What Is a Bunker on a Golf Course?

Graham Marsh plays out of the Big Bertha bunker at Royal Portrush during a Senior British Open
This is the 'Big Bertha' bunker at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Ireland. Don't worry: Most bunkers aren't this big or this deep. David Cannon/Getty Images

A "bunker" is a golf course hazard that is a hole or depression in the ground filled in with sand (or a similar material). Bunkers vary greatly in size and shape and depth. They are most commonly found serving as greenside hazards, but also often show up in fairways and alongside fairways.

In the vernacular, one might hear reference to a "grass bunker," a hollowed-out area or depression in which, rather than sand, there is simply more (often deeper) grass.

However, a "grass bunker" is not technically a bunker, because it is not a hazard under the rules. It's simply akin to rough.

Same goes for so-called "waste bunkers," which are not technically bunkers because they are not treated as hazards under the rules.

The official definition of "bunker" from the Rules of Golf is this:

"A 'bunker' is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like.

"Grass-covered ground bordering or within a bunker, including a stacked turf face (whether grass-covered or earthen), is not part of the bunker. A wall or lip of the bunker not covered with grass is part of the bunker.

"The margin of a bunker extends vertically downward, but not upward. A ball is in a bunker when it lies in or any part of it touches the bunker."

What is a Cross Bunker?

Put most simply, a "cross bunker" is a bunker on a golf hole that is positioned so that a golfer must cross it on the normal line of play for that hole.

Cross bunkers can be entirely in the fairway, entirely in the rough, or partially in the rough and jutting into the fairway. They are typically (but not always) wider than they are deep and aligned roughly perpendicular to the fairway.

But cross bunkers can have a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They key concepts are that they are perpendicular to the line of play, and placed in a position that you may be forced to hit over them to advance your ball up the fairway or toward the green.

A couple other specific types of bunkers:

There is not a separate section of the rules devoted only to bunkers, but the do's and don'ts of playing from bunkers are addressed in Rule 13 (Ball Played as it Lies).

A stroke played out of a bunker is called a "bunker shot."

Also Known As: Trap, sand trap, sand bunker. "Trap" is a vernacular term; only "bunker" is used in the Rules of Golf.

Examples: "My ball landed in the bunker in front of the seventh green."

"I had to blast the ball out of the bunker at No. 12."