Splash Your Way out of the Bunker:

One of the most dreaded hazards among golfers is the greenside bunker. With the following helpful hints and a little bit of practice, you'll soon see this shot as an opportunity instead of a liability.

  • After you have discovered your shot is in the bunker - don't get down. Think about how you might get it close - or even hole it. Remember, golf is largely a mental game.
  • When you step into the bunker, make sure that you "feel" the sand with your feet. Is it hard or compacted? Is it fluffy and soft? This will help you gauge how shallow or deep you'll need to make your golf swing into the bunker.
  • Choose the right tool. A sand wedge or lob wedge is crucial to hitting a successful bunker shot.
  • Unlike for a normal golf shot, where you want to set up square to your target line, you'll want to set-up with your body open and clubface open. This will help you create a more upright swing, critical for this shot.
  • The key to hitting a successful bunker shot is hitting behind the ball. Focus on a spot about 3 inches behind the ball; this is where you'll want to enter the sand.
  • Place the ball in the middle of your stance - and swing away.

Make sure that you keep the club head moving through the sand and follow-through.

Top Tips on Golf Bunker Shots

Top Tips on Golf Bunker Shots

Here's a golf tip for you – it is best to keep your ball out of the bunkers. Is that a helpful tip? Probably not. Even a beginning golfer knows that it is best to keep the ball out of the sand whenever possible. However, even the best golfers in the world wind up in the sand from time to time. Golf course designers place bunkers in spots that are hard to miss, and this is a difficult game – your ball is sure to stray from its intended path on occasion. If you are going to raise the level of your game moving forward, you can't simply expect to stay away from all the bunkers. Instead, you need to know how to handle those bunkers when you do find them.

In this article, we are going to provide you with some of the best tips available on playing bunker shots. We are going to talk about greenside bunker shots as well as fairway bunker shots. Those two categories of shots are completely different from one another, despite the fact that they both take place in the sand. By the end of this article, you should have plenty of ideas for things you can work on during your next practice session.

Speaking of practice, it is important that you take time to practice your bunker game on a regular basis. If possible, work in a few minutes of bunker practice each time you head to the range to work on your swing. Not all golf practice facilities offer a practice bunker, but you should be able to find one that does if you look around your local area. You simply can't expect to play well from the sand if you never practice this part of your game. Bunker shots are not as difficult as the average golfer tends to believe, but they do present a significant challenge. Spend a reasonable amount of time practicing this skill and your effort will be rewarded on the course.

While we have already made the point that you can't always avoid bunkers, we do want to say that part of playing a smart round of golf is giving bunkers the respect they deserve. When possible, pick a target for your shot that minimizes the chance of landing in the sand. Playing a bunker shot from a good lie isn't too difficult for most players, but there is no guarantee that you will draw a good lie when you hit a shot into the trap. There is a degree of random chance associated with the lie you get in a bunker, and you never want to leave your score up to chance. Be smart, give bunkers – especially deep ones – plenty of respect, and do your best to execute a game plan that keeps your ball on the grass.

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.

Greenside Bunker Basics

Greenside Bunker Basics

In this section, we are going to highlight some of the key tips you can use to play quality greenside bunker shots. If you are an experienced golfer, some of the points below might be review. That's okay – it is never a bad thing to remind yourself of the fundamentals in this game. For a beginner, the information below will be a great way to begin building up a reliable bunker game.

Without further delay, let's look at some valuable greenside bunker tips –

  • Make a big swing. This is the point that trips up most golfers when they are first getting started in the game. You are close to the hole when hitting a greenside bunker shot, so it doesn't seem like you should be able to use a big swing – but that is exactly what will be necessary. In order to loft the ball out of the sand and onto the green nicely, you need to use a big swing. Why? Simple – you aren't going to make clean contact with the ball. In fact, you may not even touch the ball at all. The club is going to dive into the sand, the sand is going to lift the ball, and the shot will (hopefully) float up onto the green. Since the sand is going to absorb a significant amount of your swing speed at the bottom, you need to make a big swing to pull this shot off successfully. The best way to learn how to play this shot if, of course, through plenty of practice. By practicing your explosion shot over and over again, you will get comfortable with the idea of making a big swing to hit a short shot.
  • Getting out is the priority. When you walk down into a bunker to evaluate your lie and plan your shot, the first thought in your mind should be regarding how you can get out in the single swing. Sure, you would love to hit the ball close to the hole and leave an easy putt for a par save, but that concern should be secondary to just getting out. You don't want to have to play a second shot from the sand, as your score can quickly spiral out of control when you go down that road. Plan a shot that you are confident will at least get you out of the trap and back onto the grass, and go from there.
  • Learn to read your lie. The lie of the ball in the sand is a big deal. If you have a good lie in the middle of the bunker, it should be no problem at all to at least hit the green – and you may even be able to get close to the hole. On the other hand, if you have a poor lie where the ball is sitting down in the sand, or if you are up again the edge of the bunker and don't have much of a swing, you are in trouble. Understanding what the lie of the ball means to your shot is a big step in your development as a bunker player. This is a skill which can really only be learned through experience, so focus on this as you practice. Rather than giving yourself a perfect lie in the sand every time – which is not realistic – vary your lies and learn how to adjust based on the positioning of the ball.
  • Use an open club face. This is another point that seems to give trouble to the average player. When you are down in a bunker, you need to lay the face of the club nearly wide open in order to get the desired height on the shot. The average greenside bunker shot needs to pop up in the air very quickly in order to clear the lip and land on the green. That is only going to happen with an extremely open club face. Your sand wedge probably has 56-or-so degrees of loft when it is square to the line, but you will need more than that for this shot. Lay it open so that the face is nearly pointing up at the sky. Yes, this is going to look a little weird when getting started, but you will quickly get used to hitting shots this way out of the sand. As always, you can build trust in this method during practice so there is no fear when it comes time to use it on the course.
  • Keep your head down. Okay – so you could pretty much copy this tip and paste it into any discussion about any kind of golf shot. While this is a classic golf tip that applies across the board in this game, it still needs to be highlighted here. When hitting greenside bunker shots, you need to keep your head down in order to move the club through the sand and under the ball. It is essential that you are able to reach down far enough to swing the club head below the level of the ball. If you can't, the club head will strike the ball directly, and you will hit the shot much too hard. It is tempting to lift your head up early to see where the shot is going to go, but that will only produce trouble. Resist this temptation and keep your eyes focused on the ball until it has been sent on its way.

