When you see your golf ball drop into a greenside bunker, you are sure to be a little disappointed.

What is the Best Greenside Bunker Club Selection?

After all, you probably were hoping to hit the green with your shot, so watching the ball land in the sand is not what you had in mind. However, there isn’t much time in golf to let yourself be frustrated or disappointed. Instead, you simply need to pick your head up, journey into the bunker, and get down to work.

Many amateur golfers are afraid of bunker shots, and it seems that much of their fear has to do with the mysterious quality of bunker play. Shots played from the sand are quite different than those played from the grass. You will need to use significantly different mechanics in the greenside bunkers, and it will take a big swing to send the ball even a short distance. Most amateur players fail to practice their bunker shots, so it should probably be no surprise that they struggle in this part of the game.

In this article, we are going to talk about a few aspects of greenside bunker play. First, we are going to address club selection, which is alluded to in the title of this article. Which club is the right choice for most of your greenside sand shots? While you probably carry a ‘sand’ wedge in your bag, you don’t automatically need to use that club every time you find a bunker. In fact, it will be the wrong club for the job in some situations. In addition to the discussion on club selection, we will also cover some basics of proper bunker technique, some course management tips, and more. We hope the information provided in this article will help you take a big step forward in your bunker game.

It needs to be mentioned briefly here that we are only talking about greenside bunker shots in this article. Fairway bunker shots are important too, of course, but those are going to have to wait for another time. For now, we are talking about the typical greenside bunker shot that you will have to play from time to time in order to move your ball up out of a trap and onto the green.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Which Club is the Right Club?

The challenge of picking the right club is one that you need to handle successfully if you are going to play good golf. This is true throughout the entire course, except once you are on the greens. You know you are going to use a putter for the shots that take place on the greens, but everything else is up in the air. While most beginning golfers think about learning skills such as the mechanics of the swing and the proper chipping technique – which are important, of course – the skill of picking the right club for the shot at hand is extremely valuable.

When in a greenside bunker, picking the right club can be a challenge because you aren’t necessarily basing your choice on the distance of the shot. If you are back in the fairway playing an approach shot, for example, the distance of the shot is the biggest factor to consider. That’s not necessarily the case in a greenside bunker, however, as a number of your clubs could probably work from a distance perspective. There is more than just distance to consider here, as we are going to highlight in the list below.

  • The way out. The first thing you need to consider when deciding on a club is the path that you must take to get out of the trap. Is the lip of the bunker going to be difficult to get over, or do you have plenty of room to work with? When you are up close to the edge of the trap, or when your ball is in the bottom of a particularly deep bunker, you will need to produce a high shot in order to get out successfully with your first swing.
  • The lie of the ball. This is a huge part of the equation, and yet it is overlooked by many players. When you walk down into the bunker to decide how you are going to proceed, the lie of the ball is one of the first things you should check out. If the ball is sitting cleanly up on top of the sand, you will have a good chance to produce a nice shot. However, if the ball is sitting down deep in the sand, or if it is sitting on a bare patch with no sand to speak of below the ball, you are going to have trouble. It is common for amateur golfers to attempt to ‘fight’ the lie of the ball by trying a shot that doesn’t really fit the situation. Needless to say, such a plan rarely works out. Always respect the lie of the ball and only attempt shots that are a good fit for the lie you have drawn.
  • The distance of the shot. Okay – so we said above that distance was not going to be the only thing you consider when picking a club in a greenside bunker, and that is still true. However, distance is a factor that plays some role in this process, so it would be an error to overlook it completely. When you step into the bunker, take a look at the distance you need to cover in order to reach the target. Some players like to actually measure the distance, while others just prefer to estimate based on what they see. Either way is fine, so go with what gives you the most confidence. Generally speaking, you are going to want to use less loft on longer shots in order to make it easier to reach the hole.

For most players, it is a good idea to have three clubs in mind as possibilities when getting ready for a greenside bunker shot. The sand wedge is on that list, of course, as are the lob wedge and the pitching wedge. If you carry four wedges, you could really consider any of the four, although most amateur golfers will only have three in the bag.

You will probably want to use your sand wedge as the go-to option for most of your bunker shots. This is the club you will reach for when you have a comfortable distance to the hole, a good lie, and an easy path out of the trap. If you need to play a longer bunker shot and the lip is low in front of you, or if you have a bad lie to deal with, you may want to move down to a pitching/gap wedge for lower loft and a flatter flight.

That brings us around to the topic of the lob wedge, which was mentioned in the title of this article. When would you use a lob wedge in the sand? The greatest strength of the lob wedge is its significant loft, so this is the perfect club when you need to get the ball up into the air quickly. If the lip of the bunker is high in front of you, or if you need to stop the ball quickly after it lands, the lob wedge will make a great choice. On the other side of the coin, the lob wedge is not such an effective pick when you have to cover a lot of distance across the green in order to reach the hole.

In the end, picking the right club in the sand comes down to experience more than anything else. When you have experimented with all of your various wedges on greenside bunker shots, you will know what they can do, and you’ll be able to pick the right club without much trouble. Use each shot you hit – both in practice and on the course – as a learning experience. As that experience adds up into the future, your sand game will become more and more reliable.