The Bunker in Golf Terms: Types, Rules, and Etiquette

Colin McCarthy

bunker in golf terms

A bunker in golf isn’t just a pit of sand; it’s a strategic element designed to challenge a player’s skill and precision. Once known as hazards, bunkers come in all shapes and sizes, lying in wait around putting greens or along fairways.

These sandy traps test even the most seasoned golfers, pushing them to master the art of the bunker shot.

Golf’s governing bodies, the R&A and USGA, strictly refer to these areas as bunkers, though many golfers casually call them sand traps.

Despite the playful nicknames like “beach” or “kitty litter,” the challenge they present is serious. The 2019 rule changes may have redefined the term, but the skill required to escape these sandy confines remains as demanding as ever.

Bunkers in Golf

Bunkers are an integral part of golf courses, presenting both challenges and strategic opportunities for players.

Here’s a rundown on bunkers in golf:

What is a Bunker?

A bunker, one of golf’s oldest terms, dates back to at least the 1700s. It likely originates from its other meaning, a small deep sand pit in linksland.

According to the Rules of Golf, a bunker is a specially prepared area containing sand that tests a player’s skill. These sandy depressions on the golf course are designed to present a challenge, forcing players to demonstrate precision and technique.

Bunkers can vary in shape and size, and are strategically placed to protect the fairway and greens from easy shots. Successfully navigating a bunker requires adept control and often specialized equipment, such as a sand wedge.

Different Types of Bunkers

Bunkers, or sand traps, come in various shapes and sizes, each presenting its own set of challenges for golfers.

Here are some different types:

Greenside Bunker

A greenside bunker is located near the green. It is intended to make approach shots more challenging and to test a player’s short game skills. These bunkers are often strategically placed to catch errant shots, making accurate play essential.

Fairway Bunker

A fairway bunker sits along the fairway and is designed to penalize inaccurate tee shots or long fairway shots. Positioned to challenge a player’s driving accuracy, these bunkers can vary in size and depth.

Waste Bunker

A waste bunker, distinct from regular bunkers, consists of sandy waste ground on a golf course. Unlike typical bunkers, the rules restricting play do not apply here, treating them as areas of rough.

Grass Bunker

Grass bunkers are deep indentations in the fairway or rough, resembling sand bunkers but filled with grass instead of sand. Players can approach these areas as they would any rough terrain, focusing on precision over sand-specific technique.

Cross Bunker

A cross bunker requires players to navigate their ball over it during play. Typically wide and perpendicular to the fairway, these bunkers introduce strategic decision-making into each shot.

Familiarizing oneself with these types of bunkers enhances strategic play on the course, allowing golfers to anticipate and plan their shots more effectively.

Rules and Regulations for Bunkers

Rules and regulations for bunkers in golf are outlined in the official rules of golf, which are established and maintained by the R&A and the USGA.

Here are the key rules and regulations governing bunkers:

Touching the Sand: What is Allowed?

Players can touch the sand in specific ways and situations when their ball is in a bunker. They may set clubs down, remove loose impediments, and moveable obstructions, and rake the area to care for the course.

However, they cannot test the condition of the bunker, touch the sand right around their ball, or make a practice swing that touches the sand. These restrictions ensure the integrity of the challenge presented by bunker play.

Removing Obstructions

When in a bunker, players can remove both natural and artificial obstructions. Loose impediments like stones and leaves, and moveable obstructions like rakes and trash are permissible to move.

This removal doesn’t constitute improving playing conditions but ensures fair play as these items aren’t considered intrinsic to the challenge of hitting from a bunker.

It is also important to note that players must not touch the sand with their club prior to the actual shot, known as grounding the club. This rule prevents players from testing the sand’s texture or improving their lie.

Penalty Scenarios

In bunkers, certain actions result in penalties. Testing the bunker’s condition, touching the sand around the ball with hands or clubs before the stroke, or making practice swings that disturb the sand incurs penalties.

These penalties maintain the principle that bunkers are meant to be challenging. Correctly understanding these regulations helps avoid unnecessary strokes and contributes to a fair game.

Additionally, knowing how to properly exit a bunker can greatly affect your score. Players should focus on using the correct technique, such as positioning the ball forward in their stance and following through with a high finish.

Employing these tips can transform a challenging bunker shot into a manageable part of your golf game.

Playing Techniques for Bunkers

Mastering bunker play requires a combination of technique, strategy, and confidence.

Here are some key playing techniques for bunkers:

Shots from Greenside Bunkers

Effective greenside bunker shots focus on controlling the ball’s loft and spin. Players usually use a sand wedge, which has a loft angle between 54 and 58 degrees. The goal is to lift the ball out of the bunker quickly and land it softly on the green.

  • Stance: Adopt an open stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Position the ball slightly forward in the stance.
  • Grip: Use a slightly weaker grip to increase loft and spin.
  • Swing: Make a steep swing, entering the sand 1-2 inches behind the ball. Accelerate through the shot to ensure the clubface propels the ball and sand together.

