Church Pews, Hell's Half Acre, Road Bunker. To the untrained eye, they're sandy pits of varying sizes and constructions. To golfers, these pits of despair are part of the mystique of the game. Abandon all hope, ye whose golf balls enter here.
Though I love bunkers as much as any golf nut, many of them are a crutch for architects and a sop to golfers. Sure, when cleverly placed they add an important strategic element to a hole. But the appeal of bunkers is often more visual than practical. On classic and modern courses alike, they provide extra definition to almost every shot, often acting like runway lights for the ball due to their color contrast. Though select other architects have excelled at using them to obscure landing areas and mess with the golfer's depth perception, most of the bunkers you encounter are less obstacle than scenery. Try to picture a bunkerless hole you’ve played. It’s harder to envision than a hole with more literal defining features than just grass and undulations, isn't it? The 14th at Augusta National, with its heaving green, is underrated in large part because bunkerless holes don't photograph as well as sandier counterparts.
Trust Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, golf’s foremost contemporary architecture tandem, to challenge the concept of bunkering with their latest high-profile commission, the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Their position is that the links at their disposal is, as Golden Age architect Robert Hunter wrote, “a site with such interesting undulations, sand bunkers [won’t] be necessary.” “Minimalism” has been the #1 golf architecture buzzword of the last quarter century, though many so-called “minimalist” courses have included their share of painstakingly sculpted bunkers. Bereft of manmade bunkers, the Sheep Ranch might be the most minimalistic course of this century.