical considerations.

In the perfect golf course architectural world, I think there would be some correlation between bunker depth and shot difficulty. For example, some contend that short approach shots suggest more and deeper bunkers to "proportionally punish" missed shots, while a longer approach shot might feature fewer and shallower bunkers, since a miss with a long iron is more likely.

I even coined two "R.O.B.O.T." to cover this -

� "Fairway bunkers should be 1 foot deep for the iron hit out; i.e., a 9-iron shot could have a bunker 9 feet deep, while a 3-iron shot (on average) might have only a 3-foot-deep bunker.
� "Greenside bunkers should be 1 foot deep for the iron hit in i.e., a 9-iron shot could have a bunker 9 feet deep, while a 3-iron shot (on average) might have only a 3-foot-deep bunker.

Of course, while generally plausible, there are some problems with this ROBOT, including:

� Generally, bunkers will look and feel best if built according to the land, including the "natural" depth of a bunker.
� Most golfers prefer greenside bunkers that are shallow enough to see the pin. (i.e., about 4-5 feet deep) feeling it emphasizes skill over luck.
� Moderate-depth bunkers are easier for:
o Handicapped golfers to get their balls out of;
o Senior golfers to get themselves - not just their shots - out of!
o Superintendents to maintain in good condition.

Lastly, moderate bunkers probably encourage bold play more than a severe hazard would. Think how water makes you aim away, and consider what that 20-foot-deep bunker would do.

Challenge and difficulty are distinct. Feathering a 6-iron fade to a tucked pin is technically (if not psychologically) the same challenge whether that bunker is 2 or 20 feet deep. How often do I need to provide a virtually unplayable recovery shot for golfers who try and fail a shot, thereby discouraging them from trying it again?

Also, there is beauty in varying bunkers, so that, over time, a golfer learns that some are to be avoided, while others should be challenged because the penalty isn't so great.

So, as with everything in golf design, I find variety is the key. My only question as a golf course architect is: How consciously do I strive for that variety? On flat sites, it may be necessary, but letting the "bunkers fall where they may" on a great natural golf site seems to provide all the natural variety necessary.

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.

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