A bunker, often referred to as a sand trap, is a hazard that you'll find on most golf courses. There is no penalty for hitting your ball into a bunker like there is with a water hazard. However, the bunker can end up costing you strokes and your sanity if you aren't prepared to get the golf ball out of them.
There are a couple of different types of bunkers to be aware of. The most common type is the greenside bunker. These are placed close to the greens to add another obstacle to a golfer who is making their approach shot. Because they are hit during the approach shot, which is generally hit with an iron that goes relatively high, the ball can plug into the bunker and give you a very difficult lie. A bunker can also be tough to get out of if it has a very high lip, making it hard to hit over.
The next type is the fairway bunker. These can be difficult to hit out of, because you generally have to take more club than a sand wedge. Depending on the lie, or the lip of the bunker that you have to hit over, you may have to play these very strategically to avoid as many wasted shots as possible.
The first rule you need to know about hitting out of the bunker is that you are not able to ground your club. If you let your club touch the surface of the sand before hitting your shot, you will be penalized a stroke. Setting up to the ball, you want to make sure that you hover the club head above the sand, not to touch the sand until you make your swing. A sand wedge is the club you'll most likely use from a greenside bunker.
There is a desired technique to use when hitting a sand wedge out of a greenside bunker. You will want to align your feet to the left (for right handed players) of the target while you point your club face to the right. These opposing alignments will cancel each other out and make the ball travel towards the target. Open up the face of your golf club and make a full swing that hits a couple inches behind the ball.
This will cause the sand to splash up and propel the ball into the air. Make sure that you have a nice follow through to insure that the ball gets up in the air and out of the bunker.
Beginner Golf Tips Greenside Bunkers
What is your first thought when you see your ball drop into a greenside bunker after an errant approach shot? If you are like most golfers, you are probably thinking negatively as soon as the ball hits the sand. After all, most amateurs fear the sand as much as any other spot on the course. With that in mind, you might be surprised to learn that most professionals actually don't mind having to play from a greenside bunker. Of course, they would much rather be on the green putting for birdie, but there are some cases where the greenside bunker is decent place to be. As long as you draw a good lie, and you have learned the proper technique for the shot, it isn't too difficult to splash the ball out of the sand and up onto the green.
If you are a beginner in the game, you certainly know that you have a lot to learn. Golf is complicated, and there is plenty to take in between the rules, the various techniques, the etiquette, and more. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the game when first getting started, which is why it is important to take it one day at a time, and one step at a time. By learning various skills one by one, you can soon feel far more confident in your ability to get around the course.
In this article, we are going to look at some beginner tips for playing from greenside bunkers. Since you probably don't have a polished iron game at this point, you may find yourself playing from greenside bunker on a somewhat regular basis. You could look at that fact from the negative side of things, or you could decide that all of those errant iron shots are giving you a chance to quickly develop your sand game. It doesn't take much experience to get comfortable from the greenside bunkers, and having this as a strength of your game will take some of the pressure off of your other shots.
One of the most surprising things for beginning golfers to learn is just how simple hitting bunker shots actually is once you understand the basic technique. There isn't much to this shot, and you can be incredibly consistent with just a bit of practice. It is possible to add some advanced techniques to your bunker game later on, which will require more work and a higher overall skill level, but you don't need to worry about those shots at this point. As long as you are willing to put in a bit of practice time to learn the basics, you will be able to consistently remove your ball from the bunker and place it on the green in a single shot.
All of the instruction contained below is written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
It's All About the Splash
Before getting into the technical tips for how you should be swinging the club when in a bunker, the first thing to do as a beginning golfer is to gain an understanding of exactly how this shot is supposed to work. Hitting a greenside bunker shot is completely different from any other shot you play around the course. The fundamentals of solid golf technique basically go 'out the window' when playing from the sand around the green, as you need to change your way of thinking on this shot. This is at the heart of why so many players are afraid of the greenside bunker shot – they simply don't understand how it is supposed to work. Once you are armed with this information, most of the fear that had been in place will quickly disappear.
When playing from a greenside bunker, you don't want to actually hit the ball with the club. Instead, you want to hit the sand with the club, and you want the sand to do the job of lifting the ball up out of the bunker. This might seem weird at first, but it is the only way to consistently play this shot with any kind of success. Trying to 'pick' the ball cleanly from a bunker is almost impossible to do time after time, and even if you could do it, the ball would come out much to quickly to be of any use to you anyway. A greenside bunker shot is often called an 'explosion' shot for good reason – you want to explode the club into the sand behind the ball, so the sand can then do the work of putting the ball up onto the green.
