keep your footing on loose ground

Today's golf courses often feature vast “waste areas,” which are basically sand bunkers that are seldom if ever raked. Many waste areas are extremely firm, with a thin layer of sand on top. You may also encounter pine straw, patches of loose soil and other places where footing is less than sure.

When they find the ball in such a spot, many golfers focus on the lie -- whether the ball is sitting down, if there are clumps of sand or turf behind it, and so forth. But the key to playing from unstable ground is to remain steady over the shot.

Here's how:

  • Take one or two more clubs than the yardage calls for. (If it's normally an 8-iron, choose a 6- or 7-iron instead).
  • footing on loose ground 2

  • Stand with your feet spaced shoulder-width apart – the insides of your feet directly below the outsides of your shoulders.
  • If possible, dig your feet just into the surface for extra stability, kicking away pebbles or other loose impediments underfoot.
  • Flex your knees for added balance.
  • Grip down on the club and play the
    ball about mid-stance.
  • Make a smooth, slightly abbreviated swing, with a shorter finish than usual.
    • The widened stance, knee flex and short swing will help you keep your balance and prevent the feet from slipping, ensuring better contact.

Footwork is something that is easy to overlook in golf.

How to Keep Footing on Loose Ground

With so much else to think about in your swing – your grip, your shoulder turn, your head position, and on and on – it is easy to forget about your feet. And, most of the time, this is fine. Your feet shouldn't need much help to do their job on a regular swing, as they should remain mostly quiet while helping to keep your steady and balanced from start to finish.

This all changes, however, when you have to stand on loose ground. On certain parts of the course, you may not have the kind of secure footing that you typically enjoy on the tee or in the middle of the fairway. When your footing is questionable, suddenly everything about your swing will feel uncertain. Even a minor slip during the swing can lead to an ugly outcome, so you do need to know how to handle this situation when it comes up.

In this article, we are going to provide you with advice on how to deal with loose ground on the golf course. You certainly don't have to give up on the idea of hitting a good shot just because your footing is dicey, but you will need to make some changes to your approach. Playing good golf is all about adapting to the circumstances you find on each shot, and that concept is perfectly illustrated here. As soon as you notice that you'll be standing on loose footing, you will need to quickly decide how you are going to handle the shot in order to achieve a successful outcome.

All of the content 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.

Common Types of Loose Ground

Common Types of Loose Ground

The type of loose ground you are likely to encounter on the golf course is going to depend greatly on where you play your golf. The surrounding environment and climate is going to determine the types of surfaces you can find when you stray from the fairway. With that said, nearly every environment is going to present some kind of uncomfortable spot from where you may have to hit a shot from time to time.

Let's take a look at some common examples of loose ground that you may encounter on the golf course.

  • Bunkers. This is the obvious one, as nearly every golf course you will ever play will include at least a few sand bunkers. It's usually pretty easy to keep your footing in a greenside bunker, but it can get trickier as you are forced to make longer and longer swings. The condition of the sand is going to have a big impact on your footing, so always check on this point when getting ready to hit your shot. Generally speaking, it is dry and soft sand which is going to give you trouble from a footing perspective. In bunkers where the sand is damp and hard packed, it should be easier to keep your feet under control.
  • Pine straw. If you play golf in an area where pine straw collects on the ground during certain time of the year, you'll need to be pay careful attention when your ball ends up among the straw. Swinging on pine straw can be extremely slippery in the right circumstances, so it may be tough to make your normal swing without losing balance.
  • Waste areas. These are areas off to the side of the fairways and rough, where the ground has just been left in its natural state. For some courses, that means it will be a desert landscape, with nothing more than sand and maybe a few bushes. The exact makeup of the waste area will depend on the environment surrounding the course. No matter what it looks like, however, you should expect that your footing will not quite be what it is when on the grass. After all, golf shoes are meant for use on grass, so they are designed specifically to keep your feet in place on the turf. When you stray from the turf, you can't necessarily expect your shoes to perform as they would otherwise.
  • Long grass. In some cases, you may have your feet slip out from under you during a swing when playing from long grass. This isn't 'loose ground' necessarily, but it is a still a situation where you need to pay attention to your footing. Particularly long rough can get matted down under your feet when you take a stance, and that means that your golf shoes may not be able to bite into the turf as they would when on shorter grass. You should pay specific attention to this concern when hitting from a side hill lie, since your weight will not be directly centered over your feet during the swing.
  • Wet grass. The last point on our list is another one which isn't technically loose ground, but it can still give you trouble. When the ground is wet from a recent – or ongoing – rain, you might find that it's difficult to keep your footing during the swing. This is particularly true if you wear golf shoes that don't have a lot of grip built into the soles, or if your shoes are old and have worn down significantly. If you regularly play golf in the rain, or if you play in an environment where the ground is often wet, you'll need to be very familiar with how to make a swing on wet grass without slipping.

