While the phrase has recently become popular in the news, golf has always known it had an “Alt Right” problem. Specifically, architects know that average golfers usually miss to the right, and typically have trouble escaping sand bunkers, so we need to come up with alternate hazards on the right side of greens and fairways, which I have always called alt right hazards.

What they are talking about on nightly news, I have no clue. I do know that when I see a green like the one on the right, slow play is sure to follow. A sand bunker front right, covering most of the green, which sits at a steep angle. Its design makes it hard to hit. You can be sure that many “C” and “D” players will end up in the front right sand bunker, and many of those will take two shots to get out.

Image 1 - It slows play, which is always a concern, and puts fear into average golfers. However, sand bunkers rarely trouble better players, especially when they are as well maintained as is typical today. Most often, they find that grass hazards offer a harder – or at least trickier and/or more interesting recovery shot. Long grass reduces spin, and sloping lies create problems. Fairway lies offer confusing choices between chipping and pitching.

Hmm ... grass bunkers are easier on average players, and harder on good players. That seems like a combination that should be used more often, especially on the front right of greens.

Grass hazards also offer the benefit of flexibility, in that they can be mowed short for daily play, and then allowed to grow for big events. And generally, they don’t cost as much to build or maintain as sand hazards. And a combination of different sand and grass hazards certainly provides more design variety (always a wonderful thing) than yet another green with sand bunker left, sand bunker right.

Architects deride the penal style of architecture, where only good shots will hit the green. If “bunker left, bunker right” isn’t penal, I’m not sure what is. Even architects who tout the strategic style often fall back on this design crutch. To have strategic value, in most cases:

  • One side should have a hazard and the other shouldn’t, or
  • One side should have a harder hazard, the other an easier or different hazard, (deeper bunker on one side that warrants more concern than the other).
  • At the very least, sand bunkers on alternate sides should be:
  • Staggered, which begins to suggest a shot pattern.
  • Smaller and larger, most often with the small hazard on the cart path side to improve circulation, which is problematic for most courses.

Considering course difficulty and speed of play, common sense says our designs should limit hard hazards (sand and water) in areas where high handicap players miss often (short right of the green).

My last few renovations have been public courses, with an emphasis on speed of play, so I have been confronted by this question, and pondered my choices for alternate turf hazards. Another benefit of grass hazards is the pure visual variety that can be used.

  • Broad fairway chipping area
  • Broad fairway height rolling terrain
  • Sculpted fairway/rough chipping area
  • Fairway with rough grass moguls interspersed
  • Grass bunker (rough)
  • Grass bunker (shaggy)
  • Grass moguls (rough)
  • Grass chocolate drop mounds
  • Large grass mounds

Here are a few options in words and pictures:

Of course, it’s not always necessary to punish golfers. On this hole, if they get past the “Hooters” mounds, the slopes kick them back on the green:

Image 2 - In this case, I used sand hazards to stop some shots from going to the rocks beyond, which is an appropriate use of “sand right” in fairway and green design, especially on longer shots.

Image 3 - A “standard” grass bunker, shaped just like a sand bunker, but turfed over at rough height. The depth alone makes this a formidable hazard. This is a depression, and needs a small catch basin in the bottom. Grass bunkers can surface drain.

Image 4 - Here, I use large grass mounds as hazards and helpers. If you clear the tops, it can kick you right on the green.

Image 5 - Grass hazards are great at creating shadows, and we consider sun angles when locating and shaping. This one is sharp enough for shadows, but gentle enough to machine mow.

Image 6 - A favorite use of fairway grass slopes is to create kick plates to allow a route to the green that doesn’t require a sand carry.

Image 7 - On links-themed courses, some grass bunker sand slopes can be covered with native grasses, making for a very difficult hazard, not to be used often.

Image 8 - A sculpted fairway grass hazard doesn’t have to be deep or steep. It just needs a slight bank to force a lofted shot on to the green, hopefully landing just on the green edge when the pin is close. Even a slight green roll – either a way to reduce spin or rolling – to require perfect aim makes especially tricky, especially from a short fairway lie.

It has even been suggested to me that I work overly hard to sculpt the ground around greens, and I could really confuse golfers by leaving a flat level lie somewhere around the green. It’s true, architects don’t have to design everything ... so often nature does the job for us so much better.

Jeffrey D. Brauer is a veteran golf course architect responsible for more than 50 new courses and more than 100 renovations. A member and past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, he is president of Jeffrey D. Brauer/GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas. Reach him at jeff@jeffreydbrauer.com.