Types Of Golf Bunkers

Golf bunkers can be intimidating to many, but they don’t have to be. Bunkers are part of the challenge and beauty of golf courses. 

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced golfer, understanding the different types of bunkers can help you approach your shots more confidently. I’m going to cover the different types of bunkers, rules and strategies for playing in these sandy traps.

With some practice and dedication, you’ll soon feel comfortable navigating any type of bunker on the course.

Types Of Golf Bunkers
Photo Geoffrey Baker – Types Of Golf Bunkers


Ready to get up close and personal with sand traps? Let’s find out what a bunker is!

To quote the Rules of Golf a bunker is:

A specially prepared area of sand, which is often a hollow from which turf or soil was removed.

They are one of the five defined areas of the golf course:

  • general area
  • teeing area
  • penalty area
  • putting green
  • bunkers

They are typically located on the sides of fairways or near greens, and they come in various shapes and sizes.

Sand bunkers can be intimidating, but learning how to play out of them will help you lower your score. They are an important part of the rules of golf: If your ball lands in a bunker, you must take your next shot from within the confines of that area (the Rules of Golf now allow you to drop outside but it’s a big penalty!).

First, while some people like to call them “traps” or “sand traps” that name doesn’t appear in the Rules of Golf.

Knowing how to tackle each type will give you an edge when playing this beloved game!

Pot Bunker Being Reconstructed
Photo Geoffrey Baker – Pot Bunker Being Reconstructed

Types of Bunkers

Bunkers basically fall into two categories. There are parkland-type bunkers which tend to be large and fairly shallow and there are pot bunkers which are most often found on links courses. They are usually small but very deep with walls of turf (revetted face) making it difficult for you to escape.

Parkland courses will have fairway bunkers positioned to catch you out off the tee and greenside bunkers to punish wayward approaches. Usually, you will find that fairway bunkers will be large and fairly flat with little in the way of a lip particularly if the course is of the American style. Greenside bunkers will be deeper requiring a more lofted shot to escape.

Links courses will usually have reverted bunkers to catch wayward drives and fairways. Unlike parkland courses, you will often have to come out sideways or even backward in order to escape. The areas around the bunkers tend to be cleverly shaped to suck your ball to a sandy grave too! The effective area of the bunker can be much larger than you might think.

One specific style of fairway bunker you might meet is the church pews. This is a long bunker with horizontal strips of grass every few yards that can make for some very awkward lies. Oakmont Country Club has one of the most famous church pew-style bunkers.

Another type of sandy area that has come to prominence in recent years is the waste bunker. These aren’t really bunkers though as Dustin Johnson found to his cost. At the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits he grounded his club in a bunker which knocked him out of a playoff. Unfortunately for him any other week and he would have been fine as the sandy areas are usually played as waste areas except for a special rule brought in for the Championship which deemed them to be bunkers.

You may have heard commentators talking about cross bunkers. No these aren’t meant to make you angry! It just means they run from left to right across the line of play. It forces you to think about whether you can carry the hazard or should you lay up.

Playing the Road Hole

There is one type of “bunker” that isn’t filled with sand. A grass bunker looks like a bunker in that it is a depression or hollow but there isn’t any sand in it. Often the grass will be left to grow and you can find yourself in some tricky situations even if you aren’t on “the beach”. Of course, this means players can ground their club.

Types of bunker:

  • Fairway
  • Greenside
  • Pot
  • Cross
  • Waste
  • Church pew
  • Grass

Bunker Rules

When playing golf, bunkers are an integral part of the game. They come in various shapes and sizes and have been designed by course architects to challenge players of all levels.

The main thing to remember in a bunker is that you can’t ground your club. Should you do so then you receive the general penalty of loss of hole in matchplay or two strokes in stroke play. There are some occasions when you can touch the sand and these are covered on the R&A website.

Recent changes to the rules even allow you to drop outside a bunker although this means you incur an additional penalty stroke.

St Enodocs Version Of Himalaya
Photo Geoffrey Baker – St Enodocs Version Of Himalaya

Most Famous Bunkers

Discovering the most famous and challenging bunkers around the world can be an exciting and thrilling adventure – one that you won’t soon forget!

The “Road Hole Bunker” at St. Andrews is notorious for being one of the toughest tests in golf. Tommy Nakajima came a cropper in that bunker during the Open Championship. The face is very steep and the ball often ends up somewhere that makes it difficult to even stand inside the bunker. Trying to escape under the pressure of a major championship can be very difficult.

Pine Valley is home to what is deemed to be the largest bunker in golf on its 7th hole. The Himalaya bunker at Royal St Georges is regarded as the deepest in Championship golf.

Types Of Golf Bunkers: Conclusion

You’ve now learned about the different sorts of bunker designs in golf and how each one has its own unique characteristics. Whether you’re facing a greenside, fairway, waste or cross bunker, you know what to expect.

With an understanding of the rules and the right technique, you should be able to escape from almost any situation although not necessarily in the direction you would like to! So don’t be afraid to take on any type of bunker; with proper technique, it can become your ally instead of your enemy.

Now go out there and show ’em who’s boss!

Want to know the best club to get you out of the sand?

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