The coming and going of the British Open always produces a memorable scene where the pot bunker plays a crucial role in determining the champion. This year, Sergio Garcia’s gallant surge to catch Rory McIlroy went to pot Sunday on the par-3 15th hole. His tee shot rolled into the greenside pot bunker, and his second shot failed to climb over the ominous sod wall. The result was a badly-timed bogey and another blown bid by Garcia to win a major (he lost by two strokes).
No doubt, it’s a pisser when your ball plops into a pot bunker. Unlike the shallow sand traps found stateside — play pens, really, that pros pooh-pooh, even to the point of sometimes aiming for them as a safe alternative to snarly rough or a hazard — pot bunkers quicken a pro’s pulse and make him or her find religion PDQ when the ball is on course for these cruel craters.
“Grazing sheep formed natural pot bunkers.”
The most famous is the “Road Hole Bunker” (see Gary Player’s video tour of it) on the 17th hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews. David Duval and Tommy Nakajima are two pros — pros, mind you — who have taken four-plus strokes to get out of it.
Pot Bunker Construction
Bringing golf gods to their knees — literally, in some pot bunkers — is not entirely their purpose. They were built originally with deep walls because stiff seaside winds on links courses would quickly sweep away the sand from shallow bunkers, leaving just a dirt pit. But even before the days of carefully planned course construction, grazing sheep formed natural pot bunkers, scraping out the ground to find shelter; this became an exposed area of sand, a hazard.
Pot bunkers usually last between five and eight years (see how one is constructed), depending on the amount of play. The walls are made from foot-wide sod pieces 1 to 2 inches thick. Laying the pieces grass side up creates a grass-faced wall that erodes less but requires more maintenance. Grass side down means less maintenance, more erosion and the look of a black-faced bunker.
Many U.S. golfers are inspired to play in Great Britain because of the Open Championship. Like a moth to a flame, they have a fatal attraction to experience playing from a pot bunker. If that’s you, go ahead, knock yourself out. But check out this how-to-play-a-pot-bunker video first.