What Is a 'Cross Bunker' in Golf?

A "cross bunker" on a golf course is a bunker that crosses the line of play. A cross bunker is, in other words, a bunker that the golfer has to play his shot over — a bunker a golfer has to carry to advance the golf ball to the target.

"Cross bunker" is sometimes hyphenated, "cross-bunker." The farther back in time one goes, the more the term will appear hyphenated.

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate links used in this post) defines cross bunker as "a generally elongated bunker situated astride a fairway." Another way of saying that is that cross bunkers are perpendicular to the line of play, rather than parallel to it (as many bunkers that are adjacent to the fairway are).

A cross bunker might be entirely in the fairway — might take up the whole fairway for a stretch — or might finger out into the fairway while part of it is in the rough. The key concept that is a golfer has to carry a cross bunker. Also, "cross bunker" is more commonly applied to those requiring a carry off the tee or on a second stroke on a par-5. Greenside bunkers that must be carried on approach are less commonly called cross bunkers, although, technically, they fit the definition.

Cross bunkers were something of a fad on late-1800s golf courses in Great Britain. But like everything, their use has come into favor, gone out of favor, and waxed and waned again over the course of golf history.

In his 1910 book The Golf Courses of the British Isles, Bernard Darwin wrote about how cross bunkers were then falling out of favor compared to the old days, when cross bunkers "used as a matter of course to be dug at regular intervals across the fairway." That Darwin was reminiscing in 1910 about the old days of cross bunkers tells us that they, and the term for them, were well known much earlier in the 1800s, at least.

The 1920 British Open winner George Duncan, in his book Present Day Golf, published that year and written with Darwin, contrasted his views of cross bunkers with those of Great Triumvirate member J.H. Taylor: Taylor, a generation older than Duncan, loved them and wanted more of them; Duncan didn't, and didn't.

"I am all against cross-bunkers," Duncan wrote. "It seems to me you can never put a cross-bunker in quite the right place. ... Cross-bunkers, when all is said, do not bother the good player. Almost their only use is to trap the man who half-tops his shots, and the good player does not do that. But hazards skilfully placed at the sides of the fairway will always bother the best player in the world. (And) he is the man I want to see bothered."

Much more recently, Golf Digest explained that "cross bunkers were once the rage until countless high-handicappers at countless clubs insisted fairways should become bowling alleys."

And in 2022, Golfweek published an article about a renaissance in cross bunkers, the headline stating that modern architects were "rethinking, restoring classical cross bunkers."

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