Golf Tip: What is a “Pot Bunker” – and How Do You Play It?

Technically speaking, a “pot bunker” is a circular sand trap which may feature steep walls and a deep bottom. Put another way, a pot bunker is a mean, nasty critter that you want to avoid at all costs.

The legendary links of Scotland, Ireland and England are riddled with pot bunkers. Most infamous of all is the “Road Hole Bunker” on the 17th hole (aka the “Road Hole”) on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Guarding the front left side of a kidney-shaped green, the Road Hole Bunker causes nightmares for anyone who enters – even the pros. David Duval and Tommy Nakajima are among the many who have taken four, five or more strokes to escape its clutches.

Of course, not every pot bunker is as diabolical as that one. But none are what you’d call friendly.Even shallow pot bunkers can make life miserable due to their cramped space – it’s often difficult to make a full swing – and concave bottoms, which create awkward lies.

You needn’t visit the British Isles to find a pot bunker. Plenty of American courses have them. Architect Pete Dye is especially fond of the dastardly traps, famously placing one at the front of the green on No. 17 at the TPC Players Stadium Course, home to the Players Championship.

So what do you do if you end up in a pot bunker? Hit and hope? Maybe say a little prayer?

Sometimes, that’s all you can do. But first and foremost, resolve to take your medicine. And don’t get greedy. Often, the only way out is to aim away from the target. Find the safest escape route based on your skills, then:

1. Dig your feet in to create a stable base.

2. Open the face on your sand or lob wedge so you’ve got plenty of loft to get the ball over the lip.

3. Pick the club up steeply with an early wrist hinge.

4. Hit the sand sharply, a couple of inches behind the ball, and hold the clubface open as you swing through.

Trying to be a hero in a pot bunker is a fool’s errand. Accept your punishment, get the ball out and vow to never, ever hit into one again.