Reasons for Hazards

The following is excerpted from Bunkers, Pits & Other Hazards, by Forrest Richardson & Mark Fine (©John Wiley & Sons, 2006)

The hazard lives primarily for intrigue, to create strategy, to penalize, and to suggest to the golfer, however subtle or strong, to think about choosing a different route. These are the core of the reasons for hazards. Today, as golf courses have become big business, the driving force behind hazards has grown. We now hear of bunkers being placed "as an aid in aiming," water and sand created for "aesthetic qualities," hazards conceived to direct balls away from adjacent land uses, and even grass bunkers who's sole purpose it is to stop balls from entering a what? — a deep and perilous, you guessed it...hazard.

There is another tier of hazard rationales. The aesthetically minded designer might find a reason to use a hazard to offer a contrasting texture. This is a by-product of landscape architecture, a relatively new profession in our built environment. In terms of civil engineering, lakes, ponds, and ditches are often requirements for drainage, whether they are natural or not. A hazard may be the perfect conveyance for water across a golf course. With regard for the natural watercourse or drainageway (this is the topic we never tire of) it is a paramount need in golf architecture to find ways to preserve these natural features wherever possible and practical. Hazards — perhaps the very best of them — are natural features preserved during the clever routing and design of the course.

We know a golf architect who was on site building a course and the vice president of marketing for the owner showed up and became livid at the relationship of the entry road into the project with the golf course taking shape. A most amazing series of bunkers dribbled into the left portion of the fairway. They created an interesting game of do or dare. But the vice president was unhappy despite the design and the strategy of the very capable designer and the shaper's execution. "They have to be seen from the road," she barked. In the end she got her way. A second series of bunkers was added at about 120-yards from the main tee. They serve no purpose but to add "eye candy" to the experience of arriving at the club. Is this good for golf? Well, the addition of the bunkers does serve a purpose. That cannot be argued.

The Old Course at St. Andrews, during its formative evolution, may not have been subjected to this need for "curb appeal," but it most certainly is subjected to it now. The Old Course is big business for golf. The driving force to "preserve at all cost" the famous bunkers at St. Andrews is itself "curb appeal" of nearly the same sort. Preservation, until the last few decades, was of no concern at The Home of Golf2. The very nature of the links was its continual improvement, change, trials and adjustments. Now, we sit writing and reading several centuries into the future and it is obviously impossible to ask any of the regular players back then about this. But the facts are plain. Holes changed, the course changed, new things were tried and new ideas came to life. Today the marketing angle of The Links Trust is one of keeping The Old Course "the way it always was." Of course, this is in the eye of the beholder-those of here in the twenty-first century.

Despite whatever newfound motivations for creating hazards — curb appeal included — the fundamental reason for them has to do with the playing of the game of golf. At least that is the way we see it. One of our favorite haunts is a "place" called Golf Club Atlas, a website discussion group about golf courses and golf course architecture. A regular contributor, Pat Mucci, could not have said it any better than with this eloquent post from cyberspace, "Golf courses are nothing more than fields of play for a game called golf. That game has principles and rules for play. The object is: A golfer must get from point A to point B in as few strokes as possible, and it is the architect's function to impede and frustrate that attempt which creates the interest and the challenge in the endeavor."

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