Shots from Fairway Bunkers

Fairway bunker shots require a focus on clean ball contact and distance control. Players generally use lower-lofted clubs such as a 7-iron to 5-iron to ensure the ball travels a significant distance.

  • Club Selection: Choose a club that will clear the bunker’s lip while providing the needed distance.
  • Stance: Stand slightly open with the ball positioned center or mildly back in the stance. Dig feet slightly into the sand for stability.
  • Swing: Maintain a steady lower body to avoid shifting during the swing. Aim to strike the ball first with a shallow swing path, ensuring clean contact.

Maintenance and Etiquette

Maintenance and etiquette are crucial aspects of bunker care and play on the golf course.

Here’s a breakdown:

Properly Raking a Bunker

Maintaining bunker conditions falls under every golfer’s responsibility. After playing a shot from a bunker, golfers should always rake the sand. This ensures the next player has an even surface.

To rake correctly, players should enter the bunker from the low side to avoid damaging the edges. They should smooth out footprints, divots, and any ball marks.

It’s crucial to distribute the sand evenly, pushing the rake forward and backward, then exiting the bunker from the same low side.

Avoiding Unnecessary Damage

Golfers should take care to avoid unnecessary damage to bunkers. Clubs and other equipment shouldn’t be thrown into the sand, as this can create deep marks that affect playability.

When walking in a bunker, golfers should tread lightly and avoid dragging their feet. This minimizes disruption to the sand’s surface, ensuring it remains in good condition for subsequent players.

Additionally, always remember to rake the bunker after your shot. Properly raking helps maintain the bunker’s integrity, providing a fair playing surface for everyone on the course. Place the rake outside the bunker.

Respecting Other Players

Respect towards other players extends to bunker use as well. If a group is playing behind, golfers should quickly but thoroughly rake the bunker after their shot.

Delaying to clean the bunker can slow down play and cause frustration. Additionally, golfers should be mindful of their noise level and movements when others are playing their shots, maintaining the decorum expected on the golf course.

Not only does raking ensure fair play for those following, but it also preserves the course’s condition. Proper etiquette in bunkers is a fundamental aspect of the game, promoting a seamless golf experience for everyone.

Using the Rake Correctly

Each golf course provides specific rakes designed for bunker maintenance. When using these rakes, golfers should ensure they are not too aggressive to avoid shifting large amounts of sand, which can create uneven surfaces.

The aim is to gently level the surface to restore it to its original state. Short strokes are effective for smoothing out small imperfections, while longer strokes can address larger areas.

It’s important to leave the bunker in better condition than you found it. After raking, place the rake outside the bunker in a designated area to avoid obstructing play. Proper etiquette enhances the game for everyone.

Placing the Rake After Use

After raking the bunker, golfers should place the rake in a predetermined spot. Most courses prefer rakes to be placed outside of the bunker, parallel to the edge, to avoid interfering with play.

Some courses might have specific guidelines, so golfers should familiarize themselves with local rules and follow them accordingly.

Proper placement of the rake ensures both accessibility and functional course design, avoiding disruptions for other players.

Additionally, adhering to these practices can help maintain the course’s aesthetics and prevent unintentional penalties. By being mindful of rake placement, golfers contribute to a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a bunker and a sand trap?

A bunker is the official term for what many people commonly call a sand trap. While “sand trap” is popular in informal settings, “bunker” is the correct terminology used in golf rules and regulations.

What are the different types of bunkers in golf?

The primary types of bunkers are greenside, fairway, waste, grass, and cross bunkers. Each serves a specific strategic purpose and requires different techniques to play effectively.

What club should I use for a greenside bunker shot?

A sand wedge is commonly recommended for greenside bunker shots due to its high loft and ability to get under the ball. However, player preference and conditions can also influence club choice.

Can I ground my club in a bunker?

No, grounding your club in a bunker is not allowed. This rule is in place to maintain the challenge of assessing and predicting sand conditions without any undue advantage.


Bunkers are more than just obstacles; they’re integral to the strategic depth of golf. Mastering bunker shots requires understanding the different types and employing the right techniques.

Equally important is maintaining bunker conditions through proper etiquette. By raking bunkers and placing rakes correctly, players contribute to a fair and enjoyable game for everyone.

Embracing these practices not only enhances individual performance but also upholds the spirit of the sport. Additionally, knowing how to approach each bunker scenario can reduce the number of strokes taken and lower your handicap.

Incorporating bunker drills into practice routines further sharpens skills, making these hazards less daunting.

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Colin McCarthy

Golf is about mastering your misses and learning from them. I seek answers on the how and why of the golf swing, gaining experience even when answers elude me. With over 11,000 hours of teaching and a hunger for learning, I welcome any questions. My goal is to introduce golf to as many as possible, simplifying the game for all to enjoy. Passionate, eager, and ambitious, I'm here to teach, listen, and learn. LinkedIn

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