In days gone by, golfers didn't have to worry much about footing thanks to their metal spikes. When playing golf in shoes with metal spikes, it was very difficult to slip during the swing. Of course, metal spikes are long gone, and slipping has become a bit more of an issue. You can still get great grip on the turf in modern golf shoes, but that grip might not translate quite as well when you leave the grass. So, why don't golfers still use metal spikes? Well, for one thing, most courses have rules against them now. And for good reason – metal spikes are hard on golf courses, especially greens. The move away from metal has been a great thing for the game overall, as golf courses tend to be in much better condition now than they were years ago.

The rest of this article will be dedicated to helping you maintain your footing when the ground is loose. While it is a good idea to prepare yourself to play off loose ground, what's even better is to keep your ball out of these situations in the first place. By staying on the short grass as often as you can, you'll be able to forget about the loose ground that may be waiting off to the sides of the course.

Three Basic Adjustments

Three Basic Adjustments

As you make your way around the golf course during a round, you want to keep your adjustments as minimal as possible. If you are constantly trying to change your swing in significant and dramatic ways, you are just asking for trouble. It's hard enough to find consistency on the course when using the same swing – it's nearly impossible when you alter your technique at every turn.

With that said, you do have to adapt in this game if you want to play up to your potential. Golf is such a fun game in large part because it presents you with an endless list of challenges. You never know exactly what you are going to find when you head out onto the course, even if you have played that course hundreds of times before. The best golfers are those who can adapt on the fly, tailoring their game to the situation at hand.

So, where does that leave us? Basically, you should know that it will be necessary to make adjustments on the course, but you should keep those adjustments as minimal as possible. Toward that end, we have listed three adjustments below that you can use when playing from loose ground. None of these three are going to dramatically change your swing, but they will alter it in a way that helps you keep your footing.

  • Narrow your stance. At first, you might be a bit surprised – and even confused – by this suggestion. Most of the time, when you want to solidify your stance and give yourself a strong base on which to swing, you will widen your stance. That is not the case when you are on loose ground, however. You want to keep your feet directly under your body, so they have as much weight pushing down on them as possible. When you move your feet out to the sides, you'll actually be more likely to slip. This is especially true during the transition from backswing to downswing. With a wide stance, it is very possible that your right foot will slip out from under you as the swing changes directions. By bringing your stance in and placing your feet roughly below your shoulders, you should find it easier to stay in control.
  • Shorten your backswing. This is a point which really works in tandem with the first point. In addition to narrowing your stance, you also want to shorten up your backswing. This will help you stay over the ball, remain balanced, and avoid the dreaded slip that can occur when trying to make a hard swing. You are in a tricky spot when you venture onto loose ground, so you shouldn't expect too much from your swing. Instead of going all out, make a controlled swing and use plenty of club so you can reach the target with relative ease. Save your aggressive swings for shots from the tee or the fairway, when you have good footing and a sizable target.
  • Choke down on the grip of the club. The last adjustment we are going to suggest simply has you gripping down slightly on the handle of the club. By moving your hands down away from the top of the grip, you'll gain some control and make it easier to achieve solid contact. This is important, as most of the situations which leave you with loose footing also cause you to have a questionable lie. In addition, choking down is naturally going to lead you to a shorter swing, which was the second point we highlighted in this list. You don't have to choke down dramatically to see a benefit – even coming down an inch or two should do the job.

It should be clear that none of the points above represents a dramatic change from your usual swing technique. In fact, you are going to be changing anything at all about the shape or style of your swing. You are simply going to make a couple of pre-swing adjustments – moving your feet closer together and choking down on the grip – and you are going to tighten up your backswing as well. That's it. It's simple, but it should be quite effective when you do find yourself standing on loose ground.