So, as you stand over the ball in the bunker, you should not be aiming for the ball itself with your swing. Instead, you are going to be aiming for a spot that is about two or three inches behind the ball. This is a small distinction, but an important one nonetheless. If you were to catch the ball before the sand, the likely result is a shot that rockets across the green and finds trouble on the other side. Or, alternatively, a shot that comes out so low it is never able to get out of the bunker in the first place. Either way, your ball won't be on the green, and you will have almost no chance to get up and down.
To hit a proper explosion shot, you need to make sure that you have the right club in your bag for the job. If you have purchased, or are going to purchase, a beginner golf set, be sure you have an actual sand wedge that you can use in a greenside bunker. It might seem obvious that you would want to use a sand wedge in the sand, but many players try to make due with something like a pitching wedge – and that just isn't a good plan. A sand wedge is specifically designed to work its way through the sand and under the ball, which is exactly what you need to have happen if you are going to loft the ball up onto the green. While you might want to use a different club from time to time in unique circumstance, the vast majority of your greenside bunker shots are going to be played with your sand wedge.
To review – when hitting a greenside bunker shot, you don't want to actually hit the golf ball itself with the club. Instead, you want to slide the club into the sand behind the ball in order to allow the sand to life the ball out of the trap and onto the green. It is going to take an aggressive and confident swing to accomplish this goal, but the shot overall is much easier than most amateurs believe. With some practice, you should soon be able to consistently get your ball out of the sand in just a single swing.
Setting Up for Success
Just as is the case with any other shot you hit around the course, you need to set up properly over the ball in order to hit good bunker shots. The stance is extremely important for this shot, as the way you position your body is going to have a lot to do with how the club moves through the sand. A poor setup will make it nearly impossible to hit a good shot, while a good setup will give you a head start on achieving a positive outcome. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to setup correctly over this kind of shot, as long as you pay attention to detail during your practice sessions.
When you head to your local golf course to work on your greenside bunker technique, make sure all three of the points listed below are included in your address position.
- Open stance. This is the most important of the three points. When hitting an explosion shot from a greenside bunker, you need to be standing with your feet significantly open to the target line. On a chip shot from the grass you should be standing with your stance slightly open, but it should be much more open when you get down into the sand. An open stance will make it easier for you to cut across the ball from outside-in, which is exactly what you need to do if you are going to loft the ball up into the air softly. Also, that outside-in swing path will allow you to swing down on a steeper plane, which helps to get the ball out of the sand if you have a less-than-perfect lie. You will want to bring your stance back closer to square if you are facing a particularly long bunker shot, but for the majority of your explosion shots you will need to use an open stance at address.
- Ball position in front of center. In addition to an open stance, you will also want to have the ball positioned slightly forward of center in your stance to make it easier to put the club into the sand behind the ball. Remember, you aren't trying to make contact with the ball directly, so you need to give yourself some room to get down into the sand prior to arriving at the ball. Playing the ball too far back in the stance is a common mistake for this kind of shot, and it will make it difficult to get the ball out of the bunker at all. Make sure your ball position stays somewhere between the middle of your stance and your left foot and you should be good to go.
- Open club face. Perhaps the most-overlooked point when it comes to playing an explosion shot, it is absolutely essential that you open up the face when addressing the ball. Yes, the club you are holding should already have somewhere between 52* - 58* of loft, but you want to use even more than that to blast the ball out of the sand. Laying the face open will expose the 'bounce' on the bottom of the club, which is what you need to do in order to let the club slide through the sand nicely. You can keep the club closer to square when you need to hit a long shot, but for the most part you will want to lay it open to add loft and get better use out of the bounce. When you see professional golfers on TV hitting high and soft bunker shots that land gently on the green, you can be sure they are using an open club face to produce that result.
The battle of the greenside bunker shot is mostly won simply by setting up properly over the ball. There is still work to be done, of course, but you will be most of the way there if you can stand over the ball in a way that promotes the proper technique. Take time during an upcoming practice session to work on putting your body in the right position to hit a good explosion shot. This stance will likely feel a bit foreign and even uncomfortable at first, but you should adapt quite quickly once you see what kinds of shots you are capable of producing from this position.
