What Is A Bunker In Golf?

A bunker in golf is defined as a “specially prepared area intended to test the player’s ability to play a ball from the sand”

The par-4 5th hole on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates showing what is a bunker in golf
The par-4 5th hole on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is a bunker in golf?

A bunker in golf is defined under the rules as a “specially prepared area intended to test the player’s ability to play a ball from the sand.”

The name comes from the origins of the game. The earliest courses were laid over linksland, on which naturally occurred small deep sand pits which were called bunkers. These bunkers were incorporated into the design and challenge of the early golf courses, and so bunkers have become part of the design of most golf courses ever since.

Bunkers sometimes get colloquially called sand traps, but bunker is the official term used in the rules of golf. Rule 12 explains what can and cannot be done in a bunker, as the rules for playing out of a bunker are different from when playing from the fairway. (The main one is that the club cannot be grounded in a bunker before playing the shot – to do so is to incur a shot penalty.)

A waste bunker is distinct from a bunker. A bunker is a “specially prepared area”. A waste bunker is an area of sandy waste ground on a golf course. Thus the rules as to what you cannot do in a bunker do not apply to waste bunkers which are treated as just another area of rough.

Similarly grass bunkers are not treated as bunkers under the rules of golf. So you can play from them just as you would from the rough or fairway. Grass bunkers are deep indentations in fairway or rough such that they look like a normal bunker except that they have no sand in them it as it is a grassed area. (Sometimes grass bunkers were simply old sand bunkers that have been grassed over.)

What is a cross bunker in golf?

A cross bunker is a bunker which you have to cross with your ball when playing a hole. Thus you have to hit the ball over it rather than around it. A cross bunker can come in all shapes and sizes, but typically it is wide and aligned roughly perpendicular to the fairway.

What is a pot bunker in golf?

A pot bunker is a particularly fiendish design of bunker which is small, round and very deep and so harder to play out from than most bunkers. It is most commonly found on links courses.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he was contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.