David Williams Golf Design

Bunker Renovation

Increasingly, modern technology improved techniques and strength of golfers are rendering many features of older courses obsolete.   Bunkers which formed distinct challenges to players in earlier years are now carried with ease by today’s longer hitters.   The overall result is that many of our courses are becoming undefended to the modern better player, who is able to carry the ball 240-250 yards off the tee, thereby clearing these earlier hazards with ease.

However, these existing bunkers, originally designed to be out of range for all but the better player, are now within range of the average club golfer or even the shorter hitter.   Many instances exist where previously challenging cross bunkers now lie at precisely the distance reached by today’s senior golfer or ladies, thereby making the course far more difficult for them than the better player who can carry them with ease.

Additionally, the style of hazard has changed considerably over the years.   In earlier years many bunkers were “penal” designed purely to catch the bad or topped shot.   Modern thinking suggests that such bunkers are unfair as they penalise the shot which, because of its poor nature, is unlikely to be rewarded in any case.

Modern golf course design calls for holes to be designed on a “strategic” basis, where the bunkering is designed to make the player make a conscious decision about the sequencing of shots according to the principle of “risk and reward”.  Often the ideal line into the green from the fairway is protected by adjacent hazards, and this is extended into the “heroic” design principle where increasing risk offers more length and better angle for the next shot, or the full risk of crossing the hazard, compared with the longer but safer route around that hazard.

Not only is the positioning of  many bunkers on many existing courses outdated, but increasingly many are reaching an age where they require major, if not total, re-building.   Collapsed faces and compacted bases are common in older courses, as is the loss of original outline caused by a succession of greenkeepers cutting back the edges for presentational reasons over a number of years.   When faced with such bunkers, it is not merely sufficient to re-build them in their same positions.   Consideration should be given to re-positioning to reflect the increased drive length of today’s golfers.

Case Study

Basingstoke Golf Club in Hampshire is a typical example of a parkland golf course established in the early years of the last century.  Many of the usual problems noted were present in their existing bunkers, and the Club called in DWGD to undertake the re-design.

On many holes, the bunkers had no impact on the way the hole was played, only catching a very off-line shot.  DWGD produced an overall strategy for complete re-bunkering of the course, essentially making the bunkers more of a hazard for the better player, and reducing the difficulty for the majority of ladies, senior golfers, high handicappers and short hitters, for whom golf is a difficult enough game already.

Strategic bunkering, particularly on the par 5s and the longer par 4 holes has greatly improved the playing characteristics and appearance of the course and, on completion of the work, to score well at Basingstoke now requires correct thinking as well as pure ball striking ability.

The Club took the decision to undertake the renovation of all bunkers in one operation during quieter autumn months using an experienced external contractor.   Conversely however, some clubs take the decision to renovate a few holes at a time, spreading the work out over perhaps 5 years and undertaking the renovations using either greenstaff or local labour, and DWGD can produce the necessary documentation for either alternative approach.

Other bunker renovation projects include: