KEWADIN, Mich. — More than a few golfers refer to the Sundance at A-Ga-Ming Resort by an alternative nickname ... Sand-dance.
During a recent round, I ended up at the beach more than I care to share. Its 121 bunkers felt like a penal inquisition for resort golfers like me just looking for a little fun.
My misfortunes left me wondering: Which courses, heaven forbid, might have even more bunkers?
After doing some digging of a different kind - with my keyboard instead of a wedge - turns out the 121 bunkers on Sundance aren't many at all, at least compared to the world's most heavily bunkered courses. I found dozens of golf courses of all styles (parkland, links, resort, etc.) with at least 100 or more bunkers.
Many are famous venues that host major championships and pro tournaments - Shinnecock Hills (estimated 160 bunkers) in New York, Muirfield (147 bunkers), Kingston Heath (145 spread across 19 holes), Merion's East Course (131), Royal Birkdale (123), Pebble Beach Golf Links (118), the Old Course at St. Andrews (112) and Carnoustie Golf Links (112). No surprise there.
Finding other public and resort courses littered with so much sand, though, was a bit perplexing. The Senator Course at Capitol Hill (160 pot bunkers) in Alabama, International course at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate (155 bunkers) in Florida, Purgatory Golf Club (133 bunkers) in Indiana, the Montgomerie at Carton House (127 revetted pot bunkers) in Ireland and Bulle Rock (125) in Maryland seem built to scare golfers away not attract them. The only muni with more than 100 bunkers would be the South Course at Corica Park near the airport in Oakland, Calif. The modern renovation by Rees Jones and Marc Logan features 111 bunkers, all lined with reused/recycled artificial turf.
It's understandable why private clubs like Seminole Golf Club (159) in south Florida, Kingsley Club (133) in northern Michigan or the Outlaw Course at Desert Mountain Club (126) in Scottsdale might feature an oversized amount of bunkers. With seven other Nicklaus courses on property at Desert Mountain, that many bunkers creates a different look and playing style. Members who tee up the Outlaw will have played it enough to know their way around and understand what they're committing to ahead of time. Plus, they're all avid golfers with likely lower handicaps than the muni crowd anyway.
The idea behind this research is not to preach that the world of golf should have fewer bunkers, although there is plenty of that gospel out there. They cost a lot to build and maintain. Sometimes on certain courses, less is more when it comes to bunkers, but I'm well aware that they serve a key purpose, forcing golfers to strategize and play proper shots. Jack Nicklaus, through a spokesman, said that the number of bunkers shouldn't really matter.
"It's not about the number of bunkers you have on the golf course. It's how the property is defined and how you guide people around the golf course," Nicklaus said. "Bunkers, in many instances, serve as a guide for where to play and where not to play around the golf course. I have done a lot of courses where we did a significant number of waste bunkers. Then I came back in - a la Desert Mountain, Ibis, Pawley's Plantation and others - and as the trees go up and the course matures, you can reduce a lot of that."
Don't confuse the premise of the "most bunkers" with the "most sand", either. There are hundreds of courses with more acres of sand lining the fairways in the form of massive waste bunkers in places like Florida and Myrtle Beach or desert scrub in Arizona, Mexico and elsewhere.
If you've seen aerial photos of Friar's Head in New York, you know that sand is everywhere. Long-time Superintendent Bill Jones said the famous Coore & Crenshaw design has roughly only 75 bunkers that are raked by his staff. "The other areas in the dunes, we don't (rake)," he said. The course itself is rake-free.
All of the courses to make our top 10 are littered with at least 160 or more bunkers, most generally smaller in size.
And, just to clarify to the anti-bunker crowd out there, I've played and enjoyed three of these courses. None of them felt overly penal to the point where I would never play them again. I would have never recalled that Muirfield (which just missed the cut) was so dangerously fortified with sand. I won a media tournament there, proving that even mid-handicappers like me can survive a bunker minefield with quality, smart play.
I also love the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, the undisputed king of sand with nearly 1,000 bunkers. The upcoming Ryder Cup will likely be decided by a bunker shot or two. Just ask Dustin Johnson.
Getting in a water hazard is like being in a plane crash...the result is final. Landing in a bunker is similar to an automobile accident - there is a chance for recovery.
Straits Course at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin
The three PGA Championships held by the Straits Course at Whistling Straits were merely appetizers to the main event, the Ryder Cup that was supposed to take place last fall. Dye's figure-eight routing along the shores of Lake Michigan ensures that players will likely get an equal taste of downwind and into-the-wind holes. Golf Digest's Ron Whitten did the dirty work on the bunker count, taking more than a day to painstakingly flag and count the 967 bunkers strewn about. Many shouldn't be in play, but if the wind howls and the fall weather turns sour, anything's possible.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Take this list of the courses with the most bunkers with a grain of ... salt or sand, whatever. You may have played a course with more bunkers. It's likely a private club or an obscure one I didn't find. Let us know if you have other candidates in the comments below.
Irish Course at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin
Unofficially, the Irish Course sports roughly 295 bunkers by our best estimates thanks to Google Earth, some of them small scrapes no bigger than a backyard sandbox. The Irish doesn't boast the views of its more famous sister course, but it might be more fun to play thanks to more blind shots.
National Golf Links of America, Southampton, New York
Long Island's exclusive National Golf Links of America is another club that didn't call us back, but Google Earth provided an impressive aerial view of its estimated 277 bunkers! This C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor treasure is most famous for its windmill. For another sandy adventure, there's also Sebonack, a Doak/Nicklaus collaboration next door.
Pine Valley Golf Club, Clementon, New Jersey
The true number of bunkers at Pine Valley - the consensus hardest course in the world - remains a mystery. "You can't count them. They bleed from one into another," said General Manager Charles Raudenbush. Using Google Earth, we did our best guestimate at somewhere around 191. The famous second hole has 48 (or so) alone! "The layout of the Championship course (is) mystical. That's all I can say," reads one of our reviews.
Garden City Golf Club, Garden City, New York
Garden City, an all-men's club, is one of the most exclusive private clubs in the world, which might explain why nobody called us back about the bunker count. A scan of Google Earth reveals an estimated 184 bunkers on a classic, yet rare par-73 routing with ties to Devereux Emmet, Walter Travis and restoration work by Tom Doak. Our lone GolfPass review gives a scant few details about the course as well, noting "Any further details would be sure to break 'the code'."
Hollywood Golf Club, Deal, New Jersey
Sporting 180 bunkers, Hollywood Golf Club is a highly regarded private club a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. Walter Travis laid the original design in 1917 and Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf Design team restored it nearly a century later in 2014. Cross breezes originating off the ocean force players to aim properly or get bunkered at nearly every turn.This content is only available to GolfPass members.
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Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
The famous Church Pews bunker on hole 3 and the "mini" Church Pews on hole 15 are actually considered singular bunkers at Oakmont Country Club. That leaves 173 others (175 total) to avoid on a course with so much history (nine U.S. Opens, two U.S. Women's Opens) and an even brighter future. Recently named as an anchor site for the USGA, Oakmont will host U.S. Opens in 2025, 2034, 2042 and 2049, along with U.S. Women's Opens in 2028 and 2038. Pros better brush up on their sand skills.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England
Royal Lytham & St. Annes probably doesn't get the credit deserves as one of the premier links in the world. Consider the pedigree: 11 Opens, two Ryder Cups and numerous other top-shelf events, including the Women's Open, Senior Open and the Walker Cup. Starting off on a par 3 probably doesn't do it any favors. Like other links in the rota, its 174 revetted pot bunkers seem to have a magnetic appeal.
Aronimink Golf Club, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
Aronimink's bunker count has shifted with the sands of time. According to this article from the Fried Egg, it originally opened with 190, shrank to roughly 75 and a 2018 redesign by Gil Hanse reverted back to its clustered bunker style, bringing the new total to 174! The restoration effort has put the private club back on the radar of professional golf, attracting the 2018 BMW Championship and the 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Championship since the changes. Editor's Note: Aronimink was added to the story after it originally published, bumping Shinnecock Hills and the Senator Course at Capitol Hill out of the top 10.
Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, Indiana
In his true folksy fashion, Pete Dye was once asked how many bunkers decorated the course at French Lick Resort that bears his name. "A $---load", was the reply. There's actually 172. The little ones that sit atop his wild shaping have earned the foreboding nickname, "volcano bunkers". They're not a tourist attraction. Don't go there.