[PHOTO: Warren Little]

The brilliance of Royal Liverpool is how unsuspecting it appears at first glance. Flat, and nondescript. But that, of course, is how all good traps work. They lure you in, give you no reason to worry because everything looks fine.

And then they get you.

So it was at Royal Liverpool during the first round of the Open Championship. It wasn’t the flat patch of land or Hoylake’s calm conditions that defined the opening 18 holes of the year’s final men’s major, but, rather, the devilish bunkers (81 overall) that litter the place. The key to a good score was avoided them at all costs.

“It’s the most well-bunkered golf course that we play. You stand on every tee and almost every bunker is in play. They’re everywhere,” Shane Lowry said after his one-over 72 during the opening round, which left him six behind amateur Christo Lampricht, Tommy Fleetwood and Emiliano Grillo. “If you take them on and hit a bad shot and end up in a bunker, it’s a penalty shot.”

Some of golf’s best players learned this first hand during the first round.

Twice world No.3 Jon Rahm had to chip out directly backwards from a bunker, leading to bogeys.

“It’s very difficult to avoid them all,” Rahm said.

Playing partner Rory McIlroy found himself in bunker trouble, too. His ball rolled up against a lip in two on the par-5 18th, where McIlroy attempted to chip out sideways. He left his ball in the bunker, but advanced it to a spot where he could at least shift towards the hole, albeit with a tremendously awkward stance. With one foot out of the bunker, he lifted his ball to within 15 feet of the hole, and made the putt.

“When you hit it into these bunkers you’re sort of riding your luck,” McIlroy said.

A group earlier, Justin Thomas found himself in those same set of bunkers. Already running up a number after a drive out-of-bounds, he attempted to hit his first bunker shot sideways over the neighbouring bunker, but ended up in it anyway. A second bunker lay-up ended in the fescue. It was the makings of a quadruple-bogey 9, capping an 82 that leaves him in third-last place heading into his second round.

Tony Finau used a putter from a bunker earlier in the day. Sepp Straka, like Rahm, pitched out backwards from bunkers to rough. The list of victims could go on.

Small and deep – with many players grumbling over the fact that the bottoms seem to be flatter than they traditionally find at Open venues. Without the bowl shape to allow balls to roll into the middle and away from the steep faces, players say this week’s hazards are particularly penal. The treacherous conditions lend themselves to high scores, but also result in a simple underlying strategy for how to handle them. As Australia’s Min Woo Lee, who shot an even-par 71, summed up neatly.

“Avoid the bunkers at all costs.”