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sandtrapBy: Brian Neufeld, Contributor

The sand trap, or bunker, is perhaps the most loathed hazard you will encounter on a golf course. If you hit it into a water hazard, you can simply drop a new ball and try again. Find yourself in a sand trap, however, and things can quickly turn south. From fried egg lies to near-vertical lips, the sand trap can strike fear in the hearts of professional and amateur golfers alike. But where did these hazards come from? Who had the idea to put a large pit of sand between the tee and the green to make our lives miserable? Although we don’t know for sure, the most commonly accepted theory is quite fascinating. Before we jump into that a brief lesson on the origins of the game is in order.

Hitting the Links

Everyone recognizes and agrees that Scotland is the birthplace of golf. Although only about one-fifth of courses still in operation there today are considered true links-style courses, almost all of the historic courses there are links-style. The term links comes from the word linksland, an area of land between the ocean and the farms, often used for grazing animals. The first golf courses were formed on this less utilized land to provide a source on entertainment for the shepherds in charge of these grazing animals.

The Bunker is Born

Since the most common use before the game of golf on this land was grazing, it was rarely in the pristine conditions we’re used to playing on today. Sheep are the most common grazing animal in the country. In fact, current estimates say there are more than a million more sheep than people in Scotland. Besides sheep, Scotland is also known for the fierce storms that blow in off the North Atlantic. During these storms, sheep huddle together as tightly as possible and burrow themselves into the ground for warmth. On the linksland, this ground is incredibly sandy and pliable. After the storm, a sheep herd sized area of mostly sand and destroyed vegetation would be left behind. When the shepherds began creating the game we know today, these large sand areas were often a major hindrance to completing the hole successfully. As the game grew and courses were built specifically for the sport, these sandy areas were incorporated in the designs to add another level of difficulty for the player.

The origins of the game we love today are quite fascinating. From golf course design to the evolution of the golf club, learning about where the sport came from is a fascinating study for golfers of any skill level. The next time you find yourself in a bunker, don’t vent your frustration at the golf course architect. You’d be better off cursing the sheep of Scotland and the shepherds that created the game.

About the Author: Brian Neufeld

Brian Neufeld’s background includes more than 15 years of experience in golf course management, specializing in agronomy. Brian uses his knowledge of the game and best practices in turf sustention to create informative pieces for’s readers.

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