Bunker mentality

How to navigate the British Open bunkers

Updated: July 14, 2012, 10:02 AM ET
By Scott T. Miller | ESPN The Magazine

Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf ClubDavid Cannon/Getty ImagesThe same sand has carpeted Lytham's traps since the club opened in the 1800s.

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NO MATTER WHERE you turn your gaze at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, you see them: bunkers -- an endless array of bunkers. They line the fairways, strangle the landing areas and violate the personal space of the greens. Precisely 205 traps will dot the British Open track -- more than at any other venue in the Open rota -- when the first group tees off July 19. Lytham, which has hosted 10 Opens, sits a mile from the Irish Sea but boasts nary a water hazard. So the bunkers provide Lytham's main line of defense and the key to winning. As head greenskeeper Paul Smith says, "Avoid the sand at all costs."


[+] EnlargeRoyal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club's 17th Hole
Bryan Christie DesignMany of Lytham's bunkers lie in swales, so shots appear to be sucked into the ground.

BUILT TO THRILL

At the bottom of Lytham's bunkers lies the same indigenous sand you'll find a mile down the road at the town beach -- sand that has carpeted Lytham's traps since the club's founding in the late 19th century. But don't let the au naturel filling fool you. The faces of these bunkers have been revetted, one sod layer piled on top of another to exacting, brutal specifications. So brutal, in fact, that golfers adept at shotmaking from the bunkers -- such as Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Jim Furyk -- might not have the advantage here. "The guys who become good bunker players are in them a lot," says ESPN golf commentator Scott Van Pelt, who covered the Open at Lytham in 2001. Instead, look for control golfers such as Justin Rose or U.S. Open runner-up Graeme McDowell come Sunday.

BEWARE: MINEFIELD

Before the 2001 British Open at Lytham, David Duval made a pact with himself: Never go at the green from one of Lytham's deep and treacherous fairway bunkers. It's a sucker play. But when Duval's ball found a fairway bunker during the second round and he saw he had a mere 110 yards to the green, he gambled. It's a sand wedge, he thought. I can get this to the green no problem. The ball didn't even make it halfway up the bunker's face before rolling back to his feet. Despite the ensuing double bogey, Duval went on to win his first and only major two days later by avoiding Lytham's only true hazards. "If you drive it into a couple of fairway bunkers on Thursday and Friday, your golf tournament's over," says Duval, who will attempt to defend his 2001 title this year.

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