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Vera Boren asks, 'Why do so many sand bunkers look alike and how do you create more bunker variety?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Generally, I agree that holes on a course tend to look too much the same, rather than too different, and variety is one of my biggest issues in design. One culprit in "bunker sameness" is the notion that courses should have consistent bunker types. Consistency is not continuity.

Even when consciously trying to vary bunkers, I find that I favor certain proportions, etc., so that individual bunkers rarely become so wildly divergent in styles that the course suffers continuity problems. In fact, I do consciously try to create the visual variety of varying bunkers in number, size, placement and, to a lesser degree, style. I have successfully mixed pot, flash, waste and long-strip or other bunkers in one design.

Within any nine holes, I'll design one green without bunkers and another with perhaps a dozen, and be sure no two greens have the same number or similar patterns of bunkers, simply to ensure visual variety. Fairway bunkers get the same consideration.

If several greens have room for only one bunker, I considerably vary placement (left, right, back, front), shapes (from extravagant to simple) and sizes between them. Several greens can have two bunkers if they aren't "bunker left - bunker right," but rather all have significantly different patterns such as both bunkers on one side, stacked, staggered or offset bunkers to vary the look.

I also consider consecutive holes, generally alternating heavily bunkered greens with those with fewer or no bunkers, believing a course is more memorable when a tee shot facing five bunkers is followed by an unbunkered fairway, or a heavily bunkered tee shot is followed by a shot to a lightly bunkered green.

For that matter, I think too many golf course architects rely too heavily on bunkers only, because of tradition. I favor using both sand and grass bunkers/hollows, chocolate drop or larger mounds, steep grass banks and fairway chipping areas to create even more visual variety between holes.

Of course, that also promotes different recovery shots over 18 holes and makes golfers consider "which is the best side to miss - if I miss" based on their individual ability. Grass hazards, being less visually dominant, often lure golfers, whereas sand bunkers are "stop signs." However, grass bunkers are often the more difficult hazard of the two, so pairs of varying hazards can create a "Catch 22."

Play variety is also enhanced when I liberally and seemingly randomly (but actually generally trying to balance left, right, back, front, etc.) sprinkle different hazard types on various sides of greens and fairways. Over time, these cause regular players to face many different recovery shots, rather than repetitive sand shots.

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.