Making the Swing
Now that you are standing in the right spot, the time has come to actually swing the club. As was the case with the setup, there is a list of basic points that you need to hit on in order to come away with a quality shot. Read through all of the points below and keep them in mind while you work on improving your skills in this important area of the game.
- Big backswing to start. One of the main keys to hitting a good explosion shot is making a big backswing. This is a tricky point for many beginners, as they feel like they should make a smaller swing since they are standing so close to the target to begin with. However, it is going to take a significant amount of swing speed to move the club through the sand effectively, so you need to start off with a big backswing to develop that speed. Make a good shoulder turn going back, and make sure the club gets up over your right shoulder as it would in a full swing from the tee or the fairway.
- Stay down in your stance. At the same time that you are swinging back you need to make sure you are staying in your stance as far as the lower body is concerned. If you allow your knees to straighten in the backswing, you will change the level of your body and it will be hard to put the club into the sand at the right point. Be sure to have plenty of flex in your knees at address and then hold on to that flex as the swing develops. It is tempting to stand up taller in the backswing, as that will feel like a more powerful position to be in, but don't fall into that trap. Keep your knees flexed throughout both the backswing and forward swing for the best possible results.
- Accelerate through impact. The density and weight of the sand is going to quickly rob you of the power you have built up in the downswing, so it is crucial that you are committed to accelerating the club all the way through the shot. In reality, the club isn't really going to accelerate because of the resistance that the sand provides, but you should be thinking about accelerating to make sure you carry enough power through the shot. Many golfers get tentative right before impact when hitting a greenside bunker shot, and they lose speed as a result. You need to be committed and confident in order to hit good explosion shots. As you swing down, be sure you are focused on an aggressive move through the sand and you should be successful more times than not.
- Plenty of right hand. For a 'normal' golf shot – one that is not played from the sand – you don't want to allow your right hand to be too active in the moments prior to impact. Too much right hand can lead to a variety of negative consequences when playing off of the grass, but that is exactly what you need on a greenside bunker shot. To blast the club underneath the ball as it rests in the sand, you are going to want to use as much right hand as possible just prior to impact. You should feel like you are powering the bottom of the swing with your right hand, which will promote a full release and plenty of club head speed. Also, as an added bonus, using your right hand aggressively will help you to put spin on the shot, meaning you can stop the ball quickly when it lands.
Each of the four points on the list above is important to your success from the greenside bunker. If you miss on even one of these four points, you are likely to have trouble from the sand. As you hit practice shots, keep all of these points in mind and work specifically on the ones that seem to be giving you trouble. If you can properly combine the technique points above with the setup tips from the previous section, you will be well on your way to becoming a great sand player.
Reading Your Lie
Now that you should have a good understanding of the technique used to hit an explosion shot, one of the last things you need to learn is how to read the lie of the ball when it is down in the bunker. As a beginning golfer, you might not yet understand just how important the lie of the ball is when trying to decide how to play a shot. A good lie makes just about any kind of shot possible, while a poor lie can make it difficult to even move the ball toward the hole.
The first step in reading your lie involves knowing what a good lie looks like in the bunker. When you have drawn a good lie, the ball will be sitting up on top of the sand – in other words, it will not be down in a depression or hole. Usually, if your ball rolls or even bounces into the bunker, you will draw a pretty good lie. When that is the case, you will be able to hit a standard shot without much trouble. The ball should spin at a decent rate from this kind of lie, and it should come out cleanly on the first try.
It is when the ball flies directly into the bunker from a high trajectory that you need to worry about a bad lie. The worst-case scenario is a ball that plugs inside of its own hole. If the ball is coming straight down, and there is ample sand in the bunker, the ball is likely to bury deep down in the sand. When that happens, you will have very few options for your next shot. At best, you will be able to make a big swing to gauge the ball out of the sand and (hopefully) out onto the grass. Unfortunately, this kind of shot won't always come out on the first try, so it may take a couple of swings before you are able to get back in play.
Hopefully, after reading the content above, you now realize that bunker shots are not something to be feared irrationally. Of course you would rather keep your ball in good position on the grass, but you are inevitably going to end up in the sand from time to time. When you do face a greenside bunker shot, remember to use the technique outlined in this article to get your ball out with ease. Practice is important, of course, so spend some time working on your bunker skills before you next round. Good luck!