The following is excerpted from Bunkers, Pits & Other Hazards, by Forrest Richardson & Mark Fine (©John Wiley & Sons, 2006)
When the game of golf was first played the term hazard was surely not an actual thing or object. It was a “concept,” a situation a player got himself into. A problem not avoided caused your ball to be in trouble and the outcome was not known until you performed. Only as time progressed did these perilous situations became known as “hazards.” The concept became a defined term: “Your ball is in a hazard.” The definition of a “hazard” varied over the years but was mostly limited to bunkers and water. In the game of many generations ago “hazard” could refer to obstacles which impeded play, making progress impossible without some relief. Today these are not “hazards,” they are obstacles, impediments and ground under repair.
Two rules from the first thirteen rules of golf established in 1744 by the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers are quoted:
“5. If your Ball comes among watter, or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a Stroke for so getting out your Ball.”
“13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar’s Holes, or the Soldier’s Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out teed and play’d with any Iron Club.”
These two rules shed light on what was considered a “hazard” in 1744. The other eleven rules, by the way, were about such things as teeing and holing. No mention of “hazard” per se. As golf evolved, so did our concept of a hazard. Partly a reflection of the links themselves, and partly a result of ideas such as “alpinization,” the trend was turning toward combining natural features of the land with manmade features. Whether for good or bad, golf crossed a line sometime near the beginning of the 1900s. And that line has rarely been revisited.
The evolution of hazards among new courses is now much more about creating than it is about discovering. This may be a response to golf moving from the coast to inland regions. It is also because many who propose new courses are no longer of the school that the site must be “ideally suited for golf” as we have read so many times in so many books. The new school embraces golf on extremely flat land, through home developments and on jigsaw puzzles of land which are ill-suited for golf altogether. Amazingly, decent and regarded courses have been created out of this newfound direction. Shadow Creek in Las Vegas is one such example. While critics disagree (they always will), it cannot be contested that Shadow Creek, a course created from nothing and at great expense we might add, is a wonder to behold. It is “alpinization” at its strongest, and it manufactures each hazard-sand, pond, hill, valley, ridge and bump-with a Disneyland approach of artificial rock and materials trucked in from miles away. It is a new concept of golf. But it shares a place with the original concept of naturalness and use of the land whenever possible. Golf now embraces both, sometimes on the same course or hole. Our hazards are no longer all natural or all created.