You want to keep things as simple as possible while in the bunker, although you do need to check off a few technical boxes. In addition to the points listed above, you also want to play from a wide stance, keep your stance slightly open to the target line, and place plenty of flex in your knees. The technique you should use for greenside bunker shots is quite different from the technique you use when hitting a 'normal' shot off the tee or from the fairway. As you gain experience, you will get more and more comfortable making a bunker swing that results in a high, controlled blast out of the sand and onto the green.

Fairway Bunker Basics

Fairway Bunker Basics

Moving on, we are now going to take a look at some of the key tips you can use to find success in fairway bunkers. Generally speaking, most golfers consider fairway bunkers to be a bigger challenge than the greenside variety. When around the green, you can usually blast the ball out of the sand and onto the putting surface, as long as you understand the basic technique behind the shot. Fairway bunkers are not so simple. Here, it is not a matter of learning the technique as much as it is being able to execute when the time comes. You have very little margin for error when playing a full shot from a fairway trap.

We hope the tips listed below will help you to find more success in these challenging situations.

  • Getting out is the priority. Yes, this is the same tip you saw in the previous list regarding greenside bunker shots, but it is just as important here. When planning your fairway bunker shot, make sure you are crafting a plan that is going to let you get out of the trap on the first swing. Even if you don't make it all the way to the target, you want to be playing your next shot from the grass. This might mean taking one extra club to get additional elevation on the shot – or it might mean using a wedge and playing out sideways just to escape. Whatever the case, your first goal is to get out of the trap while only adding a single stroke to your score.
  • Keep everything quiet. The ultimate goal when playing from a fairway bunker is to make a clean strike at the bottom. Of course, you would love to do that on all of your shots, no matter where they come from, but it is especially important in the sand. If you don't hit the ball cleanly, it is going to come up dramatically short of the target. So, with that in mind, you need to keep your swing as quiet as possible. That means limiting the moving parts of your swing to only what is necessary. A simple turn of the shoulders back and through, with a little hand action at the bottom to whip the club into the zone, is all it takes. Excessive lower body action is particularly damaging, as you may slip or cause yourself to fall off balance. As a general rule of thumb, you should plan on using one extra club for fairway bunker shots. This will allow you to make a calm, controlled swing while still giving you a chance to reach the target.
  • Stand a little taller. You can't afford to hit behind the ball when playing a fairway bunker shot. While you can get away with hitting the ball just a little fat in the fairway, doing the same thing in a fairway bunker is going to cause you to come up way short. For a little 'insurance' against a fat shot, consider standing a bit taller at address. Simply move your feet in an inch or two closer to each other than they would be for the same kind of shot from the grass. This is not only going to help you stand taller, but it should also quiet your lower body in the downswing – which is a good thing as well.
  • Stay shallow. As you make your swing in a fairway bunker, you should be thinking about moving the club on a shallow plane through the hitting area. If you swing down steeply, you are going to take a lot of sand along with the ball, and the shot will come up short. You don't have the firm surface of the turf to hit down into, so you can't trap the ball and create spin like you do on a shot from the fairway. Instead of hitting down, you should be trying to 'pick' the ball cleanly off the top of the sand. Think about it this way – you should be trying to hit the ball solidly while disturbing as little of the sand as possible. When you pull that off, great shots can result.

Fairway bunker shots are all about achieving a clean strike. If you can make that happen, you can have success. Of course, making clean contact is easier said than done. You will be punished for even a slight mistake, so don't be surprised if you feel a little nervous while trying to pull off one of these difficult shots.