Beardies, 7 Sisters and Hell? Surviving St. Andrews is all about avoiding wicked bunkers

Will Zalatoris plays out of the Road Hole bunker on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Getty Images

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — St. Andrews’ Seven Sisters are no sweethearts. Quite the opposite, actually. They’re cold-hearted and grating, even on a good day. At the Old Course, you can catch them hanging out somewhere along the 5th fairway. But a word of advice? Avoid an introduction at all costs.

Of course, the Seven Sisters are not actual sisters. They’re a wicked set of bunkers whose name has earned a rather crude inference from Old Course caddies: “You don’t hit in there without getting f—-ed.” 

Fair enough!

There are 105 other bunkers on the Old Course, and every one of them matters as much as the Sisters, especially with the fairways playing like a grassy pavement. Many of the traps are named, but even more are nameless. There are The Beardies, a quartet of traps 130 yards away from the Sisters. “By the time you get out of there, you’ve grown a beard,” Old Course looper Paul Mullan recently told me. 

On Monday, Jack Nicklaus was asked about the course and how it will test the modern golfer. Scores could be lower than ever, the press room fears. Jack doesn’t care. Nicklaus dove right into the bunkers, calling them pesky. That’s all they really are. “Causing trouble, annoying,” per Merriam-Webster. Children treat them as sandboxes on Sundays.

Jack Nicklaus shares his 5 keys for winning on the Old Course
By: Luke Kerr-Dineen

Those Beardies, though, Nicklaus suggested Monday, have changed over the years. It’s hard to know if that’s true, or if that’s just how Big Jack sees them. Some new tee boxes have been instituted this week. That changes everything. The Beardies have been there for centuries, gobbling up long drives on 5 and short drives on 14.

Bryson DeChambeau may want to become the first player to drive the 7th green in an Open this week. Go ahead, my caddie friend Mullan says. He’ll have to carry the biggest hazard on the property, Shell bunker, and fly his Bridgestone about 350 yards in the process. If he fails, rest assured that second shot will be played in reverse.

Some of the bunker names are obvious, like the deathly Coffins left on 13, or, hidden from the tee box on 12, the Stroke bunker, stopping players’ hearts when they thought they were safe. Other names are more obscure, like Krueger, in play for the pros on 10, and his mistress, Mrs. Krueger, 50 yards away, only in play for amateurs on the 9th. Did something happen to the Kruegers out there on that plot of land, as far away from town as players get? Who knows. That’s part of the lore of these ancient bunkers. The reasons for their names get foggier as time passes by.

Sutherland bunker, tucked in the landing zone on 15, was filled in once in the middle of the night. Whodunit? A.G. Sutherland, whose tee shots found this bunker far too often, was the primary suspect. But Sutherland contended he actually enjoyed that bunker, no matter the damage it did to his scorecards. It could have been the maintenance staff, but none of the workers raised their hands. The bunker was promptly re-dug and has been named for Sutherland ever since. 

Need some more … lore? Tiger Woods missed all of these bunkers at the 2000 Open, which he won by eight shots. He missed the Cottage Bunker on 4, so big you could fit a cottage in it. And he missed the Road Hole bunker on 17, as close as you can get to an automatic penalty stroke, even for the best in the world. Even the Cat’s Trap couldn’t tame Mr. Woods. The course played just as firm then, too, Rory McIlroy remembers. He’s seen the highlights of Woods at the peak of his powers here, at the Home of Golf. When asked about that feat, playing 72 holes and missing every one of the 112 bunkers all week long, McIlroy called it “impressive,” “absolutely impressive,” and “pretty impressive” during a 205-word answer.

Only a robotic golf warrior could play bunker-free four rounds. And last we checked, there are none of those in this week’s field.

Ominously, five of those 112 bunkers are grouped to the right of the 6th hole. Amateurs hit into them every single day. This week, pros will find them, too. Any weak tee shot funnels their way. But unlike the other closely grouped sand pits, the bunkers on No. 6 are currently unnamed. It makes the mind wander as we move closer to the championship … Morikawa’s Malaise does have a nice ring to it.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer and host for various GOLF.com video properties and podcasts. Check out his travels on Destination Golf and his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

Apple | Spotify | Stitcher | iHeart | PodBean