What - and Where - Is the Church Pews Bunker?

Plus facts and figures about the famous Oakmont CC hazard

Church Pews bunker at Oakmont Country Club
The Church Pews Bunker separates the fairways of the third and fourth holes at Oakmont Country Club. Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Church Pews bunker is one of the most famous bunkers - one of the most famous hazards - on any golf course around the world. What is it, and where is it?

"Church Pews" is the name of a large bunker at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. The Church Pews bunker sits between the third and fourth fairways at Oakmont and comes into play on both holes:

  • The bunker is left of the No. 3 fairway;
  • And it is left of the No. 4 fairway.

On both holes the Church Pews menaces drives that miss the fairway. (The two holes run side-by-side, but play in opposite directions; the bunker is in-between them.)

How the Church Pews Bunker Got Its Name

Well, just look at it!

The Church Pews is so-called because of its notable configuration. A very large bunker, the Church Pews' sandy expanse is broken up by a series of ridges - rows of grassy berms running straight across. It looks like outdoor seating. Or another way of putting it: like rows of church pews.

The bunker did not exist in the original Oakmont Country Club layout; rather, in its present location were a series of six separate bunkers. But by the time the 1935 U.S. Open was played at Oakmont, those six bunkers had been combined into one much larger bunker. That bunker did have "pews" - seven of them - but, according to a June 2007 article in Golf Digest, was only four inches deep. So the "pews" were more like little speed bumps.

By the time of the 1973 U.S. Open, the bunker was significantly deeper and had eight berms. And prior to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, four more berms were added, bringing the total to 12.

How Big and Deep Is the Church Pews Bunker?

The bunker covers approximately a half-acre. As noted, today the Church Pews contains 12 berms, each of which is covered in thick, shaggy fescue. (And the grass on the berms gets even shaggier for big tournaments.) Some more details about the physical characteristics of the Church Pews:

  • The bunker is around four feet deep in many places, and each of the 12 berms is around three feet high.
  • There is about five yards of sand between each berm, according to Golf magazine.
  • The bunker is just more than 100 yards long.
  • It is tapered in shape; at the wide end, it is 43 yards across and at its narrow end 18 yards across.

Playing Out of the Church Pews Bunker

Getting into the Church Pews bunker often means having a hard time getting out. Sometimes the only play is to go out sideways rather than trying to advance the ball forward.

Eric Johnson, Director of Instruction at Oakmont, was quoted by John Kim in an article for PGA.com explaining what a golfer who hits into the Church Pews should do:

“Surrender. That’s my best advice. Don’t be a hero. If you’re up against the lip, all you should do - all you really can do - is pitch the ball out sideways. If you get lucky, and you’ll need luck, maybe you have a shot to reach the green based on a very good lie with no obstruction from the pews. But if you try to create something that isn’t there, if you try to be a hero, you’re going to regret it - big time."

The Mini-Church Pews

There is another Church Pews-style bunker at Oakmont on the 15th hole, left of the fairway. That version is smaller in total area and contains eight berms. It is sometimes called the Little Church Pews or the Mini-Church Pews.

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