10 of the scariest bunkers in golf

From Oakmont's Church Pews to a 'Coffin', these pits of Hell put a fright into golfers.
The only sign there's a golf hole beyond the Himalaya Bunker on No. 6 of the Church Course at St. Enodoc is a simple aiming pole.

Many of the best bunkers are built to strike fear into the heart of the golfer.

When architects start shaping them with wild features - deeper centers, higher lips, larger walls, covering expansive territory or menacingly tiny in size - that's when concern turns to terror.

Halloween is a perfect time of the year to ponder the scariest bunkers in golf. It's wise to think of these pits of despair not as sand traps but as closer to water hazards. Maybe that thought process will help you steer clear of them. It's generally at least a one-stroke penalty or more to escape these dark places, depending on the lie. If you see stairs, start saying prayers.

What's the scariest bunker you've ever played out of? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. San Andreas Fault, Stadium Course at PGA West, La Quinta, California

    Only something from the mind of Pete Dye could be No. 1. The 16th hole on the Stadium Course at PGA West and the 20-foot-deep bunker to the left of the green are named after the underground fault line that may someday cause the big earthquake all Californians fear. Let's hope the "San Andrea Fault" sticks to only wrecking scorecards.

    3 Min Read
    September 16, 2021
    Some of the world's famous venues are littered with sand.

  2. Devil's bunker, Pine Valley Golf Club, Clementon, New Jersey
    A golfer, from the 1960s, tries his luck getting out of the famous sand trap near the 10th green of the Pine Valley Golf Club.

    Everybody in golf knows the actual name for this bunker, but we'll just call it the Devil's bunker to keep things clean. No doubt your score will get dirty should your tee shot on the par-3 10th find it. This bunker, along with Hell's Half Acre on No. 7, are two of many reasons Pine Valley is considered the hardest course in the game.

    The World's Deepest Bunker was to be built at a resort in Portugal that doesn't exist and designed by a fake architect, Walther Mittë.

    The ultimate April Fools' Day golf prank lingers on. While doing online research for this story, I came across this 2017 press release and Golf Monthly story on the "World's Deepest Bunker". Once I saw the photo, my "this is fake" radar kicked in, but a part of me kind of hoped it could be true. Andrew Harris, the director of Harris Kalinka, says his company does animations for courses and uses April Fools' jokes like this one now and then to gain some attention and have a little fun. "We were quite surprised how many people believed it was real and still do, I often see it pop up on social media," he wrote in an e-mail. I could get up and down. You?

  3. Himalaya, Church Course at St. Enodoc, England

    The famous Himalaya bunker along the right side of the 428-yard 6th hole of the Church Course at St. Enodoc Golf Club was restored to its original size last winter. The biggest bunker in Europe just got nastier. Are you brave enough to bomb a driver over a bunker that is 75 feet high, 60 feet wide and 100 feet long?

  4. Church Pews, Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
    Patrick Reed hits out of the "mini Church Pew" bunker on the 15th hole during the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

    Many golfers have experienced their come-to-Jesus moment when confronted with the 'Church Pews' between the third and fourth holes at famously difficult Oakmont. Playing hero ball is a no-no out of one of golf's toughest torture chambers. The Church Pews are 100 yards in length with 12 three-foot-high grassy knolls causing havoc for any lie and stance.

  5. Hell Bunker & Road Hole Bunker, Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland

    The Old Course at St. Andrews is a maze of double greens and hidden bunkers. The Hell bunker on the 14th hole might not be as well-known as the Road Hole bunker, but considering it's about 7 feet deep, it could be even more dangerous. We love that a camera has been installed into the face of the Road Hole bunker next to the 17th green to capture all the critical shots when The Open comes to town. Next up is 2022, the 150th anniversary of golf's oldest major championship.

    The famous "Road Hole" bunker near the 17th green of the Old Course at St. Andrews has been reshaped in recent years. Notice the hole for a camera in the bottom.

  6. Coffin, Old Course at Royal Troon, Scotland

    Any bunker named Coffin is a shoe-in for our story. This sod-walled bunker right of the green has been victimizing pros and amateurs on the Postage Stamp hole - the 123-yard 8th at Royal Troon - for more than century. It took Rory McIlroy six shots to get out during a practice round for The Open in 2016.

    Muirfield in Scotland also has its own Coffin bunker in the 17th fairway. As I walked by, my caddie pointed it out and shared: "It's called the Coffin bunker because you're dead if you're in it."

    This deep crossbunker on the par-5 17th hole at Muirfield is called "coffin" by the caddies because "you're dead if you're in it."

  7. Himalaya, Royal St. George's, Sandwich, England
    Golfers fear the Himalaya bunker right of the fourth fairway at Royal St. George's Golf Club.

    Thankfully, the fourth hole at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England, doglegs left, meaning players don't have to take on the towering 'Himalaya' bunker on the right side of the fairway cut from a dune. Nobody at The Open in 2021 found it, but you can bet it acts like a tractor beam on timid swings from members and their guests during everyday play.

  8. Hole 6, Pacific Dunes, Bandon, Oregon
    Don't go left on the sixth hole into the deepest bunker at Pacific Dunes.

    Golfers who attempt to drive the green on this 316-yard hole (288 yards from the tees most people play) at Pacific Dunes do so with more risk than reward. Tom Doak says this bunker left of an severely elevated green isn't the deepest bunker he's built, but it's close.

  9. Gremlin's Ear, Straits Course at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin

    When Pete Dye co-wrote his book, Bury Me in a Pot Bunker, maybe this is what he meant. Out of the nearly 1,000 bunkers on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, this treacherous pit dissecting the 6th green might be the most lethal. Sadly, it never came into play during the Ryder Cup in September as the PGA of America decided to keep the hole driveable each day with the pin on the left side of the green. It would have been fun to see how the best players in the world would handle such a diabolical shot.

  10. Nessie, Dunluce at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland
    The new "Nessie" bunker guards the right side of the 590-yard, par-5 seventh hole 'Curran Point' on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club.

    It was a sad day when the original 'Nessie' bunker (see my Instagram below) was removed from the old 17th hole on Portrush's Dunluce links for a redesign in advance of The Open in 2019. Wisely, the design firm of Mackenzie & Ebert created a tribute to the 'Nessie' bunker on the new 7th hole. It's not as massive (photo above), but it's enough to scare the life out of right-handed slicers.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Commented on

You clearly missed two that easily belong in the top 5 anywhere: The infamous Blowout left of Sand Hills #4 and Hell's Half Acre on #7 at Pine Valley. Both, and a few more, are far scarier than #17's at The Old Course and Muirfield. The silly bunkers at Whistling Straits and one half-ominous baker at Pac Dunes don't belong in this company.

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10 of the scariest bunkers in golf