what is a golf bunker

What is a Golf Bunker? What is a Golf Sand Trap?

If you’ve ever been golfing (or even just seen golf on TV) you’ve no doubt heard someone shout “Oh no! He’s in the bunker!” Even casual golfers know that being in the bunker is never a good thing, but still wonder “know what is a golf bunker?”. What are golf sand traps that give even the best professionals a look of frustration or exasperation when they hit into one.

So, what is a golf bunker? A bunker is a man-made hazard on a golf course, where “hazard” means obstacle.  Bunkers are depressions in the course usually filled with sand that require changes in how you would normally hit a golf ball if you want to successfully hit out of one.

…However, bunkers are not all bad. They can be beneficial if you know how to use them.  If you’re interested in the different types of bunkers and how to successfully get through one, read on!

Types of Bunkers

what is a bunker in golf

There are three main types of bunkers:  Fairway bunkers, Greenside bunkers, and Waste Bunkers. Each has unique characteristics based on placement and purpose on the golf course.

Fairway Bunkers

Fairway bunkers are found on longer holes (par 4 or 5) and can be found either on the sides of the fairway or in the middle.  The main purpose of the fairway bunker is to penalize golfers who hit off-target drives, or simply to add difficulty to the hole.  However, golfers can utilize fairway bunkers as visual aids to help guide them toward the green, or identify which areas of the fairway to avoid.  Fairway bunkers are usually shallow, meaning you can still hit a fairly lengthy shot if you find yourself stuck in one. Fairway bunkers are also officially designated hazards, meaning you will not be able to ground your ball before taking another shot. In addition, your form will need to be adjusted as the fairway bunker is not at the same angle or level as the fairway.

There are several tips to getting out of a fairway bunker. The first is to use one more club than usual at the same distance. For example, if you would usually use an 8 iron for this distance, use a 7 iron. Another simple technique is to loosen your stance and attempt to hit the middle of the ball.

Greenside Bunkers

Greenside bunkers are bunkers that are located adjacent to the green. Unlike fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers are placed to penalize golfers who hit errant shots when hitting toward the green.  Although not ideal to hit into, greenside bunkers can also provide a benefit to you by providing a backstop to errant shots that might end up in even worse situations, such as a water hazard or out of play completely, causing even worse penalties.  In order to successfully navigate a greenside bunker you will need to use a different club than a fairway bunker. The most common club used is a sand wedge. Similar to fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers are official hazards and you will not be able to ground your club before taking another shot.

If you find yourself in a greenside bunker you will need to make a few adjustments to your next shot to successfully get out of it. First, you should aim to hit the sand behind ball instead of the ball itself. The best club to do this is the sand wedge. Next, choking down on the club and widening your stance are two more steps to incorporate into your bunker swing to improve your chances of success.

Waste Bunkers

Last but definitely not least in terms of difficulty we come to the waste bunker. Waste bunkers are not official types of hazards. Waste bunkers are usually found on links courses and similar to other types of bunkers are filled with sand. They are also easy to notice as waste bunkers are fairly large and sometimes define the contours of the hole you are golfing.  Because waste bunkers are not officially designated hazards, you will be able to ground your club and also clean off any dirt or other small impurities from around the ball while setting up for a shot.

Bunker Characteristics

We’ve gone over the main types of bunkers, but keep in mind that these are broad definitions. Bunkers come in all shapes, slopes, sizes, and difficulties.

For example, one hole might contain bunkers with steeper than normal slopes, while the next almost flat ones. Sand in the bunker can also become wet, or compact, which adds more variety to the challenge.

Conclusion: What is a Bunker in Golf?

We hope you have enjoyed reading the basic characteristics of what golf bunker is, and the small tips provided to help you get through each type during your golfing career.  In summary golf bunkers can be quickly defined as:

  • A man made hazard, or “trap” designed to increase the difficulty of a particular hole
  • Filled with sand
  • Come in three main types: Fairway, Greenside, or Waste.
    1. Fairway and Greenside bunkers do not allow grounding of the ball before your next shot, but Waste bunkers do
    2. Golfers can use bunkers as visual aids to help guide them through the hole and to the green.
    3. Each bunker is unique, and requires you to adjust your club, swing and stance to successfully navigate them.

Although they may seem intimidating at first, once you become familiar with the different types of bunkers and what it takes to get past them, the process becomes much easier with time. Happy golfing!